Evans-Novak Political Report

Week of August 9, 2006

August 9, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 16b

To: Our Readers

Outlook

  1. The primary election defeat of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), however narrow, confirms that Democratic candidates will become ever more militant in opposing the Iraq War. In particular, 2008 presidential candidates, as a matter of course, by the end of this year, will be calling for an immediate troop withdrawal.
  2. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has already started to move far from the Lieberman standard with her call for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld‘s removal. But her staged confrontation with Rumsfeld at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week was unimpressive and should give pause to her presidential supporters (see below).
  3. The primary election defeats of Lieberman, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.) should not be over-interpreted as omens of a wholesale slaughter of congressional incumbents in November. Each of the defeated incumbents had special problems (see below).
  4. However, Republican chances for retaining the House are declining. The unexpected GOP failure in the courts means there will be a write-in Republican candidate in the Tom DeLay district in Texas, which turns a relatively safe seat into a probable loss.
  5. The Bush Administration’s performance in handling the Middle East crisis has been ineffective. The U.S. depended on Israeli military power to quickly subdue Hezbollah, and its failure to do so has further isolated the American position in the Mideast.
  6. Congress left for its August recess with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) reeling from inability to pass even the Defense appropriations bill, much less the estate tax relief bill. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) looks like the dominant figure in Congress.
  7. The negative market reaction following the Federal Reserve’s expected pause shows widespread investor belief that the central bank has overshot the market in fighting inflation. The question now is what the Fed will do about the rise of oil and other commodity prices that it has no ability to control.

President 2008

Hillary Clinton: Noteworthy among last week’s final activity in Congress before the August recess was Sen. Clinton’s confrontation with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at a Senate Armed Services hearing. The 12-minute exchange was a case of crass politics.

  1. The exchange offered a quick view of the 2008 Democratic presidential front-runner’s shortfalls as a candidate. The tense Sen. Clinton seemed mechanical, reading a five-minute indictment of the secretary of Defense in monotone. His six-and-one-half-minute impromptu response was far more animated.
  2. The headline from the hearing was the assessment by Gen. John Abizaid, U.S. Middle East commander, that Iraq’s sectarian violence could become civil war. Clinton’s main contribution came during an interview after the hearing when she became a latecomer among Democratic politicians to call for Rumsfeld’s dismissal.
  3. Clinton was not engaging in a serious discussion of defense policy. Rather, she was trying to ensure that she would not become another Sen. Lieberman, a victim of anti-war zealotry, which could scuttle her presidential candidacy. Clinton planned the confrontation and carefully picked fragmented Rumsfeld quotations to upgrade her anti-war credentials. In the end, it was a Potemkin presentation for her left-wing base, exposed when Rumsfeld responded masterfully.
  4. Rumsfeld had not appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee since February. He was asked July 26 to testify at an August 3 hearing on Iraq and Afghanistan. On August 2, the secretary told reporters that a closed-door session with all members of Congress August 3 would suffice. It was Clinton who convinced him, with a public letter, to appear in public.
  5. Because of low seniority, Clinton took the floor near the end of the three-and-one-half-hour session. Other senators posed serious questions about policy and operations, even partisan Democrats at least wrapped their comments around questions to the secretary. But Clinton made no pretense, using all her time to assault Rumsfeld, campaign style. She concluded: "Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?" Rumsfeld was silent momentarily before uttering a favorite phrase: "My goodness!" He then compared his to the senator’s approach: "I’ve tried to make notes and to follow the prepared statement you’ve presented." He managed an effective point-by-point rebuttal.
  6. In response, Clinton looked startled, then told Rumsfeld: "This is not 2002, 2003, 2004, ’05, when you appeared before this committee and made many comments and presented many assurances that have, frankly, proven to be unfulfilled—" That was too much for Rumsfeld, who interrupted: "Senator, I don’t think that’s true. I have never painted a rosy picture." Despite promises from her staff, no one could come up with any genuinely rosy Rumsfeld quotations.
  7. Like a candidate seeking embarrassing rhetoric from an opponent’s past, Clinton aides were looking for partial Rumsfeld quotations to make sure their boss was tough enough to avoid becoming another Lieberman. The Clintons are famous for the permanent campaign, and Hillary was pursuing it last week rather than engaging in serious debate over Iraq.

Federal Reserve

Unchanged Short-Term Rates: The financial markets spent last week in a place where good news is considered to be bad news. Strong job numbers last Friday would have created panic over possible Fed interest rate hikes. Therefore, an underperformance in job creation was good for equities, at least for the moment. The market had rallied with the weak numbers, on the belief that the fed would not hike rates.

