Invitation to Switch to GOP Irks Democrats

Associated Press

Republican National Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf told southern Democratic legislators today that their party has abandoned conservatives and urged them to join the GOP, triggering a heated exchange with some lawmakers.

Fahrenkopf told the largely Democratic Southern Legislative Conference that liberal special-interest groups "have put a dog collar around the necks of the national Democratic Party" and produced a field of presidential candidates.

"The national Democratic Party has become a liability, has become a fracture point between you and your constituents," he said, adding that President Reagan has brought six years of economic prosperity.

His highly partisan speech brought hostile questioning from two North Carolina Democrats.

Ken Royall, a conservative state senator, challenged Fahrenkopf, saying, "You tell us all these good things; tell us what the federal deficit has been since Ronald Reagan took over, tell us what the trade imbalance is."

Fahrenkopf never did, but responded that Congress was to blame for the budget deficit.

That brought another legislator to his feet. "The President proposes a balanced budget; it's my understanding that if you want a balanced budget, you propose one," said Bob Etheridge, a North Carolina representative.

Fahrenkopf then left, saying he had a plane to catch. He said he hadn't expected any immediate converts because "I'm not a television evangelist."

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