Cole's Advice: Embrace McCain

Rep. Tom Cole, the Republican's House campaign chief, opened a telephone briefing today with the sly suggeston that it was his most well-attended press conference, ever. The intense interest reflects a fascination with failure -- three losses in a row, in formerly Republican seats in Lousianna, Illinois and last night in Mississippi. "When you lose three of these in a row, you have to get beyond campaign tactics and take a long hard look -- is there something wrong with your product?" he asked. His RX: look to the example of McCain, who Cole said was "terrific", is "running on change," and who, he noted, is running stronger in many Republican districts than House candidates are. "He's established his own unique brand as a candidate. I think Republicans ought to remember this." On policy, Cole said that the Democrats who won were masquarading as conservatives and that voters didn't trust Republicans to make the distinction. he blamed the presidential race for obscuring the contours of the debate. "Once we're down to a one-on-one competition, those debate lines clarify," he said. Cole said that comparing Democratic candidates to Barack Obama remains "a useful tool." But "is that a substitute for an agenda? No."