Evans-Novak Political Report

Week of September 27, 2006

September 27, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 20a

To: Our Readers

Outlook

  1. The sudden return of Bill Clinton to the political arena in full cry reflects the former President’s uncontrollable passion to get back into the political swim and his calculation that the tide is turning toward the Republicans on the issue of national security. Since the overriding Democratic strategy is to keep the spotlight on President George W. Bush, putting Clinton back in the center of the debate may be counterproductive.
  2. There is little doubt that Clinton carefully planned his outburst last Sunday against Fox anchor Chris Wallace, probably designed by longtime Clinton adviser James Carville. Carville and his sidekick, Paul Begala, have consistently taken the position that Democrats are too soft on Republicans — as exemplified by the John Kerry presidential campaign — and that Clinton is needed to restore the party’s "backbone."
  3. The leaked partial version of the National Intelligence Estimate (see below) indicating that the Iraq intervention has strengthened terrorism goes to the point of the mid-term campaign. National security is the issue where Republicans consider themselves strongest, and the leaked memo is intended by Democrats to undercut that strength.
  4. Republican spirits have been strengthened for the mid-term elections by President Bush’s renewed campaigning and the precipitous drop in gasoline prices. There remains a chance that the Republicans will retain control of the House, though just barely.
  5. State Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. (R) may be pulling away from Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in New Jersey. If the Republicans pick up one Senate seat, the chances of a Democratic Senate takeover are seriously diminished. It is difficult enough for Democrats to win the six Republican seats necessary to achieve Democratic control without losing any seats.

Bush Administration

Iraq War: President Bush’s joint appearance with Afghan President Hamid Karzai was vital because it addressed one of the sorest points made by critics of the Iraq War: the accusation that the war has created more terrorists and more terror.

  1. Until now, no strong response to this had been articulated. Bush suggested that Iraq was simply the latest in a long line of excuses for and defenses of acts of terror against the United States. The American military, Bush pointed out, was not in Iraq at the time of the 9/11 attacks, nor during any of the previous acts of Islamic terror during the 1990s.
  2. Bush’s decision to declassify the partially leaked National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) seemed the best form of damage control in response to the leaked stories suggesting that the NIE had concluded the Iraq War made the U.S. less safe. Bush pointedly used the words "guessed" and "gossip" when he described journalists’ knowledge and understanding of what was contained in the NIE. When questioned on his word choice, Bush all but questioned the reporters’ credibility without explicitly doing so.
  3. The declassification was understood to be even wiser once the document came out Tuesday night. Interestingly, even as it assesses that al Qaeda "is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role," the NIE also concludes that "Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."

    In other words, the NIE makes the same case Bush has been making that the war in Iraq is part of the global War on Terror and that its outcome will have a huge effect on the broader campaign. Another conclusion speaks to the much-maligned "freedom and Democracy" argument long employed by the White House: "Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim-majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit."

  4. Bush described the recent partial leak of the NIE — first released in April — as a political ploy in an election season. This gives him two lines that resonate with both his base and independent voters: The leaking of classified information is wrong, and the media have behaved irresponsibly in participating in it in the first place, and even more so with a partial leak.

CIA Leak: I must remark on the publication of Hubris, the newly released book by Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff and Nation magazine editor David Corn, since it glosses over or ignores many relevant questions regarding the Valerie Plame affair, and distorts the facts surrounding my own involvement. The book seems commonplace for a polemicist like Corn but not a careful investigative reporter like Isikoff.

