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Week of October 11, 2006

October 11, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 21a

To: Our Readers

  • Foley Affair turns the tide against the GOP, throwing close races into the Democratic column
  • Democratic takeover of House now very likely, Senate control in doubt
  • Hastert like a captain who convinces his crew to join him in going down with the ship
  • Dems looking to make gains in governorships
  • Earmark reform takes a hit from GOP’s King of Pork just before pre-election recess.

Outlook

  1. The major topic of conversation in Washington political circles is the collapse of the candidacy of Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), a member of the leadership as campaign committee chairman, in what had been thought to be a safe Republican district (see below). The question is whether this is a special case stemming from Reynolds’s role in the Foley affair or part of a nationwide Republican collapse.
  2. The fear of Republicans and hope of Democrats is that the Foley scandal is generating a landslide that will win gerrymandered House districts and marginal Senate seats. Foley is merely the unexpected factor that follows widespread voter unhappiness over the Iraq war and conservative discontent. The worst Republican nightmare may be the election’s turning into a referendum on the Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress rather than a choice between individual candidates and between party leadership.
  3. Almost from the beginning, it was decided in Republican ranks that throwing House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) overboard would hurt more than it would help. But Hastert’s political career is over if Democrats win control of the House because he has no interest in serving as minority leader. While Hastert’s campaign appearances around the country are being cancelled, Washington lobbyists have been summoned for a suddenly scheduled D.C. fund-raiser hosted by Hastert Thursday night — ostensibly for a congressional candidate in Colorado, but actually to show solidarity with the speaker.
  4. Oddly, the Republican collapse comes during a favorable reversal of gasoline prices, whose rise this past summer precipitated the sharp decline in President George W. Bush‘s approval ratings. The Republican hope is that a comeback with voters in the last month before the election will be powered by lower gas prices.
  5. Democratic fund-raisers have embarked on a frantic, 11th-hour campaign. Washington lobbyists are being told that if they want any access to Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, they had better open their wallets. [Editor’s Note: Rangel Responds to Novak]
  6. An overlooked factor is a continuing Republican loss in governors’ races and what it means for the 2008 presidential contest. Republicans figure to retain governorships in California (with a Republican in name only), Texas and Florida, while Democrats pick up governorships in New York and Ohio and retain them in Illinois, Pennsylvania and, perhaps, Michigan.

House 2006

It must be emphasized that a buildup of Republican momentum last month was not just a positive sign for the GOP, but a necessary trend for them to maintain control of the House — and even the Senate. Republicans were counting on a huge fourth quarter comeback that included three unanswered touchdowns, in order to narrowly win the game in the final seconds.

The Foley Affair is like an interception returned for a touchdown on the second drive of that comeback. Team GOP now finds itself three scores behind all over again, this time with only 12 minutes to go. The fans are demoralized. Victory (which this year would simply be to keep both houses of Congress) seems like an almost impossible feat at this point, even if the most loyal fans refuse to give up.

Foley Fallout: Republicans continue to suffer because of the scandal of Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), which involves sexually explicit communication with underage boys in the page program. We see a gain of 21 Democratic seats, if the election were held today — six more than are needed to take congressional control from the GOP.

  1. One important note: The press has covered this issue so poorly and so sloppily that more than 60 percent of Americans polled believe that House Republican leaders knew about Foley’s sexually explicit instant messages for months but did nothing. This is the equivalent of the 40-something percent who consistently tell pollsters that they believe Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 terror attacks.

  2. But one cannot simply blame the media when Republican leaders have handled the matter so poorly. House Speaker Hastert has responded by blaming Democrats and touting the 109th Congress’s accomplishments, particularly passing tax cuts. His public appearance is extremely defensive and characterized by petulance, not contrition. This is a very dangerous way to approach accusations of covering up for an alleged child predator. Although his resignation probably would have made matters worse, it would have helped had he simply stated he will not run for speaker in the next Congress.

