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Week of November 15, 2006

November 15, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 23b

 

  • All eyes in the Senate are now on Lieberman
  • Loyal Martinez picked to head Republican National Committee
  • Republican House leadership elections heat up
  • Fight for House majority leader gets new Democrat majority off to shaky start
  • Election 2006 produced winners and losers in the 2008 presidential field
  • Outlook

    1. Republicans grumble that President George W. Bush was about six weeks too late in sacking Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of Defense from the standpoint of affecting the election. Since the word from the White House is that Rumsfeld was going to go no matter what the outcome of the election, why was he not dropped earlier?
    2. Robert Gates seems a peculiar choice for the Pentagon. At CIA, he always was antagonistic to the intelligence operations at the Pentagon. As a CIA careerist on the analytical rather than the operational side, he was not close to military operations. The White House wants to hurry him through confirmation in the lameduck session before the Democrats take control, but that will not protect Gates from tough Democratic questioning — about his past (Contra operations) and future (what to do about Iraq).
    3. The failure this week by the House to pass the Vietnamese trade bill (under a procedure requiring a two-thirds vote) embarrasses President Bush on his forthcoming trip to Vietnam. The renowned House Republican whip operation did no whipping on the bill, and the White House did not request it. Even committee chairmen voted no.
    4. Inability to pass trade legislation may be the most immediate problem facing Bush in the next Congress. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the incoming House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, may be amenable to compromise. But the Ways and Means trade subcommittee chairman, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), seems adamant against renewing fast track procedures.
    5. All eyes are on Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). Nobody takes him seriously when hints he is considering whether to join the Republican caucus. He is only teasing Democrats, since he would flip over control of the Senate if he switched. The real question is how cooperative he will become on key issues such as Social Security. Republicans are about to test him.

    Republicans

    RNC Chairman: Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) will take over for Ken Mehlman in January as chairman of the Republican National Committee. This represents a departure from both parties’ recent modes of operation. In the last few years, both parties have avoided putting sitting office-holders in as chairmen. Martinez will be aided by Mike Duncan, a Kentucky Republican political leader who will run the committee’s day-to-day operations.

    1. Martinez is a strong fundraiser with ties to trial-lawyer money and an attractive, relatively conservative Hispanic face whose home base is one of the most politically important political states. Republicans suffered badly with the Hispanic vote in the 2006 congressional vote (taking just 30 percent) after performing relatively well in 2004 (with 44 percent), and they would like to reverse that trend.
    2. However, Martinez is a “Bush pick” — or more precisely, a “Rove pick” — coming on the heels of an anti-Bush election in which political advisor Karl Rove failed. Conservatives, already dissatisfied, view Martinez’s selection as a sign that President Bush intends to push through his comprehensive immigration reform bill. In fact, however, Martinez’s presence at the RNC will have no effect on Bush’s immigration plans: Comprehensive immigration reform will pass anyway.
    3. The snubbing of Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) shows that the Bush White House is still a place where loyalty trumps everything. Steele won 25 percent of the black vote in Maryland — an accomplishment for any Republican, and something that should be built upon. But Bush and his team look as though they cannot forgive Steele for distancing himself from Bush in order to be competitive in an election in deep-blue Maryland. However, the Martinez arrangement was made long before the election.

     

    NRSC Chairman: Ever since Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) announced that he would not take the position, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) has been the only natural choice for this job. The loser for the position in 2004, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), is now in cycle. No other candidate makes any sense. The incumbent, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), whose term ended with a disastrous result, also is up for re-election in ’08
    Ensign’s skills will be put to the test mightily. Republicans’ outlook in the Senate for 2008 is bleak. Republican seats in Colorado, Minnesota and New Hampshire will be very precarious no matter what. Seats in Virginia and New Mexico could be in play if the senators holding them decide to retire. Seats in Kansas and Texas could even come into play, depending on what kind of year it is.

    Democrats will not be as target-rich, thanks to Republican successes in 2002. Perhaps five or six of their seats will be in play, but only one — in South Dakota — will be truly precarious. Democratic retirements are much less likely now that they have a Senate majority.

    House Leadership Elections: The race for leader is a three-man contest, but incumbent Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is the unquestioned frontrunner. No one seems to understand why Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) got into this race.