  1. Corn, the Washington editor of the left-wing Nation magazine, helped create the Plame "scandal" in the wake of my column that revealed that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson had been sent to investigate Iraqi uranium shopping in Niger at the behest of his wife, Plame, a CIA employee. Now, even though his book has had the effect of killing the story, Corn insists that a parallel conspiracy must have existed, entirely separate from my column, to punish Wilson by revealing his wife’s employment.
  2. Isikoff, a skilled investigative reporter, definitively revealed in the book that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was my source for the Niger column. But because Armitage, an internal critic of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy, did not fit the left’s conspiracy theory, Corn has been frantic to depict an alternative conspiracy theory in which Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and Vice President Dick Cheney attempted independently to do what Armitage purportedly accomplished accidentally. This desperate attempt to resuscitate their story line falls flat, undermining what seems to be the real reason for writing Hubris.
  3. The book not only fails to use what I have written in my columns as my account of the Valerie Plame case but also distorts my position. I faced a dilemma in December 2003 because, in seeking the identity of my source, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was going to confront me with waivers from every official who conceivably could have told me about Valerie Wilson. "I did not believe blanket wavers in any way relieved me of my journalistic responsibility to protect [my sources]," I wrote last July 11. But the dilemma was resolved when Fitzgerald showed up to interview me with waivers from only my three sources. The prosecutor had learned their names on his own, so there was no use in not testifying about them. Corn and Isikoff sloppily misrepresent me by saying that my dilemma came after Fitzgerald appeared with the three waivers ("crunch time for Novak") and that I gave up their names under pressure from the special prosecutor.
  4. Likewise, Corn never comes to grips with the fact that Armitage could not be prosecuted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act because Plame was not a covert operative under terms of the law. This 463-page book that is endlessly discursive does not acknowledge this distinction, nor does it seriously consider that she was no longer assigned to foreign missions because her cover already had been broken. It never even mentions the report that Mrs. Wilson had been outed long ago by the traitor Aldrich Ames.
  5. The book’s effort to cleanse Wilson stoops to deception, including the omission of Wilson’s political activism such as his giving and his campaign activities as an advisor to Al Gore in 2000. This surely was known to the authors, who chose to ignore it. And this kind of omission is typical. Also missing is the July 2004 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Republicans, unchallenged by the Democratic minority, which undermined Wilson’s conclusions from his African mission and undercut his insistence that his wife did not suggest him to the CIA for that mission. After that report, Wilson disappeared from the Kerry-for-President campaign — something that also goes unmentioned in this book.
  6. At least the book rejects the canard reported by the Washington Post that the White House had been peddling the Valerie Plame story all over town (to at least six journalists) before it got to me. It also reveals the anonymous source of that bogus Post story – falsely described as a "senior administration official" — as Adam Levine, an obscure mid-level communications aide who soon left the White House.

Congress

According to the schedule, this is the last week of Congress before the post-election lame-duck session expected in mid-November.

  1. By using a so-called "discharge petition," Democrats are trying to trap Republicans into a stand-alone vote on the minimum wage. As matters stand, a vote on it with several other issues has already been taken, and most Republicans voted in favor, since the bill also included estate-tax relief.
  2. Buried within the Homeland Security Appropriations conference report is a provision slightly relaxing the law against travelers’ bringing prescription drugs back in small amounts from Canada, where drug prices are kept artificially low through price controls.
  3. The House passed the Senate version of the Child Custody Protection Act, which prevents the transport of minors across state lines for abortions in order to circumvent state laws requiring parental notification. This popular bill that provides a strong social issue for Republican challengers to Democratic House members. But the Senate Leadership is dragging its feet, even though a similar bill passed there with 65 votes. Democrats would be likely to resist and obstruct, but a cloture vote would put serious pressure on Democratic incumbents who are vulnerable in New Jersey, Michigan and Washington State.

House 2006

Democrats are certain to gain seats in the upcoming elections, but can they get the net 15 they need to take control of the U.S. House? Our outlook remains mostly stable five weeks out from the election, suggesting that they are on the cusp. But as Congress adjourns at the end of this week and incumbents head home to defend their records and campaign in earnest, the potential is there for several shaky Republican incumbents to recover and save themselves. Most vulnerable Republican incumbents have sizable cash advantages over their challengers, with a few notable exceptions such as Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.).

In the most competitive races, challengers will need to muster enough resources to make themselves well known and, in the home stretch, to tear down their opponents. In order to do this, they can count not only on their own war chests, but also on the party committees. And this is where the story-line of a Democratic takeover could fall apart. As we have repeatedly mentioned over the last five months, the near-absence of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in terms of cash could cost Democrats the best takeover chance they have seen since 2000.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has a golden opportunity before him. He has kept his committee near financial parity with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), his Republican counterpart. He successfully recruited several top-tier challengers. His challengers have, on average, raised more money than Democratic challengers do in most cycles. But there is a problem that is outside Emanuel’s control.

Whereas DNC chairmen in past cycles have dedicated as much as $20 million to the election of Democratic House members, DNC Chairman Howard Dean will provide a mere $2 million. By contrast, the Republican National Committee (RNC) this year is expected to spend that much in each of 18 contested congressional districts, for a total of nearly $40 million. Dean has foolishly spent his money placating the state party chairmen who elected him in 2005, making good on ill-advised promises to spread around the national party money. A recent email from Dean to supporters actually trumpets the fact that DNC money is being spent to organize precincts in Mississippi, which has no competitive congressional or statewide races this year and whose state offices are not up for election until November 2007.

Party Committee Fundraising Through Aug. 31, 2006

Raised

Cash on Hand

Democratic National Committee

$102,746,022

$10,929,533

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

$86,160,713

$34,867,692

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

$81,257,939

$29,775,182

Democrat Total :

$270,164,674

$75,572,407

Republican National Committee

$185,080,183

$39,302,454

National Republican Congressional Committee

$123,906,652

$36,019,485

National Republican Senatorial Committee

$69,218,617

$18,602,642

Republican Total :

$378,205,452

$93,924,581

So the Democrats find themselves without resources just when they could really use them to make serious gains. At the same time, some Republican seats that should not be on our chart are showing weaknesses that the GOP should find troubling.

