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Week of September 13, 2006

September 13, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 19a

To: Our Readers

Outlook

  1. A stock rally coupled with a massive plunge in crude oil, gasoline and heating oil prices is creating new hope for Republicans that voter anger will be assuaged by November.
  2. The good economic news coincided with President George W. Bush‘s blitz on national security for a marked September lift of Republican spirits after the summer malaise. Bush’s modest breakthrough in the polls has led to sudden optimism that Republicans can hold both the House and Senate.
  3. There is no question that Democrats are exceedingly nervous about Republicans’ playing the national-security card. That is shown by Democratic overreaction to the ABC docudrama "The Road to 9/11" and President Bush’s citation of the Iraq war in his 9/11 speech to the nation.
  4. However, the Republican-controlled Congress is not going to satisfy the party’s base on the two issues that most concern it: immigration and government spending. On immigration, there is no chance of legislation is reaching the President’s desk because of GOP disagreement on guest-worker programs. On spending, a battle royal in the House is looming on controlling earmarks.
  5. Democrats remain certain, however, that they will win control of the House. They are, figuratively, picking out the draperies—that is, already filling committee staff positions.
  6. The Republican establishment in Tuesday’s primaries went one-for-two in imposing its will on the party’s rank and file. The party leaders felt they had to defeat popular conservative candidates for the Rhode Island Senate seat and the Arizona 8th congressional district in order to have a real chance to hold the seats. They succeeded in Rhode Island, failed in Arizona.

CIA Leak

Now that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has finally acknowledged he was my source three years ago in revealing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA employee, his interviews have obscured what he really did and said. I want to set the record straight based on firsthand knowledge of what transpired.

  1. Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he "thinks" might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. He told the Washington Post last week that his answer was: "I don’t know, but I think his wife worked out there." Neither of us took notes, and nobody else was present, but I recalled our conversation that week in writing a column, while Armitage reconstructed the conversation months later for federal prosecutors. In fact, he had told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division and had suggested her husband’s mission.
  2. Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column. It is highly doubtful that he never expected this to be published, as he specifically noted to me that Mrs. Wilson’s role was the sort of news item very much in the tradition of the old Evans & Novak column.
  3. An accurate depiction of what Armitage actually said deepens the irony of his being my source. He was a foremost internal skeptic of the administration’s war policy, and I, likewise, had long opposed military intervention in Iraq. Zealous foes of George W. Bush have depicted me, implausibly, as the President’s lapdog. But even they cannot fit Armitage into the left-wing fantasy of a well-crafted White House conspiracy to destroy Joe and Valerie Wilson. The news that Armitage, and not Karl Rove, was the leaker was devastating for the left.
  4. During his quarter of a century in Washington, Armiage and I had no contact before our fateful interview. I tried to see him in the first two and a half years of the Bush Administration, but he rebuffed me — summarily and with disdain, I thought. Then, without explanation, in June 2003, Armitage’s office said the deputy secretary would see me. This was two weeks before Joe Wilson outed himself as author of a 2002 report for the CIA debunking Iraq’s interest in buying uranium in Africa.
  5. I sat down with Armitage in his State Department office the afternoon of July 8 with tacit rather than explicit ground rules: deep background with nothing said attributed to Armitage or even an anonymous State Department official. Late in the hour-long interview, I asked why the CIA had sent Wilson, who lacked intelligence and nuclear policy experience as well as recent contact with Niger. This began the three-year saga during which Armitage’s silence caused intense pain for his colleagues in government and enabled partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse Rove of being my primary source.

House 2006

DEMOCRAT-HELD
Texas-25: We have removed Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) from our chart because none of his opponents in the new special election appears capable of defeating him in the newly redrawn district. Strong Democratic Retention.

Democrat-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

IL-17 (Open)

GA-8 (Marshall)

IL-8 (Bean)

LA-3 (Melancon)

GA-12 (Barrow)

OH-13 (Open)

IA-3 (Open)

OH-6 (Open)

PA-12 (Murtha)

SC-5 (Spratt)

TX-17 (Edwards)

VT-AL (Open)

WV-1 (Mollohan)

REPUBLICAN-HELD
Special Connecticut Report: Connecticut is a bellwether state for control of the U.S. House in 2006. The state has three Republican-held seats in districts that all went for John Kerry for President in 2004. All three are competitive for both parties. Democrats boast high hopes for a takeover this year, but they probably cannot manage it without taking two or more of the seats here.

