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Rick O’Donnell is the only Republican candidate for congress in district seven, which by most accounts will be the most-watched congressional race in the entire country in 2006. O’Donnell has the luxury of raising money – which he is doing a lot of, thanks in part to last week’s fundraising visit from President Bush – while three Democrats fight it out in the Aug. 8 primary.
But O’Donnell has his own problems to face in the coming general election, and it starts with something he wrote 11 years ago. Back in 1995, a young O’Donnell wrote an article for a Newt Gingrich magazine where he called for the abolishment of Social Security. Maybe that sounded like a good idea to him in the mid-90s, but that one article could very well be the undoing of O’Donnell’s congressional campaign in 2006.
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You see, the news about O’Donnell’s Social Security-killing article popped up in the Denver media about two weeks ago, but just today The Denver Post ran an editorial critical of O’Donnell for taking that stance. For his part, O’Donnell has since said that he no longer thinks that Social Security should be abandoned, but rather tweaked to some degree. It doesn’t really matter, because the damage has been done. As The Post writes:
Now O’Donnell is running for Congress and the Republican 7th District candidate is trying to get out from under his radical condemnation of the pension safety net.
He now admits his approach wasn’t a very good one, and it’s not a message O’Donnell wants voters to hear. But hear it, they will. Nationally, Democrats are sure to raise President Bush’s effort to overhaul Social Security in any race where there’s a Republican who supported the wildly unpopular plan.
The 7th CD race is one of the mostly closely watched in the country, and O’Donnell, who has never held elected office and thus has no voting record on Social Security, is on the defensive because of his essay.
We’ll get to the conundrum he faces in digging out from his position in a minute, but the important thing here is that The Post saw fit to run a negative editorial on O’Donnell’s Social Security fiasco two weeks after the news first broke. This is so dangerous for O’Donnell because it has staying power even without Democratic pressure to keep the story alive. This one hurts, and it’s going to continue to hurt.
What does O’Donnell do to get out from under it? Well, he doesn’t have a very good option. He’s already backpedaling, which is probably the best choice, but that also opens him up to the label of the dreaded “flip-flopper,” which is killing Bob Beauprez’s gubernatorial campaign and killed John Kerry when he ran for President. But even as O’Donnell softens his position on Social Security, no matter what he does, the Democratic nominee still has that old article to show in negative ads over, and over, and over. O’Donnell can work his butt off trying to re-position himself on the issue, but it’s going to be hard for him to convince voters who see the ads featuring his old article on getting rid of Social Security.
Sometimes in politics an issue just seems to stick to a candidate, for better or for worse, but it usually doesn’t happen this soon to someone who doesn’t have to run in a primary. It looks like poor O’Donnell has plenty to work on before the Democrats decide on their candidate for congress.