MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
We're going back now, to the fall of 2008. When a mortgage crisis brought fears of a collapse among the country's biggest banks, Congress passed emergency legislation creating the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. TARP, as it's known, got broad, bipartisan support, and markets did stabilize. But this year, that yes vote on TARP has put many Congressional Republicans on the defensive, and it's cost some their jobs in GOP primary elections.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: Let's look back to when Barack Obama had not yet been elected. The economy was the issue in the presidential campaign, and Republican President George W. Bush spoke to the nation, thanking Democrats and Republicans for passing the TARP bill.
GEORGE W: This week, Congress passed a bipartisan rescue package to address the instability in America's financial system. This was a difficult vote for many members of the House and Senate, but voting for it was the right choice for America's economy and for taxpayers like you.
GONYEA: Today, Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com offers this assessment.
MARK ZANDI: TARP was a success. I mean, when you take the totality of what was done here, it saved the global financial system and ensured that the Great Recession did not turn into a depression.
GONYEA: Nonetheless, TARP has become a big political issue this primary season. Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report says it is often associated with President Obama, even though George Bush signed it.
ZANDI: I think Republican primary voters and conservatives are not distinguishing between the TARP vote, the stimulus vote, maybe even the health care vote. It's all viewed as - they're all viewed as bad votes.
GONYEA: As a result, 21 months later, many Republicans who voted for TARP, at President Bush's urging, have come under attack, even though they voted against President Obama's health care and economic stimulus packages.
GOP: his yes vote on TARP.
Then there's Texas, where TARP supporter Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a conservative Republican, ran for governor.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
Unidentified Man: Just one day later, Senator Hutchison bailed on Texans and voted for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.
GONYEA: She lost, along the way being labeled Kay Bailout Hutchison.
In South Carolina, incumbent Republican Congressman Bob Inglis, also a TARP supporter, got swamped in a primary. And in the state's GOP gubernatorial race, Congressman Gresham Barrett seemed exasperated when he explained his vote.
GRESHAM BARRETT: Unfortunately, a lot of people have disagreed with my TARP vote, and they can't get over it. And, you know, there's nothing I can do about that. It is what it is.
GONYEA: Barrett also lost.
In August, Michigan holds its primary. Now, this is a state with the nation's highest jobless rate. GM and Chrysler both needed a bailout, so there's sentiment for the government doing what it can to help. Congressman Pete Hoekstra is the frontrunner in the GOP race for governor, but Hoekstra voted for TARP and has been pummeled for that vote in a recent barrage of TV ads. Now the race is tightening.
Political analyst Bill Ballenger says Hoekstra has to be worried about who turns out in the primary. He says it's the most conservative voters who are angry and the most motivated.
BILL BALLENGER: And they're loaded for bear. They want to take it out on somebody if they get the opportunity in the right race on August 3rd.
GONYEA: There have been Republican TARP backers who have survived this year. Arkansas Congressman John Boozman won an eight-candidate contest for the GOP Senate nomination in his state, but he had to explain his TARP vote often, as he did in this local TV interview.
JOHN BOOZMAN: But I've always said there's nothing conservative about letting the entire lending institution of the investment banks melting down. I think a lot less jobs were lost in Arkansas, a lot less savings and a lot pension plans.
GONYEA: And if Republicans are fighting over TARP in primaries, in the general election, it'll be Democrats who have to defend their votes, with the issue not likely to lose any of its potency come November.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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