August 4, 1996 in Nation/World

Gop Candidates Moving Away From Dole Republicans Say They’ll Run Their Campaigns Independently

Richard L. Berke New York Times
 

Increasingly uneasy that Bob Dole could bring them down in November, many Republican congressional candidates say they are beginning to run campaigns independent of the presumed presidential nominee.

The biggest worry among these Republicans is that Dole will lag so far behind in the polls that many of their own supporters will not bother to vote. Party leaders are particularly concerned this year because there is more at stake, since Republicans hold both the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

“Bob Dole’s running his race,” said Rep. Jim Bunn, a freshman from Oregon. “I’m running mine.”

By passing a flurry of legislation in the closing days before their vacation, Republicans in Congress this week underscored their intent to pursue distinct agendas. Most notable was the welfare measure that President Clinton vowed to sign, depriving Dole of an issue in the fall while allowing Republican lawmakers to boast of a major accomplishment.

Dole’s inability to gain ground on Clinton, at least thus far, compounds fears of Republican candidates who already have to contend with the deep unpopularity of Speaker Newt Gingrich - or, as Kevin Phillips, the Republican analyst, calls him, “Typhoid Newtie.”

In congressional district after district, Republican incumbents are finding that Dole is trailing their own popularity, in some cases by more than 20 points.

“We were already looking to be cloned into Newtoids,” Rep. Mark E. Souder, a Republican freshman from Indiana, said of Democratic efforts to link Republican members of Congress to the speaker. “And now we’ve got Dole on top of that. One recourse is to go independent.”

He added: “If Dole wins, we’ll probably gain 30 seats, but we’re not banking on that right now. If Dole loses by 10 or more, then the whole thing is up in the air because there’s only so much an individual member can do to overcome what would be a national tide.”

Spurning the Republican leadership, Souder’s bumper stickers proclaim: “Independence, integrity and leadership.”

These moves by candidates to separate themselves from the presidential ticket reflect the continuing reversal of a longstanding pattern in Republican politics: For years, congressional candidates turned to the standard bearer to help them win. That changed in 1992, when many Republican candidates snubbed President George Bush at public appearances as he slid behind Bill Clinton in the polls.

But when Ronald Reagan headed the ticket, the party’s candidates went all out to link themselves to him. If Reagan was reluctant to campaign on their behalf, as he often was, candidates would display his photographs at their rallies.

This year, several contenders said they were coming up with their own advertisements rather than feature Dole in them, or adopt his campaign slogans. Recently, after months of running commercials that featured Dole, Republicans unveiled a new advertising campaign that promotes the records of vulnerable House members.

Rep. David Funderburk of North Carolina, for one, said his campaign would run a biographical advertisement featuring not Dole but Reagan, who appointed Funderburk ambassador to Romania, and Jesse Helms, the state’s senior senator.

While he raised concerns about Dole’s conservative credentials, Funderburk offered something of a defense of the Kansan: “No matter what,” he said, “it’s still better to be aligned with Bob Dole than Bill Clinton in North Carolina.”

But for now, House candidates are easily edging Dole out in the polls. If the election for the House were held today, 44 percent of registered voters nationwide say they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district and 41 percent for the Republican contender - a virtual tie - according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll conducted July 11 to 13. But in that same poll, Clinton led Dole, 54 percent to 34 percent. The margin of sampling error in the poll of 743 registered voters was plus or minus four percentage points.

Congressional Republicans are concerned not only about Dole’s lagging poll numbers, but also by the fact that he has proposed few initiatives that could frame their own campaigns. “At least for now, the presidential campaign is not driving the issues’ agenda,” said Ed Goeas, whose company is polling for 93 Republican House contenders. “Tax cuts, welfare reform, cutting government, the overall role of government - all of these things are playing in the congressional races.”

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