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Borger: Old arguments just don't work

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  • Borger: McCain strategy sends message Democrats will pick your pockets
  • Congressional majorities not as liberal as McCain implies, Borger says
  • No matter who is elected, they must solve problems without breaking the bank
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By Gloria Borger
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- To put it mildly, this is not a good election year to be running as a Republican.

Gloria Borger says McCain is overblowing how liberal a Congressional majority of Demcorats would be.

Congressional GOPers are scanning their lists of endangered Republicans -- some now call them the "death lists" -- and worry the numbers are growing exponentially. In fact, one internal GOP congressional document obtained by CNN shows that 18 House seats are already considered either "gone" or "leaning Democrat."

And that's even before you get to the toss-ups.

To make matters worse for the GOP, it's hard to remember a time -- save Richard Nixon and Watergate -- when a president seemed more discredited, or even irrelevant.

It's almost impossible to believe that President Bush has been such a pariah among those running for re-election; they'll let him raise money behind closed doors, but they don't want to be seen with him in public. As for John McCain, the only way he could possibly distance himself more from Bush is to say he never voted for him.

So the McCain campaign has landed on a final closing argument that, on the face of it, makes some sense: If you elect Democrats, you're electing a bunch of big-time tax-and-spenders, even "socialists." (One might then ask whether it was a GOP move to effectively nationalize the banks the other week, but I digress.) Barack Obama wants to "redistribute" your wealth, they say.

One of McCain's new favorite lines: "Senator Obama is running to be redistributor in chief." Translation: Watch out. The Democrats are about to pick your pockets.

It's a clear GOP message the campaign hopes will appeal to those undecided and independent voters. Elect Obama, McCain says, and you get a man who wants to "take your money and give it to someone else."

As an extra plus, he says, you also get his co-conspirators -- the whole liberal team of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It's ye olde "blank check" argument -- easy to understand, and perhaps even persuasive. It's so obvious, in fact, that you might well ask why McCain didn't use it earlier. That would be a good question.

But here's the truth of the matter: We already resdistribute wealth in this country. The rich already pay more taxes to fund social programs.

As for McCain's claim that the liberals are about to mount a wild takeover, here's another dose of reality: The congressional majorities are not going to be as liberal as McCain would have you think.

The newly elected Democrats in the House will be full of conservative southern "Blue Dogs," and they're not likely to give Pelosi a blank check for anything. And while the Democrats will certainly increase their margin in the Senate, it's always been a more moderate place than the House.

So while there will no doubt be pent-up demand among liberals to spend -- particularly in this economic crisis -- the notion that everyone will be a salivating liberal is completely overdrawn.

By the way, if McCain is elected, he's going to have his own problems. Never mind that he'd have to find a way to work with the larger Democratic congressional majorities. How would he work with his own Republicans, who don't feel they owe him much, and who believe his plans to save the economy cost way too much? The answer: Not well.

In fact, no matter who is elected, the new president will find himself trying to figure out a way to keep some of his campaign promises without breaking the bank.

McCain's $300 billion mortgage buyout plan and his tax cuts are huge commitments; Obama's pledges of near-universal health care and middle-class tax cuts aren't cheap, either. So both candidates would face an equally unpalatable choice: What to cut from what they pledged.

And so far, neither of them has given us any real sense of what that would mean.

All we see now in these final days are the charges and countercharges flying. But in a week, someone is going to have to figure out how to govern.

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