The outlook for Democrat-held seats remains unchanged this week. Democrats +14, Republicans -14.

Republican-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

AZ-1 (Renzi)

CO-4 (Musgrave)

CT-4 (Shays)

AZ-8 (Open)

AZ-5 (Hayworth)

CT-2 (Simmons)

IA-1 (Open)

CO-7 (Open)

CA-11 (Pombo)

CT-5 (Johnson)

IL-6 (Open)

IN-9 (Sodrel)

FL-8 (Keller)

FL-22 (Shaw)

IN-2 (Chocola)

TX-22 (Open)

FL-13 (Open)

MN-6 (Open)

IN-8 (Hostettler)

KY-3 (Northup)

NM-1 (Wilson)

KY-4 (Davis)

NV-2 (Open)

NY-24 (Open)

NC-11 (Taylor)

NV-3 (Porter)

OH-15 (Pryce)

OH-1 (Chabot)

NY-20 (Sweeney)

OH-18 (Open)

PA-6 (Gerlach)

OH-2 (Schmidt)

PA-7 (Weldon)

VA-2 (Drake)

TX-23 (Bonilla)

PA-8 (Fitzpatrick)

WI-8 (Open)

WY-AL (Cubin)

PA-10 (Sherwood)

WA-8 (Reichert)

Removed from chart: IL-11 (Weller)

Colorado-4: Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) continues to underperform in what has always been a solid Republican district. Polls show her race narrowing enough against college professor Angie Paccione (D) that Democrats could decide to subsidize their candidate. The DCCC has reserved more than $600,000 worth of airtime in Eastern Colorado, just in case they feel they can make this a race. The conservative Musgrave was already brutalized in 2004 by a vicious negative campaign that nearly shattered her public image. One of her opponent’s television spots depicted her stealing from the bodies dead servicemen.

In Washington, strategists grumble that Musgrave relies too heavily on consultants who take an unusually large share of her fundraising. She still has a commanding cash advantage, and she should widen the race in October. Leaning Republican Retention.

Colorado-7: A new public poll has former state Higher Education Commissioner Rick O’Donnell (R) down by 17 points against state Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D). Although that sounds impossible in what is supposed to be a close race, we are told that these numbers are trustworthy and that the GOP is very likely to lose the seat. Likely Democratic Takeover.

Nevada-2: The most Republican district in the state is seeing serious weakness on the part of its GOP nominee, Secretary of State Dean Heller (R). Heller is performing poorly enough against University of Nevada Regent Jill Derby (D) that we are putting the race on the chart. Heller is a moderate who does not inspire the GOP base, but this district is so heavily Republican that he should already have the race in the bag. He will benefit on Election Day from the fact that incumbent Rep. Jim Gibbons (R) is running for governor.

If Republicans do end up having trouble in a place like this in November, they almost certainly will lose the House. Likely Republican Retention.

Ohio-2: Despite the strong Republican leanings of this district, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) is a polarizing enough figure after less than two years in the House that her race remains competitive. Schmidt is evidently still suffering from her sharp image and her harsh mischaracterization of a message from a national guardsman to anti-war Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). This is the rare seat this year in which voters give congressional Republicans a higher re-elect percentage than they give their incumbent congresswoman.

The fact that she is even in a race against her largely unknown challenger, Dr. Victoria Wulsin (D), is a serious problem for Ohio Republicans, who have several hot races to deal with in a year when their entire state party is ill with the scandals of Gov. Bob Taft (R). National Republican operatives see this district as a potential unpleasant surprise. Likely Republican Retention.

Governor 2006

Although the main focus this year has been on the House and Senate races that will determine control in Washington, several governorships are up for grabs as well. This year’s gubernatorial races are the last ones that will not have consequences for state-by-state redistricting after the 2010 census. Democrats +3, Republicans -3.

Republican-Held Governorships In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

CT (Rell)

AK (Open)

AR (Open)

MA (Open)

FL (Open)

CA (Schwarzenegger)

CO (Open)

NY (Open)

SC (Sanford)

GA (Perdue)

MD (Ehrlich)

OH (Open)

HI (Lingle)

MN (Pawlenty)

NV (Open)

RI (Carcieri)

TX (Perry)

Massachusetts: Former Deputy U.S. Attorney Deval Patrick (D), after coming from behind to stamp out his primary opposition, holds a commanding double-digit lead over moderate Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R). Massachusetts is on course to get its first Democratic Governor since the days of Michael Dukakis (D). Likely Democratic Takeover.

Democrat-Held Governorships In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

PA (Rendell)

ME (Baldacci)

IA (Open)

AZ (Napolitano)

OK (Henry)

MI (Granholm)

KS (Sebelius)

OR (Kulongoski)

WI (Doyle)

Sincerely,
Robert D. Novak


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