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Week of September 20, 2006

September 20, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 19b

To: Our Readers

Outlook

  1. The economic situation continues to improve for the ordinary voter. Unleaded gasoline and crude oil continued to fall for the second week in a row (gas fell 5 percent yesterday), and prices at the pump, already much lower, are falling further still, as the use of summer blends ends and cheaper winter blends are phased into the market this month. This is the single biggest economic issue for many voters, and it could ease their anger against the incumbent party.

  2. Treasury bond yields remain low, keeping money in the productive private sector and keeping down the government’s debt service obligations. Tuesday’s tame inflation data bode well for a continued pause in short-term interest rates. This may prevent the suffocation of the soft market for existing homes for now, until the supply and demand equation is evened out by the slowdown in new construction. That means more security for homeowners — another bread-and-butter issue for many voters.

  3. President George W. Bush‘s approval ratings have rebounded by statistically significant amounts in several polls now. This is not unrelated to the administration’s new push on homeland security and terrorist detainees, but it is also related to the economy.

  4. However, Republican use of the national security issue has been diminished somewhat by the split over the judicial tribunal bill. Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) supported Sen. John McCain‘s (R-Ariz.) split from the administration. The conventional wisdom has been that President Bush and the White House failed to consult with these Republican senators, but that is not the fact. There was steady communication. Graham made public statements approving the administration’s position until he shifted into opposition. There is speculation in the White House that Graham is eyeing the attorney general chair in a McCain Administration, but we think his ambitions rise much higher than that.

  5. McCain’s split on the judicial tribunals issue marks his first break with Bush in some time after growing closer to him and to mainstream Republicans, as he became the 2008 presidential front runner. Politically, McCain’s move helps restore his somewhat tattered image of independence. But he has to get nominated first, and separation from the President on national security does not help toward that end.

  6. The new Gallup Poll suggests that Republican voters feel juiced up again — just as motivated to vote as their Democratic counterparts. If this apparent change holds up, things could look very different by mid-October.

Bolton Nomination: Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), the unfathomable maverick, is only the latest Republican to block the nomination of UN Ambassador John Bolton as the days of this Congress run short.

  1. Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (Ky.) sat down Tuesday for a heart-to-heart talk with Chafee, pleading with him to permit Bolton’s nomination to reach the Senate floor. Chafee’s avowed complaint, laid out in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had nothing to do with Bolton’s performance at the UN, but with the Bush Administration’s policy on Israel. The outcome of the meeting between McConnell and Chafee remains unknown.

  2. Bolton had been set for a favorable rollcall in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee September 7, when it became clear that the White House had misread Chafee in believing it had his vote for Bolton. The President’s political team had gone all out for Chafee, who was fighting for his political life in the September 12 Rhode Island Republican primary. Nevertheless, Chafee informed Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that he could not support Bolton, and Lugar cancelled the vote.

  3. Bolton’s two-year struggle to get confirmed has been held up by Republicans at each step — first Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio), then Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), and now Chafee. But it can ultimately be directly traced to a Democratic senator and a vengeful UN secretariat. Chafee is now in this pivotal position only because of the anti-Bolton efforts of Sen.  Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) who wishes to normalize relations with Communist Cuba. Aiding Dodd’s effort is a stealthy campaign of sabotage by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, executed by his deputy Mark Malloch Brown.
  4. Malloch Brown has been stirring up anti-Bolton sentiment with his fellow ambassadors, who in turn have contacted senators. Bolton has demanded reform at the UN, which has suffered from massive corruption of late. This has not made him popular with the world organization’s bureaucrats. They would like nothing better than to give this conservative diplomat his comeuppance.

  5. For Dodd, Bolton’s overriding defect is his anti-Castro viewpoint. Dodd was able to mobilize Democratic colleagues in a deadlock-creating demand for executive branch documents involving Bolton. This time, he probably cannot muster a successful filibuster as he did then, thanks to the intervention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), grateful for Bolton’s strong stand in favor of Israel. But Dodd’s work may be done for him if Chafee remains on the fence.

