GOP eyes Mountain West for electoral gains in 2010

June 16, 2009

GOP congressional candidates in the notoriously libertarian Mountain West believe they have an issue that could reap electoral gains in 2010 — government spending.

Republicans have traditionally portrayed Democrats as big spenders, but with the $700 billion rescue package, a $787 billion stimulus package, rising healthcare costs and a growing tax bill, the GOP thinks, for the first time, that it will be able to make the connection in voters’ minds between spending and taxes that come later.

The 2008 bailout legislation and February’s economic stimulus package stoked a rage among many voters, an anger that showed up on April 15 in the form of hundreds of rallies around the country against what protesters said would be too much taxation.

“It is anger. There is an outright hostility toward the spending taking place in Washington, D.C.,” said Cory Gardner (R), the Colorado state House minority whip who is challenging freshman Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo)…

Now, early polls in the 2010 cycle show Republicans leading the generic ballot by six points, even as President Obama retains high approval ratings in the region.

“Western voters are quite independent, and they are looking for greater balance in government. There’s a rather serious concern over policy direction in the Obama administration,” said Nicole McCleskey, a Western polling expert with the GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies.

“There’s an approach to government that is not a hallmark of Western states’ ideologies, that government should not play a terribly active role in our lives,” McCleskey added. “I think Western voters bristle at the notion that government knows best.”

After losing a significant percentage of the Mountain West in recent cycles — including six seats in 2008 alone — the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has found early success recruiting top-notch candidates in key districts. And those candidates are all sounding similar tones…

“Middle-class families aren’t seeing wage increases to pay for the tax increases to support the dramatic increases in government programs,” she said. “Most voters don’t see any direct benefit as a result of these government proposals, and they don’t expect to.”

In some cases, the candidates may even use hyperbolic rhetoric. “Is it still a democracy? Is it still capitalism?” Idaho’s Ward asked of a deficit he claims has been quadrupled. “I never thought I’d be asking these questions, but that’s what people are concerned about today.”

Like Mitchell, Markey and Minnick, Democrats in the Mountain West tend to be more conservative than their coastal colleagues. But as in the South and parts of the Midwest, GOP candidates have signaled they will use Pelosi as a cudgel…

“You can’t complain about bipartisanship and say that you want to reach across the aisle when you have a Speaker of the House who has basically subverted that,” said Jim Ward of his opponent, Mitchell. “A vote for Harry Mitchell is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, and people have to make a decision about whether that’s the direction they want to take this country.”…

“This is a good chance to bring about a new era, a new generation of Republicans,” Vaughn Ward said. “We maybe lost our way to some extent.”
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