But everything had changed by this week. The rally for the Fed’s pause in rate hikes at its August 8 meeting failed to materialize. After a strong day, the Dow plummeted on the news. Suddenly, the bad news wasn’t so good any more. Traders are now less concerned about inflation and Fed action than they are of a true economic slowdown.

The language in the Fed’s statement noted that inflation was problematic but likely to moderate soon. This construction was so dovish that futures traders estimate less than a 30 percent chance of a rate hike at the Fed’s next meeting.

Redistricting Report

Texas: The results are finally in for the Texas redistricting case that had turned the entire Lone Star political scene into mush. Finally, the winners and losers of Southwest Texas have been chosen. The Supreme Court’s ruling that the 2003 gerrymander had weakened Hispanic voting strength required the federal courts to adopt this new map. The Texas legislature is extremely unlikely to re-open the redistricting can of worms.

Another ambiguity put to rest is when the new districts will apply. They all go into effect immediately, with the March primaries thrown out in the five affected districts. Candidates in these districts will have to re-file for special elections that will take place the same day as the general election, November 7. There are no primaries before the special election, and there will be a runoff if no one gets more than 50 percent.

THE WINNERS:

Henry Cuellar (Texas-28): The moderate Democrat who fended off a primary challenge from his old rival in March probably did backflips and bought himself a steak dinner when the new map was released. He now has a district which he cannot lose. Left-wing former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D), whom Cuellar defeated in 2004 and again this year, has had his South San Antonio base eliminated from the district and moved into the adjoining 23rd District. In exchange, Cuellar gets more of Webb County (Laredo), his own base. In 2004, the new district ran 51-49 Democratic. Likely Democratic Retention.

Lamar Smith (Texas-21): If there were ever any chance that Smith (R) could lose his district, there certainly isn’t now. The addition of the Hill Country — north of San Antonio — means Smith can basically mail in his congressional campaign and focus on legislation or self-advancement in Congress. In 2004, the vote in the new district went 65 percent Republican. Likely Republican Retention.

Ruben Hinojosa (Texas-15): His district is changed, but it’s still as safe as ever for Hinojosa (D) at 54.4 percent Democratic performance. Even that number does not tell the whole story — the new district went 61 percent Democratic in 2002. Likely Democratic Retention.

THE LOSERS:

Ciro Rodriguez: Rodriguez (D) is already hinting that he may challenge Rep. Henry Bonilla (R), since the San Antonio base from his old district has been added to the 23rd District. But the addition probably won’t be enough to make Bonilla truly vulnerable, particularly considering that the Republican currently has $2.3 million in cash and has spent years making inroads in parts of the district that have never heard of Rodriguez. Rodriguez, whose last unsuccessful campaign is still in debt, is probably frozen out of Congress — until and unless Bonilla moves on.

Lloyd Doggett (Texas-25): Texas’s most liberal white Democrat has been thrown into a much more conservative Democratic district that includes less of Travis County and more of Southeast Texas. He is probably not vulnerable this time unless he faces a wealthy challenger — his cash on hand total is an astounding $1.8 million. Still, he is more vulnerable in a primary now than he was before: He is much more liberal than his new district. The new district is also more winnable for a Republican, but it leans Democratic enough that the real threat comes in the primary. Likely Democratic Retention.

Henry Bonilla (Texas-23): Bonilla is both a winner and a loser based on this redistricting outcome. On one hand, he is worse off now. His lawyers had been fighting to prevent the outcome he eventually received. On the other hand, it could have been much worse for him. His new district went nearly 54 percent Republican in 2004, but only 49.3 percent in 2002 — the latter because Democrats’ 2002 gubernatorial candidate hailed from the area.

It was clear from the Supreme Court’s ruling that whatever district lines were adopted, Webb County would be put all in one district or another. If it had been put into Bonilla’s district, it would have put Henry Cuellar and his entire base into the 23rd, forcing Bonilla to face once again the rival who came close to defeating him in 2002 — Cuellar took about 47 percent that year against Bonilla.

But now Bonilla loses his Western section of Webb County, and he also loses the Hill Country counties — Bandera, Kendall, Kerr and Real — that had provided him with a strong white Republican base to the North of San Antonio. This poses a challenge for him: His new district is more Democratic and more Hispanic than his old district. Still, it is more favorable to him than either the 2002 district or the 2000 district was.

