As Losses Mount, GOP Begins Looking in the Mirror
Washington Post
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 11, 2008; Page A13

May 9 (Bloomberg) -- Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is struggling to attract money from some of the same industries that helped bankroll President George W. Bush's record-setting fundraising.

Employees from the securities, construction, pharmaceutical and energy industries, who accounted for about a tenth of Bush's money in 2004, are turned off by his record and giving more to his Democratic rivals, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

"A significant percentage of your base Republican support, whether financial or otherwise, are not fans of McCain because of various things he's done or said or sponsored," said Republican consultant Eddie Mahe, who is supporting the Arizona senator. "Many of them don't see Mr. McCain as being a lot better" than the Democrats.

Obama and Clinton each raised close to $11 million from the four industries through the end of March, compared with $6 million for McCain. In 2004, Bush raised three times more money from those sources than Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee that year.

The political action committee of the American Road and Transportation Builders, the Washington-based trade group for such companies as Caterpillar Inc., contributed the maximum $5,000 to Bush's presidential campaign in both 2000 and 2004. McCain has gotten nothing.

McCain on Roads

"Our PAC supports members of Congress who are supportive of increased transportation investment," ARTBA spokesman Matthew Jeanneret said. "I don't think he fits that definition."

McCain, 71, who voted against the 2005 legislation allocating $286.5 million for highways and transit, proposed suspending the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax for the summer, eliminating the main source of revenue for federally funded road projects. Clinton also supports a gas-tax holiday.

John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, called McCain's proposal "short-sighted and damaging to our nation's economy."

Pharmaceutical industry employees and PACs contributed $516,839 to Bush in 2004, compared with $280,688 for Kerry, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. This time around, they gave $339,729 to Obama, $262,870 to Clinton and only $74,850 to McCain through March.

No `Friend'

"McCain has not characterized himself as a friend of the industry," said Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health LLC, a Washington research company.

During a Jan. 5 debate in New Hampshire, McCain criticized the drug companies for high prices charged to the government's Medicare and Medicaid programs and said he backed importing cheaper drugs from Canada, a position also held by his Democratic opponents.

"How could pharmaceutical companies be able to cover up the cost to the point where nobody knows? Why shouldn't we be able to re-import drugs from Canada?" McCain asked.

One of his opponents, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, interjected, telling McCain not to paint drug companies as "big bad guys."

"Well, they are," McCain responded.

McCain suggested in an interview that some industries are shunning his campaign because of his opposition to earmarks -- local projects inserted into spending measures by lawmakers.

`Cottage Industry'

"Many of them made a cottage industry out of pork-barrel and earmark projects that would come to a halt," McCain said. "So I fully understand why certain special interests that I've opposed over the years wouldn't contribute to my campaign."

Energy companies are focused on bigger issues than earmarks. For the 2004 election, energy employees gave $4.9 million to Bush and $757,502 to Kerry. So far this year, they have given about the same amount -- $1 million -- to the three candidates.

Like the Democratic candidates, McCain backs legislation to curb greenhouse gases that is opposed by many energy companies.

"If they had to pick a candidate, I think they'd like a fourth one," said former Democratic Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, who runs a lobbying group with former Senate colleague Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican.

Breaux is registered to lobby for several energy companies, including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe's largest oil company.

Bankers and Brokers

One cash cow for Bush's campaign has become a large source of funds for the Democrats. Employees working in the securities and investment industry contributed $9.2 million to Bush's 2004 campaign, almost twice Kerry's $4.8 million. This time, Obama's $7.5 million and Clinton's $7 million from the industry are almost double the $3.8 million that McCain has brought in through March, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"People have a feeling that it's time for change," said UBS Americas Chairman Robert Wolf, who has raised more than $200,000 for Obama and one of whose predecessors, Joseph Grano, was a top Bush fundraiser.

Bankers and investors don't point to specific policies affecting their industry in explaining McCain's lack of support. Grano, a McCain backer, said disappointment over what he calls the "terrible" execution of the Iraq war may account for some of McCain's difficulties. Bush's job performance is another oft- mentioned reason.

"There's a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Republican Party," said Mallory Factor, a merchant banker who co-hosts a weekly meeting of conservatives in New York City and raised more than $1 million for Bush and his party four years ago. "People are just fed up."

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at

Last Updated: May 9, 2008 00:01 EDTSince losing 30 seats and their 12-year stranglehold on power in 2006, House Republicans have kept asking themselves the same question: Can it get any worse?

On Tuesday, they may get another answer they won't like.

With lots of help from Washington -- including more than $1.3 million in campaign cash and a last-minute visit by Vice President Cheney -- Mississippi Republicans are desperately trying to retain a congressional seat in one of the most reliably conservative districts in the nation.

