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Putting the ‘Stamp’ on Moderates

Adding a new twist to an old strategy, House Democrats have assigned a name to their unceasing efforts to demonize Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Through “Project Rubber Stamp” Democrats hope to help their candidates paint self-described moderate Republican incumbents as little more than shills for a GOP leadership they view as captive to the extreme right. Democrats have made similar efforts using polarizing figures such as DeLay and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in past cycles as they attempt to regain the majority they lost in 1994.

Through message and campaign materials, House Democrats believe they can boost their challengers’ chances if they can effectively show voters that certain Republican incumbents aren’t truly independent because they consistently vote with DeLay.

“It’s obvious that many of the Members are saying one thing in their districts, and then voting with DeLay” in Congress, said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.). “We want to let voters know they are a rubber stamp here and then are saying something else back home.

“It’s part of a larger effort to raise awareness of what Republicans are up to.”

As part of the initiative, the DCCC has created a “rubber stamp” logo for campaign materials, and has instructed their Democratic challengers to invoke the “rubber stamp” phrase on the stump. Candidates also will be releasing “rubber stamp reports” in their districts to highlight Republican incumbents’ voting records and how they compare with that of DeLay and the Republican majority.

Jonathan Grella, spokesman for DeLay, brushed off the latest Democratic effort as just another example of the party using “caricature assassination” to try to win elections. He said the party is trying to vilify Republicans to cover for their lack of a “substantive agenda” heading into November.

“It hasn’t worked, and it won’t work,” Grella said. “This is nothing new, they’ve been embarking on this strategy for years and years.

“It’s all a substitute for a real, substantive Democratic agenda,” Grella added. “They’ve failed election cycle after election cycle to articulate an alternative vision for the future. They are doomed to permanent minority status.”

But House Democrats insist the strategy will hurt GOP incumbents once Democratic challengers point out that their records mirror the Republican platform. Americans see DeLay as the face of an “extreme right-wing agenda,” representing questionable ethical behavior and “this arrogant Republican government is not working for ordinary Americans,” DCCC spokeswoman Kori Bernards said.

“This is part of an ongoing effort to raise the profile of Tom DeLay,” Bernards explained. “While some of these guys say they are moderates, they vote almost uniformly in lockstep with DeLay.”

Calling the program “a rolling situation,” Matsui said he couldn’t yet outline the specific districts and races in which challengers will be targeting Republicans as rubber stamps. Democratic leaders and candidates, however, have already begun incorporating the terms “rubber stamp” into their political message, he said.

Leading up to the March Kentucky special election, for instance, now-Rep. Ben Chandler (D) used the theme to argue that Republican opponent Alice Forgy Kerr would be a rubber stamp to President Bush and the House Republican majority.

And in the coming weeks, Democratic candidates across the country will begin releasing the rubber stamp reports to show how the GOP incumbents’ records match up to DeLay and the Republican majority. In Connecticut, local public official Diane Farrell (D) is expected to be the first to release such a report against GOP incumbent Rep. Christopher Shays, according to the DCCC.

“Reports will go into various districts and not uniformly distributed in all races,” said Bernards. “It will likely be in areas where there is high Democratic performance.”

Matsui said House Democrats have done focus groups to prove the strategy will work. Those studies, he said, show voters view DeLay as the “far right” of the Republican Party, which won’t play well for GOP incumbents who call themselves moderates.

“They were elected and stayed in office based upon their independence,” Matsui said. “That may have been true five or 10 years ago, but it’s not true now.”

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