The parts of South San Antonio he has taken from Cuellar are notorious for their low voter turnout. They also provide Bonilla with a chance to reach out to more Hispanic voters — critical to the future of the state GOP. Bonilla was a known television personality in San Antonio prior to his election to Congress.

The bottom line for him is that he will have to work for his re-election, unlike in 2004. Bonilla’s district now has a good chance of going Democratic when he retires. Likely Republican Retention.

Tuesday Primaries

Colorado-5: Former Hefley staffer Jeff Crank (R) did better than we thought he would, but his late surge was not enough to defeat state Sen. Doug Lamborn (R), whom we correctly picked as the winner. Lamborn defeated a crowded field, winning with less than 28 percent of the vote. Lamborn will be the next Congressman — the race is over in this heavily GOP district. Likely Republican Retention.

Colorado-7: Former State Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D) defeated former state Rep. Peggy Lamm (D), as we expected. Bloodied from a particularly vicious primary, he now faces the well-funded Rick O’Donnell (R), former Chairman of the state Higher Education Commission. This will be an extremely close race in November. Leaning Republican Retention.

Connecticut-Senate: Ned Lamont (D) narrowly defeated Sen. Lieberman, as we expected. This race will be important in many ways — particularly for any other moderates whose primary issue is the War on Terror.

Lieberman has been a liberal senator on every issue except for the Iraq War. He made up much ground in the two weeks before the primary election with ads that admitted his disconnect with Democrats on that issue, but also highlighted the inexperience of his opponent.

Lieberman’s fatal mistake was his decision to seek the independent candidacy as an alternative, in case he lost this race. As soon as he admitted he was gathering signatures for an independent run, his credibility among Democratic voters sank. The margin Tuesday night was close enough to suggest that he could have won had he not panicked too soon. As the close result demonstrates, he could have won this primary if he had just hung on.

Lamont’s campaign benefited from the organizing ability of the Internet left, but the real driving force here — and this cannot be overemphasized — was Lamont’s money. This was not a case of a ragtag band of Internet warriors pushing a long-shot candidate through a primary with small donations. Lamont received very little of his money from donors. This was a case of superior Internet organizing and leftist ideology, complemented by very large sums of political cash donated by Lamont himself, who, by the end, was putting half a million into the campaign each week. He spend roughly $6 million to buy the nomination.

Lieberman came close enough that he has said he will run as an independent candidate. On a national scale, the spectacle of this race could hurt Democrats, especially if national Democratic officeholders keep their pledge to support Lamont. But in this particular race, Republicans have no chance. We like Lamont’s chances to win, but regardless of whether he or Lieberman triumphs, the seat will remain in Democratic hands. Likely Democratic Retention.

Georgia-4: Despite her near victory in the first round of the election last month, Rep. McKinney was destroyed by DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson, as we expected. She took 47 percent in the July 17 primary but fell fast in the polls. Voters in the district finally wised up to her antics.

This seat is strongly Democratic and not competitive in this fall’s general election. Likely Democratic Retention.

Michigan-7: Moderate Rep. Schwarz had won this seat over a crowded field of conservatives in 2004 with less than 28 percent of the vote. It surprised many — but not us — that he lost it Tuesday to former State Rep. Tim Walberg (R).

Schwarz will serve as the moderate-to-liberal scalp that former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), president of the conservative Club for Growth, has been seeking to help with fundraising. Walberg will easily win this fall in a heavily GOP district. Likely Republican Retention.

Michigan-Senate: As we expected, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard (R) won his Senate primary over Keith Butler (R). He faces an uphill battle against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D), but we still expect this to become a much closer race than generally predicted. Leaning Democratic Retention.

House 2006

Nevada-2: The race to replace Rep. Jim Gibbons (R), who is running for governor, has become very negative in this Republican-heavy district that geographically comprises most of the state of Nevada. The three-way GOP primary among Gibbons’ wife Dawn Gibbons, Secretary of State Dean Heller and Assemblywoman Sharron Angle has basically become a two-way race between Heller and Angle.

Gibbons’ husband is likely to win the governor’s race, prompting questions about how she could serve both in Congress and as first lady of Nevada. Her statement that being first lady is a "part-time job" upset several people, including the current first lady. Dawn Gibbons is also the only candidate whose record on taxes is totally and unambiguously pro-tax hike.

Angle, the conservative in the race and the Club for Growth candidate, has been the most visible, working the ground hard and airing the most prominent television and radio ads. She suffered a setback, however, when she failed to gather enough signatures to place a property-tax-limitation initiative on the ballot.

