GOP ‘firewall’ strategy signals distress

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WASHINGTON – In an attempt to save its sinking majority of seats in the Senate, the Republican National Committee has decided to put money into three candidacies, in Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia.

The decision, reported by The Associated Press, will have the effect of limiting GOP funds for damaged senatorial campaigns in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Montana, where Sen. Conrad Burns, already on the ropes because of his association with criminal former lobbyist Jack Abramoff while Burns was the powerful chairman of the Interior Department Appropriations Committee, has sunk into further disrepute after a series of campaign gaffes. The most recent polls show Democratic challenger Jon Tester pulling ahead by double-digit margins.

In Ohio, where Republican incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine has been eclipsed in recent polling by a surge toward Democrats, DeWine will be left to his own considerable fund-raising prowess.

But as Republican scandals and gloomy news from Iraq has put one seat after another into play in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Republican national strategists have had to make a tough decision in political resource allocation – to leave the wounded behind and support the strong.

By winning three of eight contested seats in the Senate, Republicans can maintain the slimmest of majorities. But as the House looks increasingly certain to host a Democratic majority in the next Congress, even a slim majority in the Senate may prove sufficient to block Democratic initiatives coming over from the House. They could include investigations of the war in Iraq or even presidential impeachment proceedings, according to Democratic observers in Washington who do not themselves advocate such strong medicine should Democrats achieve majority power in either chamber.