Democrats have recruited three top-notch candidates to face the state’s Republican incumbents. The three share in common the fact that they have run for and held office before. All have polished personal and campaign skills, and two have run competitive races for Congress before, meaning that they probably do not have any personal skeletons that haven’t already been unearthed. All have conformed largely to the DCCC playbook in framing their issues and running their campaigns.

Issues: The issue that most rankles Connecticut voters is clearly the Iraq war. On that issue, the Democratic campaigns almost run themselves.

Democrats here also hope to make inroads by criticizing the Medicare Part D prescription-drug benefit They hope to make this a top-three campaign issue, but this is probably too clever by half. The so-called "donut hole" issue, which all three candidates are discussing, is already complicated and confusing for anyone outside of Washington (or inside it, for that matter). But the biggest problem with the drug issue is the way in which Part D’s creation neutered it.

One must look back to the late 1990s to see how powerful the prescription drug issue once was to understand this point. As long as Democrats were able to complain that Republicans would do nothing to help the elderly afford drugs, the issue was a slam-dunk. President Bush’s team was so frightened of the issue that they campaigned on a large drug plan (for indigent retirees), and then created an even larger one in his first term (for every retiree). Conservatives always complained that the benefit would never create votes for the GOP, but this was not quite the point. The existence of Part D means that now any talk about the issue becomes a question of tinkering with what’s already there. That makes this a much weaker, more marginal issue now. It quells previously existing discontent.

The Democratic candidates strongly disagree with this view, but 74 percent or more of the retirees in each of the three districts have already signed up for the plan (roughly 86 percent of Connecticut retirees have some kind of government drug plan). So the plan could not have been that confusing for people.

The big hope of Republicans is to keep their races local — but not all of them are doing what they need to.

Turnout: Many have wondered what effect the unusual Senate race in Connecticut will have on House races. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D), defeated in the Democratic primary, is running as an independent against wealthy, liberal businessman Ned Lamont (D).

Could the strange Senate dynamics hurt Democrats? We do not believe so. Although this race has created a potential national problem for their party — afraid of public image on national security — it has not created a nasty split among Democrats in Connecticut. Supporters of both Lamont and Lieberman can be found working side by side on the Democratic House campaigns. The equation on the Democratic side has hardly changed, although now two Democratic constituencies — anti-war and pro-Israel — both have greater reason to show up and vote.

On the other side, Republicans here generally turn out to vote even when there is no top-ticket race that interests them. (There hasn’t really been one in several years.) This time, in the most improbable way, they have a top-ticket Senate race in which they will make a difference. This hasn’t happened in many years. These Republicans will be voting to elect a liberal Democrat — Lieberman is no moderate except on one issue, Iraq. But Republican voters here would rather not see the far-left Lamont buy himself a Senate seat. The race could bring out an unusually high number of Republican voters — especially the minority who are with the unpopular President Bush on an unpopular Iraq war. Although they are clearly a minority, these Republicans are dedicated to Bush in spite of everything, and so they could turn out to be a key marginal minority that will show up and vote in larger numbers than usual (for a midterm) without any extra effort by the GOP. That helps the Republican incumbents in House races.

Ultimately, the Senate race is probably a wash in terms of what it will do for the three competitive House races.

Connecticut-2: Rep. Rob Simmons (R), representing since 2000 what has always been a Democratic-leaning district, is a true survivor. Facing what appeared (to us) to be certain defeat in 2004, Simmons staked everything on his promise to keep the submarine base open near New London. Contrary to our expectations just before the election, he won re-election by eight points — one of just two close races we called wrong in 2004. Simmons went on to make good on his promise when he saved the sub base.

A politician who delivers like that, who returns to his district almost every week and who expects a tough race every cycle, is very hard to beat. Simmons is just the kind of candidate who could survive the large Democratic wave many expect this year. But this district, which has a history of close results, poses a great challenge to him every time.

