House Republican: GOP candidates will survive ‘nitpicking’

Republican candidates will survive “nitpicking” by Democrats in the six weeks before the election, a top House Republican said Monday.

Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the chairman of the House Republican Conference, said that Democrats’ efforts to home in on controversial statements by some GOP nominees would fall flat with voters come Election Day.

“I think that [voters] are going to see through this typical nitpicking and ‘We’re going to pull things out of context,’ ” Pence said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The expression of confidence from the third-ranking House Republican comes as the White House is reportedly considering an advertising and electioneering blitz between now and Nov. 2 that looks to paint the GOP and Tea Party movement as one and the same.

Democrats have already made efforts to play up the ties between the movement of conservative activists and the official Republican Party. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) rolled out the “Republican-Tea Party Contract With America” in late July to link the two.

Republican candidates like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Rand Paul in Kentucky have faced major scrutiny from Democrats over their personal history, too. O’Donnell’s admission, for instance, that she had “dabbled” briefly in witchcraft in high school was in heavy rotation during the Sunday talk show circuit, appearances on which O’Donnell abruptly canceled.

While Pence said it was up to Delaware voters to decide how significant those elements of O’Donnell’s past were to her campaign, he derided the attacks as part of the “silly season” of campaigning close to the election.

“I think that’s up for the voters in Delaware to decide. And certainly Christine O’Donnell has an obligation to explain those public statements,” he said. “But welcome to the silly season.”

Pence, a self-identified ally of the Tea Party movement, downplayed the role of the individual candidates — whose personal foibles have been a point of attack — by arguing the election is “less about the messenger, more about the message.”

Still, Pence is a prime example of the choices GOP leaders have faced in managing their relationship with the Tea Party. Pence has openly aligned himself with the movement, having become the highest-ranking member of the Republican leadership in the House to join the newly formed Tea Party Caucus. And those Tea Party voters were likely in no small part supporters of the Indiana conservative during his win in a 2012 Republican presidential straw poll conducted over the weekend at the Values Voter Summit in Washington.

Other Republican leaders have kept a more measured distance from the movement, looking to harness the group’s tremendous energy without being saddled with some of the Tea Party’s more controversial elements.

Pence said he was “honored and, frankly, humbled” by the first-place showing in the straw poll, but said his focus is on Election Day.

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