House 2006

On the House side, it is worth noting — though not as meaningful as some claim — that Republicans have closed large gaps on the national generic ballot in two polls now. Typically, Republicans gain seats when they trail by less than five percentage points on the generic. Obviously, that won’t happen this year. Republicans have maxed out the current gerrymander, and they don’t have enough truly competitive races on the table right now. Democrats will gain seats, either way — but recent developments add credibility to Republican hopes of keeping the House.

Are Republicans are on the mend? We do not see the evidence yet in any of the closest races, but GOP leads in some of the less-close contests are beginning to widen. In short, Republicans are beginning to take a few races off the table, or at least move them closer to their edge. Our numerical outlook remains unchanged. Democrats +14, Republicans -14.

Republican-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP
Leans Dem

AZ-1 (Renzi)

CT-2 (Simmons)

CO-7 (Open)

AZ-8 (Open)

AZ-5 (Hayworth)

CT-5 (Johnson)

CT-4 (Shays)

IN-9 (Sodrel)

CA-11 (Pombo)

FL-22 (Shaw)

IA-1 (Open)

TX-22 (Open)

CO-4 (Musgrave)

MN-6 (Open)

IL-6 (Open)

 

FL-8 (Keller)

NM-1 (Wilson)

IN-2 (Chocola)

 

FL-13 (Open)

NY-24 (Open)

IN-8 (Hostettler)

 

IL-11 (Weller)

OH-15 (Pryce)

KY-4 (Davis)

 

KY-3 (Northup)

OH-18 (Open)

NC-11 (Taylor)

 

NV-3 (Porter)

PA-7 (Weldon)

OH-1 (Chabot)

 

NY-20 (Sweeney)

PA-8 (Fitzpatrick)

PA-6 (Gerlach)

 

TX-23 (Bonilla)

PA-10 (Sherwood)

VA-2 (Drake)

 

WY-AL (Cubin)

WA-8 (Reichert)

WI-8 (Open)

 

Arizona-5: Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) holds a double-digit lead in the first public poll of the race. This is a confirmation that the district’s Republican composition (54 percent Bush in 2004) and his own popularity make the race Hayworth’s to lose, despite the high caliber of his opponent, state Sen. Harry Mitchell (D).

Hayworth enjoyed a large cash advantage entering the primary. His reversal on immigration, toward the hard-line position, does not appear to have hurt him here, at least not so far. This is one part of the country where immigration is a local issue, and so it could help him considerably. Likely Republican Retention.

Iowa-1: Restaurateur Mike Whalen (R) continues to look weak against attorney Bruce Braley (D) in his bid to replace Rep. Jim Nussle (R.). His best advantage in this conservative Democratic district is Braley’s social liberalism, but Whalen’s posture toward groups that could help exploit this has been adversarial rather than cooperative. Whalen polls well behind in a district that went for John Kerry, even as Iowa was going for Bush. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

New Hampshire-2: Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) will not win his race by 25 points, but a new poll gives him that lead, which is a bad sign for 2004 nominee Paul Hodes (D). There has only been one poll indicating that this race was close, and it was a Democratic partisan poll that appears to be an outlier. We’ve removed Bass from the chart. Strong Republican 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)

 

 

PA-12 (Murtha)

OH-6 (Open)

 

 

 

SC-5 (Spratt)

 

 

 

TX-17 (Edwards)

 

 

 

VT-AL (Open)

 

 

 

WV-1 (Mollohan)

 

 

Pennsylvania-12: Republican Diana Irey‘s campaign against Rep. Jack Murtha (D) suffered a setback when state GOP Chairman Rob Gleason cancelled a September 25 fundraiser for Irey. Gleason had promised the fundraiser after a careless remark in favor of Murtha, a fellow Johnstown resident, had landed him in hot water with some of the party faithful. This race, a long-shot from the beginning, is still on the table, but Irey’s odds are long. Likely Democratic Retention.

Senate 2006

In the House, we saw that the party-control charts are dramatically asymmetrical. That is to say, the list of Democrat-held seats up for grabs is extremely short, whereas there are a plethora of vulnerable and potentially vulnerable Republican seats.