Heller, more moderate, began with the lead. He has also been very visible over the air. The district is dominated in terms of population by Reno and Carson City. Angle’s base is in Reno, Heller’s is in Carson City. The two are running neck and neck. Leaning Heller.

Ohio-18: Rep. Bob Ney (R) finally recognized that he could not stave off indictment and run for re-election at the same time. The announcement of his exit from this race on Monday morning came just as the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call released a report on how his Senate testimony could become his undoing. It also came right after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decided to pump $1.5 million into the district on anti-Ney ads.

Republicans can now replace Ney on the ballot through a special primary. State Sen. Joy Padgett (R) immediately confirmed her candidacy and sent her announcement to Ney’s e-mail list. Obviously, everything was arranged in advance. Padgett represents four of the district’s counties.

There is speculation that a so-called "sore-loser-law" could keep Padgett off the ballot. She was the unsuccessful running mate of Atty. Gen. and gubernatorial candidate Jim Petro (R). But a close reading of the statute gives the impression that it would not apply to her, since she is not running as an independent candidate in a general election.

Either way, the seat is safer for Republicans because of Ney’s exit.

Now it really matters that Democrats nominated their weaker, more liberal candidate, Zack Space, instead of Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer. If Padgett makes the ballot, this seat becomes "safe Republican" against Space. Leaning Republican Retention.

Tennessee-1: Against our expectations, conservative State Rep. David Davis (R) surprised everyone with a strong grassroots showing and won by 500 votes. He is the prohibitive favorite to hold on to the seat this fall. Likely Republican Retention.

Texas-22: Former Rep. Tom DeLay (R) simply will not appear on the ballot in this district. His decision to withdraw ensures that he will not draw votes away from a designated write-in candidate chosen by the party’s luminaries.

DeLay was in an unenviable position. Had he tried a comeback, his opponent, former Rep. Nick Lampson (D), would have used against DeLay his insistence, in legal language, that he is actually now a resident of Virginia and not of Texas.

Write-in candidacies rarely succeed, but that is really because strong candidates are seldom write-ins. Usually, good candidates have their act together and qualify for the ballot. This will be an exception.

This district went 64 percent for President Bush in 2004. Lampson, who used to represent a different district, has money but will not find it easy to win here, even under these circumstances. The big question is whom local Republicans will anoint. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Senate 2006

Florida: With the news that she hid a Justice Department subpoena from her campaign staff, Rep. Katherine Harris‘s (R) Senate candidacy has become even more problematic — to the point that the state party chairwoman has announced Harris will not have the party’s support in the event that she wins the nomination. This campaign is a train wreck. Harris lost the trust of her most recent campaign staff — several have recently resigned — and she might even have broken House rules by failing to have the subpoena announced on the House floor.

The problem, her sympathizers report, is the absence of her old staffers from years ago. They knew how to deal with Harris’s manic personality, whereas the new campaign staffers have not understood the depth of the problem. Harris’s ability to win the primary is very much in doubt, but it is not clear who could overtake her.

At this point, Florida Republicans take for granted that the general election will not be winnable if Harris is nominated. What they most want to avoid, then, is anything resembling a close race, which could pump up Democratic turnout and endanger the large GOP margins in the state House and Senate, as well as the governor’s race.
On the other hand, the other Republican contenders in the September 5 Senate primary are third-tier candidates whose chances against incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson would not be much better. The only possibility of making this into a race is for the nominee to drop out and make way for a Republican savior — a last-minute candidate to be chosen by the party. The opportunity to run without a primary would surely appeal to someone — possibly a member of the congressional delegation, but more likely a celebrity candidate.

Tennessee: As we expected, Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R) defeated his more conservative opponents last Thursday and seized the GOP nomination to replace Sen. Frist. He is the frontrunner ahead of Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D). Likely Republican Retention.

Governor 2006

Alaska: Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) went in four years from being a popular senator to being perhaps the most unpopular governor in the nation, save for Ohio’s Bob Taft (R). Of the three candidates in his primary, he polls the weakest against the Democratic candidate, former Gov. Tony Knowles (D).

Murkowski, who has paid the price for cutting government programs and for appointing his daughter to the U.S. Senate, will come in third on Tuesday in the primary against conservative former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin (R) and businessman John Binkley (R). Palin will come in first, and she is also the most likely to keep the seat. Leaning Palin.

Sincerely,
Robert D. Novak


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