Democrats argue that layoffs in local industry cancel out the advantage Simmons has after saving the sub base. They point out that former State Rep. Joe Courtney (D) is running a much better campaign than he did in 2002, having entered the race much earlier this time and having no primary to worry about. He is better funded and has a national Democratic wind at his back. He leads by six points in one recent independent poll, but the sample for that poll is much more Democratic and less independent than the district. This race is probably close to a tie at the moment. The two candidates will debate on Monday. Leaning Republican Retention.

Connecticut-4: Republicans in a liberal state like Connecticut must usually rely on hard work, constituent service and pork to keep themselves in office. This is why the most vulnerable of the three Republicans is the one who can’t seem to leave the Iraq war alone, and boasts constantly of the number of trips he has made there: Rep. Christopher Shays (R). He faces former Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell (D), who came within four points of him in 2004. She is one of the sharpest candidates running this year, has extremely impressive personal skills and knows from her 2004 experience how to run a campaign. Farrell is wisely hammering the Iraq issue constantly with her ads and speeches because Shays is constantly opening himself up to criticism from that angle.

Despite a recent poll showing Shays ahead by seven points — a poll from the same company we believe is mis-polling the Simmons race — we think that Shays has much bigger problems this time around than he did in 2004. He will lean on his liberal reputation and his willingness to buck the more conservative House leadership. But he keeps going back and forth over Iraq when the issue can only hurt him. His cause is not hopeless — he knows how to win a tough fight because he has done it many times before — but we believe he is trailing. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Connecticut-5: Twelve-term Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) is the safest of the three Republican incumbents being challenged this year. She repeatedly frustrated opponents in her Democrat-leaning district. She was then drawn into a district in 2002 with Rep. Jim Maloney (D), but the new district was more Republican than the one she represented, and she won easily.

Johnson, a moderate, has racked up large enough margins in most years that Democrats have been afraid to challenge her. But State Sen. Chris Murphy (D), a left-wing legislator who is young, intelligent and very articulate, decided to take a shot this year. We were first alerted to this possibility in January 2005 through the progressive-left network with which Murphy keeps ideological company.

Murphy comes off as very sincere in conversation. He has shown real smarts so far in how he has handled Johnson’s early attack ads, and he’s also proven that he can raise some money. His record may be a bit left of the district — Kerry won here with only 49 percent — but he is good enough on his feet to defend his principles.

Plus, if a campaign about the intricacies of the Medicare drug plan were to work anywhere, they are most likely to work against the entrenched incumbent who designed and managed the bill on the House floor. But Johnson feels confident enough that she is advertising based on the drug plan. Murphy has the ability to keep it within 10 points, but he remains a long-shot. Johnson has never been one to take it easy, which is how she has kept such a blue district in her column for so long. Johnson is already running her seventh ad of the race, a clear sign that her campaign recognizes the seriousness of the challenge.

Johnson also has money to burn. She already enjoyed a large cash advantage at the end of the second quarter, and that advantage will probably widen with next month’s filing, despite all the advertising. Leaning Republican Retention.

Kentucky-4: Rumors of Rep. Geoff Davis‘s (R) imminent demise were apparently premature. Not only does a new poll show him ahead within the margin of error (up from a large deficit), but we also have learned that his opponent, former Rep. Ken Lucas (D), has been largely inactive. Public records show that Lucas has been especially lackluster in fundraising compared to the freshman Davis.

Democrats are happy just to have this race on the table at all, and the late, baffling decision by Lucas (who retired in 2004) to attempt a comeback was a huge boon for them. But the race could quickly turn into a money pit if they aren’t careful. The DCCC has reserved airtime here but is not currently running ads, according to "The Hotline."

Davis is in a tough spot for an incumbent — he’s below 50 percent, and many voters will still think Lucas is the incumbent. Davis nearly beat Lucas in 2002, but this year is obviously different in terms of the national mood.

We’re pulling this race back into the tossup category, leaving just three "likely," as opposed to "leaning," Democratic takeovers. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Washington-8: Although he remains the favorite, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) appears to be much softer than originally believed. He shows enough weakness in recent polls that his race must be moved into the tossup "leans Republican" category.

Reichert holds a suburban Seattle district that has always been tough for Republicans, but which Republicans have held for several years. Democrats would love to knock off Reichert with their candidate, businesswoman Darcy Burner (D), who is both wealthy and adept at fundraising. Burner has spent early, while Reichert has bided his time until now. She still has more than enough on hand for a competitive race. Leaning Republican Retention.

