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Eighty Percent in GOP See Return to Majority

A wide-ranging survey conducted recently by Rep. Scott Garrett’s (R-N.J.) office provides a glimpse into the overall mood of the House’s 202 Republican lawmakers now serving in the minority. The seven-page document was hand distributed to Congressional offices Jan. 17, and responses were culled and presented at the annual GOP retreat at the end of January.

Roll Call obtained a copy of the original survey last week, prompting Garrett’s office to agree to review the results of the poll Friday. Sixty-one Members, or 30 percent of the Republican Conference, responded to the questionnaire. All responses were anonymous.

The most overwhelming response was that more than 80 percent of respondents said they believed the GOP could win a majority in the 2008 elections.

Members also were asked to rate the issues that resulted in Republicans losing the House on Election Day, and the overwhelming majority said that the ongoing Iraq War, federal spending issues, and the scandals surrounding former GOP Reps. Duke Cunningham (Calif.) and Mark Foley (Fla.) were the dominant reasons. “Nothing else was close,” said Garrett’s spokesman, Will Holley.

In fact, social issues were at the very bottom of the scale. For instance, the survey listed Congress’ intervention into the case of Terri Schiavo in 2005, which received one of the lowest rankings in the survey. “I barely got anything, it was really low,” added Chief of Staff Michelle Presson. “Social issues actually were pretty low overall; people were definitely more interested in the fiscal side.”

Another question asked of Members was whether the GOP was better served in the minority by working with Democrats to get things done, or to fight back and attack their agenda. Not surprisingly, more senior Members leaned toward compromise, while the younger Members leaned toward battle. “There’s a generational split on that, definitely the younger Members are not going to sit tight,” Presson said.

Additionally, Members were asked whether they should pursue a conservative or more moderate legislative agenda, and a “large majority” said a conservative agenda, Holley said.

In line with that, a majority of Members who responded also identified themselves as on the “more conservative end of the spectrum,” Presson said.

Those responses are tied to a broad feeling within the Conference that they need to fight Democrats, particularly on fiscal and spending issues. Garrett’s office said that already is starting to play out on the House floor in debates over the $463.5 billion fiscal 2007 spending bill. While GOP leaders and Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) voted against and urged a “no” vote on the bill, 57 Republicans sided with Democrats.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans said Democrats’ use of outside groups aligned with their party and a message that touched on many of the GOP’s long-standing identifiers helped seal the GOP’s defeat.

Holley noted that groups such as were in districts like defeated Rep. Chris Chocola’s (R-Ind.) six months before Election Day. Left-leaning groups “went out early, they started to chip away, and then the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] came in and finished it up,” Presson said.

When asked what Democrats were credited for doing right, Presson said, “They stole our ideas, they ran as Republicans.” Presson pointed to candidacies such as Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.), a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat who defeated Sen. Rick Santorum (R).

“They finally woke up to the fact that you have to accept some people who may not believe in everything you believe in,” she said. “The question is: How long can they afford to have those people, one, not back in their districts and, two, voting on things that play really well with the Democratic base but not with the independent voters that put them in office?”

Garrett, a Member of the Republican Policy Committee, was given the green light to conduct the survey by RPC Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.). His office said it was undecided if these pulse-check surveys would become a routine matter for the Conference.

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