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GOP campaigns may have benefited from Rumsfeld's earlier ouster

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—If President Bush had sacked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sooner, that might have salvaged the campaigns of Republicans who lost during this week's rout of the GOP, a Florida lawmaker said Friday after his first election loss in 35 years.

Rep. Clay Shaw, a Republican from Fort Lauderdale, had withstood a series of tough elections, but he fell Tuesday to Florida state Sen. Ron Klein, who repeatedly sought to tie Shaw's fortunes to those of President Bush and his handling of the war in Iraq. At least 27 other Republican House members lost their seats as voters signaled their discontent with GOP rule by handing control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to Democrats for the first time in 12 years.

The loss came as a shock to Shaw, who said internal polling had consistently showed him ahead of Klein.

"My guess is it was . . . the tide rolling across the whole country, and we got caught up in it," said Shaw, who sounded reflective and, at times, bitter. Shaw noted that Republicans were dealing with sex and corruption scandals and an October military death toll in Iraq that topped 100. "I think that was laying heavily in voters' minds."

Shaw said he shared his belief about Rumsfeld's departure with Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist. Rove called Shaw on Friday and told him "the race he was most concerned about was mine and that he felt very badly about losing me."

Rove said Rumsfeld wasn't let go until after the election because the president "didn't want our soldiers to come off with the impression that he was doing that for political purposes, just to get a leg up on this election," Shaw said.

Shaw said he agreed that it was critical that the troops "don't feel they're being politicized," but he said he wished Rumsfeld had been ousted sooner.

"My first impression was the actual votes I needed would have been there," Shaw said. "I think the Republicans would have been a little more energized."

In their 10-minute conversation, Shaw said that Rove—whose reputation for strategizing has been wounded by the 2006 results—was "surprised that I lost."

Shaw, whose political career began when he was elected as a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner in 1971, said he'd made no long-term plans.

"My only plan was to go out as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee," he said of the powerful House committee he'd long hoped to lead. "And of course now that's not going to happen."

But Shaw, who during the campaign labored to distance himself from Bush, said he remains loyal.

"I believe in the president, and I think as a Republican I had the responsibility not to run away from the president unless I clearly think he's wrong," said Shaw, who did break with the president over stem-cell research.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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