In the Senate, the situation is different — even in Republicans’ darkest days, it has looked like a pretty fair fight. The number of competitive seats is the same on both sides. The major difference is that the Republican incumbents and open seats are, on the whole, more vulnerable. But this could easily change. It is still within the realm of possibility for Republicans to gain Senate seats, even if it appears unlikely for now. Likewise, it remains possible for Democrats to take over the Senate, although this appears unlikely as well.

Democrats have succeeded in bringing Ohio’s race, between Sen. Mike DeWine (R) and Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) to the table and keeping it there, thanks to the sour anti-Republican mood that hung there when 2006 began. This has been critical to keeping alive their chances of controlling the upper chamber of Congress.

Likewise, the recent polls in Montana indicate that Sen. Conrad Burns (R) remains far behind. For this reason, Republicans could lose at least two of their incumbents, and perhaps as many as four. But they also have targets of their own, including open seats in Maryland and Minnesota and one vulnerable incumbent in Michigan.

The 2006 Senate outcome remains anyone’s game. None of the Republican seats are hopelessly lost, nor are any of them truly safe from the Democrats. Democrats +3, Republicans -3.

DEMOCRAT-HELD
Maryland: Rep. Ben Cardin (D) has been thrown off his game this week by revelations that a member of his staff — he characterizes her as “junior staff,” although she described it differently — kept a blog containing racial insults against Cardin’s African-American opponent — Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) — anti-Semitic remarks, and other crass material.

Cardin has been forced to address the mini-scandal in every forum he has hit in the past week, a clear sign that an otherwise minor issue has knocked him way off-message. But more importantly, this is one in a series of events that have pushed the racial issue to the top of everyone’s consciousness — precisely what Cardin had hoped to avoid.

Cardin won a superficially quiet but in fact deeply acrimonious primary over former NAACP President and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D). His margin was only 8 percent (with 46 percent of the vote) despite his outspending Mfume by an astounding eight-to-one ratio in late August. The race had begun months earlier with state Democrats’ (with or without Cardin’s direct involvement) leaking rumors of Mfume’s sexual dalliances with a woman on his NAACP staff. It ended with bitter allegations about voting irregularities, a much-delayed concession by Mfume and a very tepid endorsement of his opponent. Simultaneously, a racially charged Democratic primary in heavily black and populous Prince George’s County (Steele’s base) came down to a photo finish, and the statewide primary for attorney general saw the black candidate defeated.

The line of black Marylanders’ discontent runs thus: Despite their great importance to Democrats, blacks play only a minor role in the state party, its leadership, and its political power. The racial slurs involved in the new blog controversy contribute to this bitter mix. It has made the rounds both on conservative talk radio and on local black talk radio.

Maryland’s Democratic base is heavily black, and anything that turns off black voters — causing them either to stay at home or to cross party lines and vote for Steele — could be fatal in what promises to be a close race. Steele won further goodwill points in March, when Democratic Senatorial Committee staffers illegally accessed his credit report. Credit reports are a huge issue in the black community, far more important than many realize.

Cardin was forced to spend himself down to $1.6 million by late August — he may be closer to $1 million now, given his late ad blitz — whereas the conservative Steele has $3.1 million and is now on the air with humorous, positive television spots that appeal to precisely the kind of independent-minded voter he needs in order to triumph in liberal Maryland.

Steele trails, but he has a very strong chance of pulling the upset if he stays on his current track and avoids making any big mistakes. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Minnesota: If Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) wants to convince anyone that this race is competitive, he’d better hurry up and do it before all of the money is redirected to more promising GOP targets such as New Jersey, Maryland and Michigan. His opponent, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar (D), has already opened up a lead in the high single-digits (the perennially inaccurate Star-Tribune poll has a margin greater than 20 points, but we’ll ignore it).

Kennedy enjoys a cash-on-hand advantage of $3.4 million to Klobuchar’s $2.9 million. But his early negative ad buy is unconventional and perhaps a sign of panic. It is odd, considering Kennedy’s long-standing plans to run for statewide office. For now, we are moving this race a notch toward the Democrats. Likely Democratic Retention.

