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Democrats Expect GOP Bailout

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is watching more than two dozen House Republicans for signs they are ready to call it quits in 2008.

The Democrats believe a wave of Republican departures can help them cement their House majority.

“Democrats are on the offense and Republican seats that open up due to retirements are at the top of our bull’s-eye list,” said DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.

Given the GOP’s new minority status in the House, Democratic strategists think some veteran Republicans will head into retirement while some younger Members will opt to run for other offices. Democrats also believe that ethics scrapes could force a handful of GOP

incumbents from office.

“Being a seasoned Republican in Washington right now is like being a fifth-year senior in college whose fraternity was kicked off campus,” said one Democratic source close to the DCCC who did not want to be named. “Why would you want to stay if you can leave, make more money and avoid being in the minority?”

Even though many of the 27 districts in question are notable for their Republican tilt, House Democratic strategists, emboldened by wins in the previous cycle in Republican territory such as Kansas and close calls in GOP bastions such as Wyoming, believe they can put many open seats in play.

Of the districts that the DCCC believes could become open, only New Mexico’s 1st district, where Rep. Heather Wilson (R) eked out a 879-vote win over Democrat Patricia Madrid in November, and Delaware’s at-large district preferred Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to President Bush in 2004. Wilson is seen as a possible Senate candidate if Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) retires next year.

Republicans argue that if Democrats are counting on picking up seats such as Louisiana’s 1st district — which gave Kerry only 29 percent of the vote, and where Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) is running for governor this year — then the GOP will take back the House in 2008.

“The National Republican Congressional Committee is optimistic about the energy, excitement and dedication of our incumbents to reclaiming the majority,” spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger said. “We also plan to be on offense around the country, reclaiming seats that have historically been in the Republican column.

“Wishful thinking and spin on the part of the Democrats is not going to do anything to obscure the fact that their freshmen and vulnerable are already making mistakes and casting bad votes for their districts,” Boulanger added.

Democratic strategists familiar with the DCCC list obtained by Roll Call acknowledged that the likelihood that a particular Republican Member will retire, or that their party can even take advantage of a vacancy, varies greatly from district to district.

Topping the Democrats’ list of pickup opportunities among potential retirees is Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.).

House Democrats made their biggest gains in the Midwest and Northeast in November and practically wiped out Republican moderates.

Castle, who suffered a minor stroke last year, may mount a Senate race if Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) vacates his seat to concentrate full time on his presidential bid. Democrats also believe the 67-year-old Republican incumbent might decide now is a good time to leave a Congress that increasingly has seen his party move to the right and become dominated by Southern conservatives.

But a spokeswoman for Castle — like aides to most of the Republicans on the DCCC’s watch list — denied that her boss, who just won a ninth term, is ready to leave Washington.

“He was just appointed to the NRCC executive committee,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Wenk. “It’s kind of hard to say he’s not going to run again when he’s leading the effort to get the Republicans back in the majority.”

That didn’t stop the DCCC from deploying an operative to the First State last week to scout for potential candidates. The Democratic Party in Delaware is ready to target Castle, who won with 57 percent of the vote, even if he does not step down, according to a knowledgeable Democratic source.

Democrats picked up 11 House seats in the Northeast last year, and while they failed to knock off Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), they did not focus on Castle at all, which likely makes him an even more inviting target this time.

The DCCC also hopes to duplicate its success taking down Republicans caught in ethical storms. In 2006, Democrats ousted Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and won open seats in Republican districts that had been held by indicted former GOP Reps. Bob Ney (Ohio) and Tom DeLay (Texas).

The Democrats’ list demonstrates that they hope the ethics issue will play again in 2008.

Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) reportedly is under FBI investigation, which has Democrats dreaming about his Inland Empire-based 42nd district, even though it gave Bush 62 percent of the vote in 2004. The same goes for the neighboring 41st district, where Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), former Appropriations Committee chairman, also is being scrutinized by federal authorities.

Both have hefty campaign bank accounts. Miller confirmed through a spokesman that he plans to seek a sixth term.

A spokesman for Lewis, Jim Specht, said: “He’s never speculated this early. He’s focused on what he’s supposed to be doing, which is providing the best possible service to his constituents and returning the Republicans back to the majority.”

While Lewis has not committed to running for re-election, Democrats acknowledge that others on their list, such as Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), are probably long shots for retirement.

Renzi, who was held to 51 percent of the vote in November amid allegations of wrong-doing in connection with a real estate transaction, looks like someone running for re-election. Republican leaders, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), are hosting a reception at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Feb. 17 to benefit Renzi.

Renzi’s office did not comment for this story.

Other Republicans made the DCCC list for various reasons.

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) seemed to invite the DCCC to come after her when she won a seventh term by barely 1,000 votes in the Equality State in November, where only 29 percent of the electorate supported Kerry in 2004. Cubin’s office did not respond to telephone messages.

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) had to be coaxed into running for an 11th term by GOP leaders, though a Gallegly aide told Roll Call late last year that his boss would run again in 2008.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), who will be 83 on Election Day 2008, said he hasn’t formulated his plans for next term yet.

Evan Haine-Roberts contributed to this report.

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