Democrat Wins Seat in Republican Stronghold
NOAH ADAMS, Host:
As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports now, those results have the GOP wondering if it's lost its way.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: If Republicans can't hold on to a seat in conservative North Mississippi, where can they? That's the question haunting House Republicans today.
JOHN BOEHNER: It's another wakeup call.
ELLIOTT: House Minority Leader John Boehner admitted the party leadership has to do a better job with its campaign operation and in getting the right message to voters.
BOEHNER: We have to show Americans that we can fix the problems here in Washington and fix the problems that they deal with every day.
ELLIOTT: The Mississippi contest comes on the heels of two other painful GOP losses, in Louisiana and Illinois, the seat there long held by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. There were few smiles as rank-and-file Republicans headed into their weekly closed conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol this morning. And the man on the hot seat was Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
TOM COLE: Well, obviously, number one, a great disappointment for us. And I think, something that we need to think about very deeply as a party, I think, you know, a lot of people have lost confidence in us as a party to deliver on the things we believe in.
ELLIOTT: But Childers is and campaigned as a pro-life, pro-gun conservative who understands the economic squeeze being felt by average folks. Some Republicans, such as retiring Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, believe the loss signals the party has lost touch with its base.
TOM DAVIS: This wasn't a problem, a logistical problem, or an organizational problem. This is an endemic problem, well, right now running in a party that's tied to the president, tied to an unpopular war, tied to high gas prices, and I think people were protesting.
ELLIOTT: Davis, a former chairman of the Republican Campaign Committee, sent his colleagues a memo today calling the political atmosphere facing House Republicans the worst since Watergate.
DAVIS: You can't explain Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi without looking at the underpinnings, and that is, at this, point Republicans are in a (unintelligible) they got six months to change their ways or they're going to face more of the same.
ELLIOTT: Campaign committee chairman Chris Van Hollen called the contest a day of reckoning for the Bush administration.
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: As you know, they put everything into this race in Mississippi. And I think one of the thing they learned was that Dick Cheney was as dangerous to Republican candidates as he is to his hunting partners.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ELLIOTT: Representative Kay Granger of Texas took the lead in the rebranding effort.
KAY GRANGER: The Republican conference has been taking a hard look at families today and the decisions are having to making the worries that keep them up at night. Today, we're presenting our agenda for those families with the changes they deserve and the solutions we propose to make their lives better.
ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, the Capitol.
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