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Capital Briefs: Aug. 28-Sept. 1

Conservative Ousts Murkowski:

Alaska Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski kicked off his contested primary campaign in June with a full-page advertisement that ran in the Anchorage and Fairbanks newspapers. “Maybe I should consider a personality transplant,” he said in the ad.

Last week, Alaska Republicans opted for a candidate transplant. They placed Murkowski third in a three-way race. Ahead of him were solid conservatives Sarah Palin, who won with 51%, and former state Sen. John Binkley, who placed second with 30%. Murkowski, who served 22 years in the U.S. Senate before resigning in 2002 to become governor, took only 19%. Much of the media analysis of Murkowski’s defeat focused on his effort to negotiate a natural gas pipeline deal that would have provided tax breaks to big oil. But there was more to it than that. Last year, Murkowski unilaterally used a state line of credit to buy a $2.7-million jet to ferry himself around after both the state legislature and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security refused to fund the airplane. More importantly, in 2002, Murkowski had appointed his own daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to finish out his Senate term—a move Alaska conservatives never forgot. The daughter was more liberal than her father, and more liberal than other potential appointees. In 2004, she nearly became the first Republican Senate nominee to lose in Alaska in 30 years. In a good year nationally for the GOP, she squeaked by with just 49% of the vote.

Beach Party:

The White House last week had little interest in counter-punching Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) who had jabbed at President Bush for not fully preparing the country for the difficulties of the Iraq War. “We had not told the American people how tough and difficult this could be,” McCain said, stumping in Ohio for hard-pressed GOP Sen. Mike DeWine. “It has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today, because they were led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach.”

When HUMAN EVENTS Political Editor John Gizzi asked Deputy White House Spokesman Dana Perrino to comment on McCain’s remarks, she said, “I haven’t seen the reports.” She then cited several occasions on which President Bush said it “will require sacrifice” to put Iraq back on its feet. Bill Plante of CBS News then jumped in and asked her reaction to McCain’s comment that “the administration—not the President—misled the country” about the mission in Iraq. Perrino would say only that this was “ground that has been plowed before.”

McCain’s Bushmen:

McCain, meanwhile, continues to court support for his anticipated presidential race from people who were formerly major supporters of George W. Bush. James B. Lee of J.P. Morgan recently hosted a dinner party for McCain in New York. Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack did likewise. Former Republican National Committee Finance Chairman Larry Bathgate of New Jersey also recently hosted an event for the senator. “Sen. McCain has been steadfast in his support of the President and those of us who have been in the Bush family camp for 25 years or more appreciate that,” Bathgate told the Financial Times.

Primary Wars:

The Democratic National Committee has decided to buck the tradition that begins each party’s presidential nominating process with caucuses in Iowa followed by a primary in New Hampshire. In 2008, the DNC plans to sandwich caucuses in Nevada into the week between Iowa and New Hampshire. It also intends to hold a primary in South Carolina one week after New Hampshire.

The move is designed to appease elements of the Democratic base. Iowa and New Hampshire are largely white. Nevada, by contrast, has a large Latino population, while almost half the Democratic primary voters in South Carolina are likely to be black. The DNC decision is not going over well in New Hampshire. Democratic Gov. John Lynch said, “The DNC did not give us our primary, and they are not going to take it away.” Joe McQuaid, editor of the powerful, conservative Manchester Union Leader, issued a blunt warning to Democrats. “In the next presidential race, given how tight national elections have become, we expect New Hampshire’s four electoral votes will be quite the prize,” McQuaid said. “And we imagine the Republicans will be reminding voters here just what the Democratic Party thinks of our little state and our little primary.”

It’s Done:

The Congressional Budget Office on August 18 issued a report estimating that the Senate immigration reform bill will cost U.S. taxpayers $126 billion over the next ten years. It does not calculate what the costs might be in the decade after that when the number of people affected by the bill may catapult as result of “chain immigration”—i.e. the parents, children and siblings of amnestied illegal aliens entering the country on a preferred basis. The CBO analysis estimated there will be about 12.1 million illegal aliens whose status will be changed by the law. Bear Stearns, however, has estimated there are actually 20 million illegal aliens already in the country. If Bear Stearns is right, the costs of the immigration bill would far exceed the CBO’s $126-billion estimate. The Washington Post reported that, according to the CBO, amnestied aliens will receive more than $50 billion in federal benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid and Social Security. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.) predicted the CBO report would kill the Senate plan. “When combined with the policy implications, this should certainly stick a fork in it,” he said.

Judicial Watch Diggs In:

Even the editorial page of the New York Times had to take note when the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch reported that Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, who ruled last week in favor of the ACLU suit against the NSA’s al Qaeda surveillance program (see cover story), serves as trustee of a foundation that gave $125,000 in grants to the Michigan ACLU. The Times said that her conflict of interest was “disquieting,” yet not enough to have required her to recuse herself. What would they have said if Justice Scalia oversaw a foundation that made grants to the National Right to Life Committee?

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