  3. Instead, Hastert stubbornly refuses to budge. He appears to have completely consolidated his support among House Republican leaders — who early on showed signs of turning against him — and among House Republicans generally, and then among conservative leaders such as Paul Weyrich, who rescinded his call for Hastert’s resignation. Hastert is like a captain who has convinced the crew to join him in going down with the ship. Is the GOP House leadership truly to blame for Foley’s alleged predation? Not in a full sense, but they are to blame at least in that they talked the reluctant Foley into running for re-election even after learning of non-explicit but possibly inappropriate communications he had with pages.

  4. This situation has ramifications for homosexuals in the Republican Party, especially the staff on Capitol Hill. As many as four high-level gay GOP staffers may have worked to soften the response to the Foley situation — especially former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, who may have known about sexually explicit Foley communications in 2001, when they were discovered by Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.). Kolbe’s office has stated that he was aware of electronic exchanges between Foley and a page as early as 2001 and reported it to the clerk (who ran the page program), in addition to confronting Foley.

Election Outlook: For Republicans, the worst-case scenario we have described over the last few weeks seems to be shaping up. Democratic challengers in several districts once believed to be safe — such as those of Chris Chocola (R-Ind.) and Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) — were already holding on to solid leads even as the Foley situation took all the comeback momentum away from Republicans. Now things are even worse.

The upshot is that Democrats are holding their early leads and now reaching across the chart and putting more Republican races into play. The Foley Affair has started a current that runs against the GOP all over the country. In fact, given the current situation, we are re-examining all of the close races now, and assuming that in the current environment Democrats should be given the benefit of the doubt over Republicans. The game is now the Democrats’ to lose.

In Minnesota’s 6th District, conservative state Sen. Michele Bachmann (R) holds on to the slimmest of leads over child safety advocate Patty Wetterling (D) in what is normally solid Republican territory. Districts such as that of Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), always closely divided, cannot be counted on to perform as in the past, given that the tide running away from the GOP right now.

Some districts now merit Democrats’ efforts and resources in a way they never could have just two weeks ago. Republicans are on the defensive all across the map, and the map keeps getting bigger. The one race where Republicans have any serious chance of a pickup — against Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) — could prove a disappointment in today’s political climate, particularly given the decades of neglect shown by former Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) toward the local party and the tools and organization it needs — and lacks — to win tough, close elections there.

If there is any lesson to be learned from the Foley Affair, it is that campaigns and elections can take very unpredictable turns and that trends often fail to play out as expected due to big news events. If it weren’t for the Democrats’ lack of funds, a tsunami-like gain would be a certainty. As matters stand, there may be time to avert the disaster that we currently see rolling toward the GOP Congress. Democrats +21, Republicans -21.

Republican-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

AZ-1 (Renzi)

CO-4 (Musgrave)

CT-2 (Simmons)

AZ-8 (Open)

AZ-5 (Hayworth)

CT-5 (Johnson)

CT-4 (Shays)

CO-7 (Open)

CA-11 (Pombo)

IL-6 (Open)

FL-22 (Shaw)

IN-2 (Chocola)

CO-5 (Open)

KY-3 (Northup)

IA-1 (Open)

IN-8 (Hostettler)

FL-8 (Keller)

MN-6 (Open)

IN-9 (Sodrel)

FL-16 (Open)

FL-13 (Open)

NV-2 (Open)

KY-4 (Davis)

NC-11 (Taylor)

NV-3 (Porter)

NY-24 (Open)

NM-1 (Wilson)

NY-26 (Reynolds)

NY-20 (Sweeney)

OH-1 (Chabot)

OH-18 (Open)

TX-22 (Open)

TX-23 (Bonilla)

OH-2 (Schmidt)

PA-6 (Gerlach)

 

WY-AL (Cubin)

OH-15 (Pryce)

PA-7 (Weldon)

 

 

PA-8 (Fitzpatrick)

PA-10 (Sherwood)

 

 

WA-8 (Reichert)

VA-2 (Drake)

 

 

 

WI-8 (Open)

 

Democrat-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

IL-17 (Open)

GA-8 (Marshall)

 

 

LA-3 (Melancon)

GA-12 (Barrow)

 

 

OH-13 (Open)

IA-3 (Boswell)

 

 

OH-6 (Open)

IL-8 (Bean)

 

 

PA-12 (Murtha)

SC-5 (Spratt)

 

 

 

TX-17 (Edwards)

 

 

 

VT-AL (Open)

 

 

 

WV-1 (Mollohan)

 

 


Colorado-5: This race does not belong on the chart, and it should be a cause for alarm among Republicans that it is even considered competitive. This district is the stereotypical solid GOP district, home of the Air Force Academy and the social-conservative group Focus on the Family. State Sen. Doug Lamborn (R) suffers somewhat from the enmity of the man he would succeed, Rep. Joel Hefley (R). His opponent, Jay Fawcett (D), is a military veteran.

