Week of July 26, 2006

July 26, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 15b

To: Our Readers


  1. The conventional wisdom about the 2006 elections among both Republicans and Democrats now is that the Democrats will take control of the House and could also win the Senate. One House Republican committee chairman, who publicly exudes optimism, privately predicts — and has predicted for six months — a loss of 30 House seats.
  2. The fiercely partisan tone by Democrats was reflected this week when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attacked visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for criticizing the Israeli assault on southern Lebanon, with Pelosi calling for a boycott of his speech to Congress. So much for the notion that the reaction to the Mideast crisis would be bipartisan.
  3. The K Street business lobbyists are furious about the failure so far of the Republican-controlled Congress to pass the long-pending pension bill. The problem is that the measure has become entwined with two politically combustible measures: estate tax repeal and minimum wage increase. The issue is in doubt as we go to press.
  4. Democratic political operatives view President George W. Bush‘s veto of the embryonic stem cell research bill as a political boon that could prove the difference in suburban districts — particularly in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York.
  5. Talk in Democratic circles continues to boost former Vice President Al Gore as a challenger to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for the Democratic presidential nomination. Nobody can be absolutely certain whether Gore will make the move.


Legislative Politics: Republicans continue to press for popular legislation that will help them politically, especially considering that some of it is very likely to pass at a time when Democrats can only lose by trying to obstruct. The clearest case of this is a bill regulating the transport of minors across state lines for the purpose of getting an abortion. It easily passed the Senate with 65 votes. Also key to Republican success this year is a bill that would allow states to share in royalties from coastal oil-drilling, which would create incentives to exploit domestic resources. But it may all be too little, too late.

Judicial Appointments: Both the Senate and White House have risen from a year-long slumber that ignored their issue of judicial confirmations until now. But Republicans have already failed to take sufficient political advantage of one of their best issues, and it appears that anything at this point will be too late.

  1. Last Thursday night, the Senate unexpectedly confirmed four judges on a voice vote after no debate. On Tuesday, another appeals judge was confirmed after token debate. Without fanfare, the White House suddenly poured out 13 judicial nominations.
  2. On June 16, six conservative Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee had sent President Bush a private letter protesting the slow pace of judicial confirmations. They noted an unusually high number of judicial vacancies for the sixth year of a presidency, including nine on the circuit courts, with no nominations made over a two-month span early this year. Pleading with the President, the Senators said "the fast-approaching November elections make it imperative that the Senate confirms as many strong nominees as possible in the limited time remaining in the 109th Congress."
  3. Bush did send up 13 nominations—including six circuit judges—between June 28 and July 13. Still, he has not submitted a name for five vacancies in circuit seats and 14 empty district seats. Justice Department officials say that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) advised it was too late in the year for new nominees. Frist denies this and suggests that Justice officials misunderstood his aides.
  4. There is, indeed, little time in the judiciary committee, with hearings and mark-ups due on trial statutes for Guantanamo detainees, asbestos litigation reform, and intelligence controversies. Still, aides on the Hill say that much of the fault lies with the White House — particularly counsel Harriet Miers. She has been criticized on Capitol Hill for the caliber of some recent nominees and the lethargic pace of appointments. She wanted her friend, Columbia Prof. Debra Livingston, named to the prestigious District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Conservatives blocked Livingston as undependable. Instead, Bush on June 29 nominated conservative Assistant Atty. Gen. Peter Keisler for the D.C. Circuit and Livingston to the New York-based 2nd Circuit.
  5. Beyond the White House, Republicans are in disarray on judges. Whereas Democrats obstructed them in the past, the problem is more intra-party now. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is under fierce attack from the right for opposing Bush’s nomination of Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes to the 4th Circuit in Richmond because of his role in the handling of terrorist detainees.
  6. The bottom line is that Democrats have gotten a free pass on this issue. Whereas Republicans would love to have Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on television, frightening moderates with his doctrinaire left-wing views on judicial appointments, Democrats are glad that Republicans now are less able to make this an issue.

Governor 2006

Oklahoma: As we anticipated, Rep. Ernest Istook easily bested his opponents to win the GOP nomination for governor. He begins as only a slight underdog against Gov. Brad Henry (D) in a very competitive race. Leaning Democratic Retention.


Senate 2006

Connecticut: There is now little question that Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is on his way to losing the Democratic primary to anti-Iraq War candidate Ned Lamont, and may have to appear on the ballot as an independent candidate for re-election. This result will prove embarrassing to Democrats everywhere and will likely begin a Republican campaign to portray them as soft on terrorism.

Although the polling has shown all along that Lieberman probably wins as an independent in a three-way race, he may stray further from the Democratic line if he loses the primary. Voters may be less likely to support him once he has lost. Leaning Lamont.

Maryland: The surprise here is that the Democratic Primary is becoming a real race. This is especially the case now that Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan (D) has pulled out of the governor’s race on the pretext of suffering from depression. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley (D) is now the only candidate in that race, and so with no race on the governor’s slate, Marylanders’ attention is naturally drawn to the Senate primary.

Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) leads in two recent polls against the longtime putative nominee, Rep. Ben Cardin (D). Meanwhile, a long-shot candidate, wealthy real estate investor Josh Rales (D), has purchased $2.1 million in television ads (with his own money) leading up to the September primary. Rales, who like Cardin is white, is expected to draw support away from Cardin.

Cardin, meanwhile, has been missing in action from this campaign, making few appearances since June. Given that Maryland is one of the easiest states for a sitting congressman to campaign in, his absence from the scene is puzzling.

The greatest beneficiary of the uncertainty on the Democratic side is Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R), who outraised all of his opponents in the last quarter and has the luxury of holding his fire and saving his money for another month if he so chooses. Steele already polls slightly ahead of Mfume, and within reasonable distance of Cardin. Whoever wins the primary, Steele will come out of it with an enormous cash advantage and an opportunity to hit the airwaves aggressively for the last two months of the race. Steele is playing it smart — the conservative base in Maryland know that he is one of them, so no one is dismayed when he throws a bomb in the direction of President Bush or the national GOP.

Tennessee: What conservatives always fear has happened here. The two conservatives in the race, former Representatives Van Hilleary (R) and Ed Bryant (R), have effectively split the conservative vote. Moneyed center-right candidate Bob Corker (R), the former mayor of Chattanooga, went up on the air and seized for himself a formidable lead. If either Bryant or Hilleary were out of the race, the other would win (Bryant, who ran against Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) in 2002, polls slightly ahead of Hilleary). But right now, the polling indicates that whenever there is movement, it is because one of the two conservatives is taking votes away from the other, not from Corker.

Corker, meanwhile, has not failed to grasp his need to move to the right. He is running as a conservative and has changed many of his positions in a rightward direction since his last run at statewide office against Frist in 1994.

There is still time for one of the conservatives to endorse the other, but politicians’ egos are famously large, and we cannot foresee such an extraordinary event. Whoever wins, he is favored against Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D). Likely Corker.

House 2006

Colorado-5: This GOP primary to replace Rep. Joel Hefley (R) has gone from being a race between two conservatives — state Sen. Doug Lamborn and former Hefley staffer Jeff Crank — to being a race between Lamborn and moderate Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera, as Crank falls behind. Once again, the danger exists that the conservatives will split the vote and hand victory to the moderate in a very conservative district that will certainly remain Republican in November. Leaning Lamborn.

Colorado-7: Former State Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D) and former State Rep. Peggy Lamm (D) are in the midst of a very fierce and negative competition for the Democratic nomination here. With Perlmutter’s attacks on Lamm’s gun control stance, and Lamm’s campaigning that Perlmutter is “in the pocket of big oil,” the two are nipping at each other’s heels as the primary draws near. Both have gone heavily negative, which could be a turn-off to some voters in the district.

Perlmutter, who has much more cash on hand than Lamm, was originally seen as the frontrunner in the primary and carries the endorsement of several public officials and organizations, including former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). However, recent polls show Lamm with an edge. She also has the advantage of boasting one of the most well-known last names in Colorado, as she was married to the brother of former Colorado Gov. Rick Lamm (D).

The winner in the primary will take on Rick O’Donnell, the unopposed Republican candidate, for the seat that is being vacated by Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) in his run for Colorado governor. This will be one of the top races in the nation in November. Leaning Lamm.

Indiana-2: Just as Joe Donnelly (D), a moderate Democrat, came to poll ahead of Rep. Chris Chocola (R) in an independent poll, Donnelly’s failure to pay his property taxes on time caught up with him, thanks to Republican Party researchers. Although he said he delayed paying because of cash-flow issues, he apparently lent a large sum of money to his campaign during the same period.

Donnelly apparently has more skeletons in his closet, and Chocola holds a big enough cash advantage (greater than three to one) that everyone will know about them by November.

On the other hand, it is very significant that Chocola polls behind at this point and that he has to use his opposition research already. If this seat ends up being genuinely competitive, it will be a long election night for Republicans.

Oklahoma-5: As we expected, this race now proceeds to a runoff between Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R). Fallin’s 35 percent finish in the crowded field makes her the frontrunner, but this campaign could go anywhere in the next four weeks leading up to the runoff. The candidates are ideologically similar, although Cornett has the backing of Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). Leaning Fallin.

Tennessee-1: Rep. Bill Jenkins‘ (R) retirement has opened up his highly conservative East Tennessee district. Thirteen Republicans are vying in the primary, so someone will likely win with less than 20 percent of the vote. The top two candidates are state Rep. David Davis of Johnson City and Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable of Kingsport. Venable enjoys a substantial cash advantage over Davis. The other moneyed campaigner is Richard Roberts, who has lent his campaign $750,000.

Davis, who is vocal on pro-life issues and worked against the proposed state income tax, will play to the conservative base. In Congress, he would be a firebrand, comparable to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) from farther west in the state. Venable is viewed as slightly more moderate, but he has also been a popular mayor in his part of the district and enjoys the endorsement of the three major newspapers in the district. The race will be close between him and Davis. Leaning Venable.

Robert D. Novak