New Jersey: Despite the fact that this is Democratic New Jersey, state Sen. Tom Kean (R) is now the clear favorite in this race. The appointment of the scandal-scarred Rep. Robert Menendez (D) as senator was peculiar at the time it happened, but now it is taking on the appearance of total disaster for the Democratic Party. This Senate seat could well become one more victim of former Gov. Jim McGreevey‘s (D) lust and lack of scruples.

Menendez faced ethics questions before this race began, including the promotion of a female staffer through his office and her subsequent landing of a high-paying lobbying job despite apparently lacking qualifications. But it has only become worse as further scandals have unfolded, including Menendez’s securing of millions of dollars in earmarks for a group that has in turn paid him more than $300,000 in rent. Over the last month and a half, Kean has held on to a statistically significant lead that we once believed was a temporary fluke. We understand that Menendez’s situation on the scandal front will become worse still between now and Election Day.

There are already quiet rumors of a late candidate-switch by Democrats, who in 2002 replaced ethically challenged Sen. Bob Torricelli (D) with former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) well after the legal deadline for doing so, thanks to the complicity of the state Supreme Court. (The legal deadline for a candidate switch this year passed on September 17, although obviously the law means very little anyway). This probably won’t happen.

The mere fact that Republicans can conduct a whispering campaign about a repeat of the 2002 ballot-switch is another self-inflicted wound for Democrats. (As a joke, some Republicans recommend giving both of the state’s Senate seats to Lautenberg and letting him vote twice on the floor.) Leaning Republican Takeover.

West Virginia: We include Robert Byrd‘s (D) race in the chart below only because of his frailty. As long as he lives through November, he will win re-election, and win big. None of businessman John Raese‘s (R) ad spots have put even the slightest dent in the Pharaoh of the Senate. Likely Democratic Retention.

Democrat-Held Senate Seats In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

Nebraska (Nelson)

Maryland (Open)

New Jersey (Menendez)

 

Minnesota (Open)

Michigan (Stabenow)

 

 

West Virginia (Byrd)

Washington (Cantwell)

 

 

Vermont (Open)

 

 

 

REPUBLICAN-HELD
Arizona: All the money in Arizona can buy neither charisma nor understanding of issues for former Democratic state Party Chairman Jim Pederson (D). If it could, this would become a serious race.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R) is heavily favored for re-election, barring any major mistakes late in the game. Democrats can take solace in the fact that this race doesn’t cost them anything, thanks to their self-funding candidate. Likely Republican Retention.

Virginia: Sen. George Allen (R) only now appears to understand the amount of trouble he is in. Former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb (D) is giving him a real race, coming up neck-and-neck with him.

So damaging were Allen’s much-hyped remarks about an Indian-American Webb staffer that his campaign has gone early to its opposition research well. Webb’s writings over a decade ago on women in the military go beyond a conservative position against — they are in fact demeaning, and Allen has used them to stop his own bleeding and change the subject. This issue will go far in Virginia, with its heavy military population in the Washington area and the Hampton Roads area in the Southeast.

Allen performed poorly in a debate on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” but he clearly bested Webb in a Chamber of Commerce debate. His handlers have foolishly advised him to ignore questions about whether he will serve out his full term instead of facing a presidential run. But no one in Allen’s position right now can afford to be looking toward a presidential run.

Webb is showing many of the defects of a political rookie, and he has the potential to drop the ball and self-immolate multiple times in the next 45 days. Still, it is clear that Allen should be afraid for his career and stop styling himself as a presidential candidate. Leaning Republican Retention.

Republican-Held Senate Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

Arizona (Kyl)

Missouri (Talent)

Montana (Burns)

 

 

Tennessee (Open)

Ohio (DeWine)

 

 

Virginia (Allen)

Pennsylvania (Santorum)

 

 

 

Rhode Island (Chafee)

 

Sincerely,
Robert D. Novak

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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