Republican-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP
Leans Dem

AZ-1 (Renzi)

AZ-5 (Hayworth)

CO-7 (Open)

AZ-8 (Open)

CA-11 (Pombo)

CT-2 (Simmons)

CT-4 (Shays)

IN-9 (Sodrel)

CO-4 (Musgrave)

CT-5 (Johnson)

IA-1 (Open)

TX-22 (Open)

FL-8 (Keller)

FL-22 (Shaw)

IL-6 (Open)

FL-13 (Open)

MN-6 (Open)

IN-2 (Chocola)

IL-11 (Weller)

NM-1 (Wilson)

IN-8 (Hostettler)

KY-3 (Northup)

NY-24 (Open)

KY-4 (Davis)

NH-2 (Bass)

OH-15 (Pryce)

NC-11 (Taylor)

NV-3 (Porter)

OH-18 (Open)

OH-1 (Chabot)

NY-20 (Sweeney)

PA-7 (Weldon)

PA-6 (Gerlach)

TX-23 (Bonilla)

PA-8 (Fitzpatrick)

VA-2 (Drake)

WY-AL (Cubin)

PA-10 (Sherwood)

WI-8 (Open)

WA-8 (Reichert)

Democrats need to net 15 seats to take control of the House. Democrats +14, Republicans -14.

Tuesday Primaries

Arizona-8: Former State Rep. Randy Graf (R) narrowly won the primary here against the might of the NRCC, as we’d expected. Graf stayed even in the Tucson area with moderate state Rep. Steve Huffman and cleaned up in Cochise County to the East. Huffman was hurt by large DCCC expenditures against him. Graf was aided by a large conservative turnout that appears to have unseated two or three moderate GOP state legislators. Graf begins as a heavy underdog against the Democratic winner, state Sen. Gabbie Giffords (D). Giffords will have a huge advantage in cash, but Graf’s big hope is his strength with the grassroots on the immigration issue. Likely Democratic Takeover.

New Hampshire-1: Carol Shea-Porter (D), a leftist critic of the Iraq war, upset Jim Craig (D), the Democrats’ preferred candidate. She did it all with a low budget and a strong grassroots effort with extremely low turnout.

This probably ensures that Democrats will not make the race against Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) competitive this time. His strongest potential foe, former Manchester Mayor Robert Baines, was defeated for re-election last year. Strong Republican Retention.

Wisconsin-8: Dr. Steve Kagen (D) blew away the competition in this primary and will face State House Speaker John Gard (R) for this open Republican seat. Kagen had been spending millions on television ads since March, and this helped him overcome Brown County Executive Nancy Nussbaum (D). Nussbaum would have been a better candidate for the Democrats, but Kagen’s victory at least ensures that the DCCC need not spend here in order to keep the race competitive.

The National Republican Campaign Committee, confident of a Kagen victory, had already begun running ads against him before the primary in order to prevent him from running away with the race. Republicans hope to publicize the number of patients Kagen has sued, and other problems with the political novice, until November.

The question is whether Kagen’s massive personal wealth can buy him any more good will within the district than it already has. If Kagen is already at the point of diminishing returns, then Gard is likely to come back and win in what is natural Republican territory — even if it looks shaky at the moment. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Maryland-Senate: Rep. Ben Cardin (D) outran and outspent former Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D), whose ad campaign began very late and had little effect. Cardin is now the favorite against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) to succeed Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D). Cardin has to hope that Mfume keeps his cool over voting irregularities and refrains from helping Steele by causing trouble. The problem is that Mfume appears unlike to go quietly. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Rhode Island-Senate: In a close finish, Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) showed he had what it took to draw independent voters to the polls. He survived, against our expectations. Chafee had massive manpower help, courtesy of the National Republican Senatorial Committee as he defeated Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (R) by about six points. This race was tough to call because independent voters were allowed to vote in either party’s primary.

Chafee has a much better chance of keeping the seat in Republican hands than Laffey would have had, even if many Republicans would just as soon see him go. Leaning Republican Retention.

Sincerely,
Robert D. Novak

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Written By

Mr. Novak was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, a political newsletter he founded in 1967 with Rowland Evans. He passed away August 19, 2009. Read tributes to Robert Novak and his legendary work, as well as memories from Novak alumni and the Human Events family.

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