I just got out of an on-the-record American Spectator breakfast with Rep. Mike Pence of the fiscally/socially conservative Republican Study Committee. Pence is something of a Republican rock star, although lately more of the Vince Neil variety than the Bono variety—anti-immigration Republicans reacted with a loud "No!" to Pence's border reform plans. Among the points:
– The Rovian idea that Republicans can vote for big government—Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind—and maintain a permanent majority is in its last throes. "Teachers in Eastern Indiana will come up to me and say 'I want to talk about No Child Left Behind,'" Pence says. "And I'll say 'Can I start this conversation by explaining why I voted against it?' And they're always grateful. I don't know any constituency that likes No Child Left Behind."
– Pence rejects the idea that voters should send Republicans "to the woodshed" and install a Democratic majority for two years. He was optimistic that the GOP would hold Congress (more optimistic than other conservative Republicans I've talked to this month), that the tight races were "starting to break our way," and that the newer (smaller) majority would engage in "some soul-searching" over the next few months. "We don't need more liberal Democrats. We need more conservative Republicans."
– Pence specifically predicted that all three Democrat-targeted Indiana House Republicans would win, even though public polls show them losing. (Pence didn't mention those polls.) Rep. Mike Sodrel is in a "very pro-family" district where Democrat Baron Hill's vote against the marriage amendment is a 100-pound albatross. Rep. Chris Chocola is "running a flawless campaign." Rep. John Hostettler has "one of the best grassroots operations in the country," and opinon of him in the district is solid—"the concrete has hardened. I hope the DCCC spends $5 million in that race, because all of their bullets will bounce right off him."
– Immigration reform has moved further along than Pence, or many Republicans, thought it would after this summer's impasse. It's going to get solved before the 2008 election, when attention swings to the presidential race and White House candidates are going to start muscling in on the conversation.
Pence said all the right things about entitlement reform, but he struck a sour note (for me) on Terri Schiavo—he called the House's Schiavo debate "a moment when the House stood in the gap against a gale force wind of public discontent." That's not how I remember it; I don't think public opinion swung against the Republicans until they shoehorned themselves into the Schiavo hospice.