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GOP Aims to Capitalize on Popularity

Touting new polling data that shows them with a significant popularity advantage over their Democratic counterparts, House Republicans are looking to keep that post-war edge by placing a heavy emphasis on fixing the economy.

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) released a strategy memo Wednesday illustrating the GOP’s relative overall strength while also highlighting the issue areas that need improvement.

The memo included a new survey, conducted by the Winston Group, giving Republicans a 55 percent favorable to 35 percent unfavorable rating. Democrats had a 44-44 ratio. The survey questioned 1,000 registered voters April 23-24.

The Democrats’ favorability rating dropped 5 points since a January GOP poll, and Pryce attributed the result to what she called a “credibility gap” among Democrats. She also contended that the party was hurt by its disjointed and “negative message” and by the “lack of a positive front man or woman speaking for the Democratic Party.”

Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), disputed the notion that Democrats were suffering from disunity.

“Look at the economic plan,” Daly said. “Democrats are united. The Republicans seem to be the ones that are split about the size of the tax cut.”

Democrats also point out that the end of the war in Iraq and the shift to domestic policy moves the fight to their turf.

In the memo, Pryce acknowledged that the GOP has some work to do on the domestic front. Asked which party they thought would do a better job on specific issues, poll respondents still gave Democrats an advantage on Social Security and education. The two parties were basically tied on economy and jobs issues, while the GOP retained a significant edge on defense and terrorism matters.

The survey found that the economy was the No. 1 issue on the minds of voters, while security issues slipped to their lowest level since Sept. 11, 2001.

The thrust of the GOP leadership’s message now is the importance of not frittering away the party’s popularity the way it did following the first Gulf War, when Republicans had a less ambitious domestic agenda.

“Even more than the numbers is the desire not to repeat 1991,” said Stuart Roy, spokesman for Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

House Republicans plan to spend some of their current political capital to push through a tax-cut package. President Bush made a similar point during Wednesday’s bicameral leadership meeting at the White House.

Pryce’s memo advises Republicans that the best way for them to build support for the tax package is to emphasize its role in creating jobs. “This is not about tax cuts. This is about jobs,” the memo said.

It also warned against being sucked into a debate with Democrats about the growing budget deficit.

“When the context of the economic debate is the deficit, we are not on as strong a ground as when the context is jobs,” Pryce wrote. “We must not cede this ground.”

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