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GOP Hopes to Cement August Gains

With the August health care wars having restored the confident swagger that Congressional Republicans haven’t displayed since gas prices were at $4 a gallon, GOP leaders are hoping to transfer that momentum into a prosperous fall.

“I think it’s very clear that the members of the Republican Conference feel strongly … that the wind is at our back primarily because of fierce debate over the president’s health care plan,— House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters Wednesday morning.

In both the House and the Senate, Republicans are gearing up messaging efforts that will build on the successes of the August recess while at the same time seeking to reap the financial benefits of renewed public skepticism of Democrats.

For instance, just hours before Obama’s speech to Congress on health care, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a fundraising e-mail to supporters through the National Republican Congressional Committee titled “We need a different plan.—

“House Republicans have a better solution that reins in junk lawsuits, breaks down barriers that prevent small businesses from providing high-quality coverage to employees, and lets you keep your current coverage if you like it and makes it easier to take it from job to job,— Boehner said in the e-mail. “If we want to make our plan a reality we need to elect more principled Republicans to Congress — and I need your help to do it.—

Likewise, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) on Monday fired off a fundraising pitch to his supporters in which the conservative lawmaker invoked the town hall fights during the recess and said he needs funds to help continue his fight in Washington.

[IMGCAP(1)]“When Members of Congress from all over the country reconvene in Washington, the health care debate will resume and I will carry your voices from Louisiana town hall debates to the Senate floor. Will you make a pledge of $25 or more to stand with me as I rejoin the fight in Washington?— Vitter wrote.

To be sure, Republicans have been using the health care issue as a tool for fundraising efforts for months. But the surprising success they had with turning the August town halls into a referendum on Democrats’ reform plans has given them a powerful new angle.

Similarly, GOP leaders have repeatedly made references to the town hall meetings and growing public opposition to a public insurance option as hallmarks of their messaging efforts as they seek to cast themselves as the party that listens to voters — while painting Democrats as authoritarian liberals bent on implementing a public option regardless of the cost and the economic pitfalls it could cause.

On Wednesday, Boehner telegraphed this new line of attack during a meeting with reporters in which he repeatedly stressed that Republicans have listened to Americans.

“I think listening is a lot of what our Members did over the August recess — listened to the American people and their concerns about this government takeover of health care,— Boehner said.

While health care has given the GOP’s legs new life, Republicans said they won’t make the same sort of mistakes they did in 2008, when they rode a wave of public anger over rising gas prices in the summer but floundered in the fall. The party had made gas prices and energy its central message; as the economy cratered and energy fell off the front pages, the GOP ran out of talking points.

Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have spent much of the last year preaching the need to have a multi-faceted attack on the Obama administration and Democrats. McConnell in particular has spent significant time working on a “long view— approach in which he and his leadership team spent months giving floor speeches and press conferences on issues such as the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp and the deficit, slowly building a messaging foundation for when the issues bubbled to the surface.

As part of that strategy, House and Senate Republicans said they expect to make greater use of public concerns with the ballooning deficit and government spending over the next several months and that they will continue to weave it into the health care and energy debates.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said Republicans could also use public unrest about increased spending as a theme to build the interest in the party.

“I don’t know [if I can] speak to campaign dollars, but [I can] speak to the intensity of volunteers and new volunteers. Their heads are in the game,— he said.

“A lot depends on the actions of the president. If the president doubles down and stays on this pathway where the left and the Congressional leadership trumps him in terms of the actual agenda, I think [the momentum] is sustainable,— he said.

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