Republican National Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. drew an angry response Tuesday as he urged Democratic state legislators to join the GOP, saying their national party had abandoned conservatives.
Fahrenkopf's highly partisan appeal to the Southern Legislative Conference, a group of largely Democratic lawmakers from 15 states, sparked an exchange that overshadowed the sales pitches of presidential aspirants with their eyes on next year's giant Southern regional primary.
Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt asked the legislators for support in the March 8 Democratic primary. Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas also appeared.
In his address to the group, Fahrenkopf predicted that the Republican Party will be the big winner of the Super Tuesday regional primary, saying it "will trigger a mass movement of conservative Democrats to the Republican Party."
Ken Royall, a conservative state senator and legislative power in North Carolina, rose to challenge 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 responded that Congress was to blame for the budget deficit, prompting Royall to ask: "Are you going to answer my question or are you going to talk?"
He was joined by another legislator from North Carolina, Rep. Bob Etheridge, who said: "The President proposes a balanced budget; it's my understanding that, if you want a balanced budget, you propose one."