The stakes in the 1st District special election couldn't be higher, strategically or symbolically. The loss of a traditionally GOP seat to a Democrat would be the third in a special election this spring and the second in the Deep South after the May 3 victory of Rep. Don Cazayoux (D-La.).

Rank-and-file Republicans say that would force a day of reckoning for their leadership.

"When you connect three dots in anything, that's a bad thing. This connects the dots. At that point, everybody's got to come together and have a come-to-Jesus meeting," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a retiring centrist who will help form a new advisory panel at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"It's a time of sober reflection and, to some extent, resolve. I hope these special elections are a wake-up call," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), the leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Democratic leaders have stopped tamping down expectations and instead have set a new goal for the November elections of establishing a long-lasting majority that could dominate the chamber.

"We will have a strong, confident, predictable Democratic majority to take us forward, and then we will be in 2010, 2012, on the path to a strong Democratic leadership for a long time to come," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Just when Republicans thought they had seen everything, Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) admitted Thursday that he has a 3-year-old daughter from a long-running extramarital affair with a retired Air Force officer. Fossella, who is married and has three young children at home in Staten Island, is also facing drunken-driving charges in Virginia. GOP strategists are debating whether he should resign or announce that he will not seek reelection in November.

Fossella's resignation would mean another special election, this one in the nation's most expensive media market.

Independent analysts agree that a loss Tuesday would leave Republicans with no excuses. They blamed poor candidates in races in Louisiana and Illinois, where the GOP lost a special election for the seat long held by former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

"The Republicans would be ignoring reality if they try to explain away this race," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

Since 1994, Republican Roger Wicker has been reelected to his House seat with between 63 and 79 percent of the vote.

But with Wicker appointed to the Senate to fill the seat vacated by Trent Lott, who retired, Republicans are having difficulty unifying behind Greg Davis, the mayor of Southaven, a Memphis suburb in the northwest corner of the 1st District. Davis beat a Republican from the eastern portion of the district in the March primary. That win puts Davis on the ballot in November, whether he wins or loses this week's special election.

Democrat Travis Childers, a court officer in Prentiss County, came within a few hundred votes of outright victory in the first round of special-election balloting April 22, prompting national Republicans to send out an SOS for Tuesday's runoff. Davis, the NRCC and conservative allies have flooded the airwaves with a multimillion-dollar campaign that tries to negatively tie Childers to Pelosi and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

This is the second special election this month in which House Republicans have tried to turn the race into a referendum on a Democratic candidate's ties to Obama. The strategy was unsuccessful in Louisiana, but Republicans view the Mississippi district as more receptive because it is slightly more conservative and has fewer African American voters.

The NRCC already has committed $1.3 million to the approach in Mississippi, triple the amount it spent in Louisiana.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a former Republican National Committee chairman, has collected donations for Davis from party committees in such far-away states as Pennsylvania and Michigan. Cheney arrives Monday evening for a get-out-the-vote rally.

"Republicans are committed to winning in Mississippi, and we believe the momentum is on our side," said Ken Spain, NRCC spokesman.

Democrats say they have nothing to lose. "It's hard to see any upside for Republicans," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had a cash advantage of $44.3 million to $7.2 million over its counterpart on March 31.

By pouring $2.9 million into the Louisiana and Mississippi special elections, the Democrats have forced the NRCC to spend $1.7 million to defend its territory.

Tom Davis, who chaired the NRCC for four years, said he doubts the effectiveness of the anti-Obama strategy because of the contrast between the consistently unpopular Bush and the likely Democratic nominee.

"When Bush tries to articulate a vision," Davis said, pausing to choose his words carefully, "he will butcher the Gettysburg Address. Obama, he will make an A&P grocery list sing."

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), in a private meeting with Republicans on Tuesday, admitted the limitations of the anti-Obama strategy and tried to sell his troops on an Obama-like message of "change" as their only hope for success.

"We can't win SOLELY by tying our opponents to Barack Obama and his liberal views. We also have to prove Republicans are agents of change," Boehner told his colleagues, according to talking points prepared by his staff and provided to The Post.

Boehner expects to unveil portions of a new policy agenda this week, part of a year-long effort to "rebrand" his party's image.

Hensarling, in just his third term, is part of a group of mostly younger conservatives who are pushing for a more aggressive agenda that rejects incumbency perks such as multimillion-dollar earmarks. He endorsed the call for even deeper introspection followed by a sharp new message if Greg Davis loses Tuesday.

"I don't want to tap dance 'The Good Ship Lollipop,' " he said. "But I don't want to crawl into a fetal position."

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