Republican campaign officials said yesterday that they expect to lose at least seven House seats and as many as 30 in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, as a result of sustained violence in Iraq and the page scandal involving former GOP representative Mark Foley.
Democrats need to pick up 15 seats in the election to take back control of the House after more than a decade of GOP leadership. Two weeks of virtually nonstop controversy over President Bush’s war policy and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s handling of the page scandal have forced party leaders to recalculate their vulnerability and placed a growing number of Republican incumbents and open seats at much greater risk.
GOP officials are urging lawmakers to focus exclusively on local issues and leave it to party leaders to mitigate the Foley controversy by accusing Democrats of trying to politicize it. At the same time, the White House plans to amplify national security issues, especially the threat of terrorism, after North Korea’s reported nuclear test, in hopes of shifting the debate away from casualties and controversy during the final month of the campaign. These efforts are aimed largely at prodding disaffected conservatives to vote for GOP candidates despite their unease.
Still, GOP leaders privately said that Democrats are edging much closer to locking down a majority of House seats because a small but significant number of conservatives are frustrated with Republican governance, while independent swing voters are turning against GOP candidates.