WASHINGTON – As head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Tom Davis' job these days is to put the best spin on an election that so far appears to be a dead heat between the parties against the backdrop of impending war with Iraq.
"It can go either way at this point," he admitted to Foxnews.com.
Last Wednesday, the Virginia Republican declared to an audience of GOP-friendly members of the National Association of Manufacturers that 2002 "is one of the most important elections we are going to have."
If numbers are the standard, then Davis is right. Republicans are locked in a fierce battle to keep their narrow seven-seat lead in the House and to overturn the one-seat advantage Democrats hold in the Senate. The fight is focused on several close races scattered throughout the country, which is where party leaders like Davis come in for 11th-hour emergency spending and strategizing.
"We have to make sure we are putting the adequate resources into [the races]," he said, meaning lots of extra cash for last-minute "get-out-the-vote" efforts, like working the phone banks and putting up campaign signs.
This week, Davis and other Republicans spent much of the week hammering out talking points for candidates on President Bush's call for quick congressional action on Iraq.
He said he believes Democrats would be happier in these last six weeks of the election if the focus were on anything but Iraq, but it appears that voters won't have it any other way. Democrats, however, have put themselves in a tight spot, by insisting on having it both ways.
"The Democrats have been saying all July and August that Congress needs to be involved in the debate, and that's exactly what we are doing," Davis said.
Despite the polls that say that most Americans approve of military action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, further bolstering Bush's approval ratings, some Democrats are still unwilling to turn over the war reins to Republicans just yet, instead calling for involvement by the international community.
"Many of us are suggesting that we continue to try to resolve these issues … with U.N. involvement, with U.N. participation," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to reporters Friday morning.
On the flip side, others, including a coalition of mostly 20 liberal Democrats, say they are flat out against any war with Iraq.
"We are here today representing the millions of people who are against the unjustified, unwarranted and illegal war," Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said Friday.
Davis said the Democrats are at risk of losing cohesion over Iraq.
"Leftover hippies hanging out … for the last 30 years, it really splits their base," he told his NAM audience Wednesday. Despite what he called "enclaves" of pacifists, the "public is overwhelmingly for the president."
Davis, who helped raise $22 million from House members in the last election cycle, will step down from his high-profile perch as National Republican Campaign Committee chairman following the election, after four years of what many say has been solid service to the party.
"Tom Davis is a tireless advocate for the party as well as his own constituents. He's irreplaceable," said Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. "We wouldn't even be in the majority if it weren't for his work."
A four-term representative for Virginia's 11th District, Davis can't help but go native when it comes to being a political animal. He represents a bulging suburb of Washington, D.C., that incorporates the well-heeled constituency of Fairfax County, a stabilized tech corridor, rolling neighborhoods of federal workers' families, and a growing immigrant community.
In 2000, his district went 49 percent to 47 percent for Vice President Al Gore, but redistricting this year has made his area more Republican.
Still, Davis has thrived here because he is a moderate, as is his Republican counterpart in Maryland, eight-term Rep. Connie Morella. He is a free-market, fiscal conservative, but is known for bringing about consensus on the issues. He has reached out to the more socially liberal factions of his party, and is known even among some Virginia Democrats as a guy who gets the job done.
"Most of the important legislation that I've sponsored, if I want it to get enacted, I bring it to Tom because he has such tremendous influence in the Republican Party," said Rep. James Moran, D-Va., whose district runs alongside that of Davis.
Democrats insisted this week that Republicans, led by leaders like Davis, are clinging to the Iraq issue because they don't want the focus on domestic issues. When faced with the declining economy, a talking points memo released by the Democratic National Committee Friday suggests that Democrats argue that, "The only GOP response has been to attack Tom Daschle, which has been their substitute for a domestic policy for the last year."
"What we're seeing in polling data and what we're seeing in campaigns is that the economy, education, security and perscription drugs are all on the forefront of voters' minds," said Kim Ruby, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"This election will revolve around domestic issues," she insisted.
Davis, who has no Democratic opponent in the November election, dismissed claims that the GOP is ignoring the economy out of hand.
"The Democrats have no economic policy. They are just waiting for our economy to go bad and then they can run and say, 'See, elect us,'" he responded.