It must be noted, however, that the recent Mason-Dixon poll showing this race in a tie is one in a series of worthless polls this company has conducted of 400 registered (not likely) voters in some of the state’s congressional districts. Likely Republican Retention.

Indiana-9: A rare case of rising Republican strength right now is the apparent resurgence of Rep. Mike Sodrel (R), whom we have long held to be a goner. A Sodrel staffer has dedicated a 527 group to his continued survival in office, and Sodrel is wealthy enough to keep his campaign in the hunt no matter what.

Polling in the district suggests that the Foley scandal is not reaching this corner of Indiana — likely because freshman Sodrel has no real connection to it, and his opponent, former Rep. Baron Hill (D), is basically as much of a Washington incumbent as he is, having been defeated just in 2004.

Of all things, Sodrel is suddenly in the best shape of the three endangered Indiana incumbent Republicans. But that isn’t saying much. Hill is still favored to win. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

New York-26: Just how bad is it looking for National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Reynolds? He now trails his opponent, millionaire businessman Jack Davis (D), by double digits. Given his (albeit minor) involvement in the page scandal, Reynolds’s need to save himself also takes away from Republican efforts elsewhere. His staff remains hopeful that he can turn things around. Likely Democratic Takeover.

Ohio-18: The massive and very recent bankruptcy of her 30-year-old family business has seriously damaged the candidacy of State Sen. Joy Padgett (R), the last-minute replacement for Rep. Bob Ney (R). One damaging fact for voters to consider: If Padgett is elected, her congressional salary will actually be garnished in order to pay her business creditors. This does not look good at all.

Lawyer Zack Space (D), once considered a long-shot left-wing candidate, is now playing the role of the incumbent, refusing to debate Padgett. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Senate 2006

Republican strategists are now openly discussing a “prevent” defense that involves heavy investment in Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. The lesson to be gained is that they do not expect to save Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), whose numbers hover around 40 percent, or Sen. Conrad Burns (Mont.), who is in roughly the same position. Democrats are far enough ahead in Montana, and have a strong enough statewide organization, that they have pulled out their money. Democrats +4, Republicans -4.

Democrat-Held Senate Seats In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

Nebraska (Nelson)

Maryland (Open)

New Jersey (Menendez)

 

Michigan (Stabenow)

Washington (Cantwell)

 

 

Minnesota (Open)

 

 

 

West Virginia (Byrd)

 

 

 

Vermont (Open)

 

 

 

Republican-Held Senate Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

Arizona (Kyl)

Tennessee (Open)

Ohio (DeWine)

Montana (Burns)

 

Virginia (Allen)

Missouri (Talent)

Pennsylvania (Santorum)

 

 

Rhode Island (Chafee)

Virginia: Prior to the Foley scandal, Sen. George Allen (R) almost seemed to be drawing on a sympathy vote. A college buddy (now a Democratic activist) accused him of incessantly using racial slurs in his youth and even putting a doe’s head in a black family’s mailbox. The charges, coming on top of a month of Allen race-related blunders, may just have been too over the top. Allen, a former governor who took out Sen. Chuck Robb (D) in 2000, is too much of a known quantity in Virginia to be taken down by a racial smear campaign, even if Allen’s initial blunders helped former Navy Secretary Jim Webb (D) close the gap and make this a race.

As the Foley scandal broke, Allen’s lead was actually widening. His recent attack ad, slamming Webb for a very old article he wrote on women in the Naval Academy, was effective. Webb’s paid airtime is now being spent refuting Allen’s charges instead of capitalizing on Allen’s failure to report more than $1 million in stock options.
The options issue could become a problem for Allen, although it is something of a beltway issue that probably won’t sway many people outside Northern Virginia. Leaning Republican Retention.

Governor 2006

Democrats +5, Republicans -5.

Republican-Held Governorships In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

CA (Schwarzenegger)

AK (Open)

AR (Open)

MA (Open)

CT (Rell)

GA (Perdue)

CO (Open)

NY (Open)

FL (Open)

MN (Pawlenty)

MD (Ehrlich)

OH (Open)

SC (Sanford)

NV (Open)

 

 

HI (Lingle)

RI (Carcieri)

 

 

 

TX (Perry)

 

 

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)

 

 

KS (Sebelius)

OR (Kulongoski)

 

 

 

WI (Doyle)

 

 

 

MI (Granholm)

 

 

Massachusetts: Former Clinton Administration Assistant Attorney General Deval Patrick (D) may have his campaign shaken by revelations that he was less than truthful about the aid he gave to a convicted rapist. Still, he remains a double-digit favorite over Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R) and businessman Christy Mihos (I). Mihos could draw seven percent or more away from Healey. Likely Democratic Takeover.

Wisconsin: This race may now hinge on a court decision over whether Rep. Mark Green (R) is allowed to keep any of the money he transferred from a federal account to his state account to run for governor. Gov. Jim Doyle (D), after lobbying the state elections board to strip Green of his cash, wants to prevent the state Supreme Court from taking up the case. He is aggressively running ads that criticize Green for breaking the law and using money from his Washington cronies to run for governor. It is a very effective attack. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Congress

Earmarks: As they stared down the barrel of minority status in Congress, Republicans signaled their dedication to pork-barrel spending before recessing for mid-term election campaigning. Behind closed doors, the GOP’s King of Pork dressed down the party’s leading foe of earmarks. The last bill passed before the pre-election break was filled with carefully hidden pork.

  1. Freshman Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) continues to upset the Senate’s old bulls with his crusade against appropriations earmarks. Coburn successfully added to the Defense Appropriations bill a provision requiring the Pentagon to grade the unauthorized spending attached to appropriations bills by congressmen. But once the bill had passed both houses of Congress, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) stripped Coburn’s provision out of the conference report, contending that it would hurt the Republican Party. Stevens, the Senate’s president pro tempore and its senior Republican, reflects a majority in both parties defending pork.

  2. The House then passed the final version by a wide margin, but without the Coburn provision and with about 2,800 earmarks worth approximately $11 billion. That made a mockery of a House-passed “transparency” rule, supposedly intended to discourage earmarks. The rule’s biggest loophole restricts earmarks to “non-federal” spending, which would absolve larcenous former Congressman Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) of earmarking. By definition, all Defense expenditures are “federal,” even though many end up in the hands of a private beneficiary. This is why, on page 336 of the bill’s conference report, it states that it contains no earmarks whatsoever.

  3. The earmark process enables the Congressional-Industrial Complex to fund projects not desired by the military, and which often come at the expense of genuine military needs. The $5.5 million for an unrequested telescope at the Air Force Academy may come out of money for night-vision combat goggles. President Bush signed the Defense bill on September 29 because its overall spending is within his budget, but it requires transferring funds from needed military programs to politicians’ pet projects.

  4. Also among the unrequested earmarks: 10 C-17 Globemaster cargo planes produced by Boeing, 60 F-22A Raptor stealth fighters — not supported by the Pentagon and opposed by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Warner (R-Va.) — and $4.6 million for the Army Center for Excellence in Acoustics at the Jamie Whitten Center at the University of Mississippi.

  5. When it comes to earmarks generally, Republican cluelessness is typified by Sen. Conrad Burns, who trails for re-election in Montana. Burns said that opposition to all earmarks by his Democratic opponent, State Sen. Jon Tester, “showed us how reckless and out of touch he is.” Burns then issued a press release listing his earmarks, totaling more than $775 million, including $60 million for the Fort Peck Fish Hatchery.

  6. Coburn plans to press his Defense report card as a freestanding bill in the lame-duck session. Perhaps more importantly, irrespective of which party controls the Senate next year, he plans to deny unanimous consent on spending measures and require 60 votes to end debate. The question is whether Republican leaders, perhaps chastened by election returns, will join him.

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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