     

    1. Despite the awful defeat and the stench of corruption in the House, many Republicans surmise that there is no reason for dumping Boehner, aside from the need for heads to roll. Boehner came into his position only earlier this year, and the broad perception is that he did not create the mess but inherited it. Boehner is also a critic of earmarks, and his victory over Rep. Roy Blunt (R) for the leader position 10 months ago was considered a reform victory. Still, Boehner’s K Street connections make conservative reformers wary.

      Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) presents the conservative challenge to Boehner. Although soft-spoken, he is a hard-liner who might be more suitable as a minority leader, even if Boehner has better natural skills as a majority leader. But Pence’s presence in the race was always understood to be an underdog’s entry. He has no chance unless serious discussion actually commences on the direction of the party. No one will beat Boehner if the question is about his stewardship of the House during the last session, and that appears to be how the race is shaping up. Pence, however, will benefit in the long run from the endorsements by Rush Limbaugh and some conservative publications, including Human Events, putting his name out there for something in the future.

    2. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the incumbent Republican whip, may become the victim of Boehner’s success. Someone may have to pay for what happened in 2005-2006, and if it isn’t Boehner, it will be Blunt. Many Republicans on Capitol Hill — including conservatives who are supporting him — express unease over the ability of Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) to do the whip job, but no one wants Blunt back again. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would probably allay the fears of both sides, but he refuses to turn against Blunt, his patron and mentor in the House, and Blunt is unlikely to drop out. He doesn’t seem to accept his losing the majority leader race earlier in the year as a repudiation of his way of doing business.
    3. Representatives Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) are running for Conference chairman. The most likely outcome here is a runoff between Blackburn and Kingston. For many years, the post has been held either by a woman or a black man (J.C. Watts, R-Okla.), because it is mostly a P.R. job. But that angle may be less meaningful than usual, since Kay Granger is considered a lock for Conference vice chairman. Kingston and Blackburn are both strong conservatives, but Blackburn is more of a fiery hundred-percenter who would take a more confrontational stance toward the White House. Kingston is the man with on-the-job experience, since he has been serving as vice chairman.

      Putnam’s run is odd, because he was just elected House Policy chairman, and is trying to move up after less than a year in that spot. Such naked ambition provokes a negative reaction among some of his colleagues. Putnam’s patron, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), has also obviously fallen from grace.

    4. In the race for House Policy chair, there is an undercurrent of yearning for someone else to enter the race besides the two candidates in the running — Representatives Daryl Issa (R-Calif.) and Thad McCotter (R-Mich.). Conservatives are wary of Issa because he joined the Republican Study Committee earlier this year for the sole purpose for running for this slot in February, when he was crushed by Putnam. His behavior was considered presumptuous at the time, but Issa has been a team player on the financial level, and he has a very long list of accomplishments to his credit. The California Recall of 2003 was his work, and the preservation of the seat of Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) from the Democrats was largely due to Issa’s work as well, along with the NRCC. Issa already has 60 public supporters. McCotter, on the other hand, is considered an eccentric and a moderate. Still, his mind works the way people’s minds need to work in the minority. His technical knowledge of House procedure is considered superior.
    5. The NRCC race currently has three candidates: Representatives Phil English (R-Pa.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Pete Sessions (R-Tex.). Sessions looks like the frontrunner. Many wish that Rep. Cantor would throw his hat into this ring, particularly given his ability to raise money, his energy, and his conservative record. Republicans have a reasonable chance of reclaiming 10 to 15 of the seats they lost this year, and perhaps more, but it could depend largely on who holds this position and his abilities. Unlike some of the minor leadership positions, this one could really mean something for the 2008 Elections.

     

    Democrats

    House Leadership: The fight for House majority leader has gotten the victorious House Democrats off to a shaky start, with possible consequences extending well into the future.

    1. It always had been assumed that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the presumptive Speaker, would vote for Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) against Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) for majority leader. What came as a huge surprise was her letter to all Democratic House members supporting Murtha.
    2. Until the Pelosi letter, it was clear that Minority Whip Hoyer was a clear favorite in the Thursday caucus against Murtha, a backroom manipulator who in 32 years in the House had never held a leadership position. Murtha, relatively conservative on social issues, became a cult hero for the left when he came out for immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq, but his prestige collapsed with a “Meet the Press” interview in which he talked about redeploying troops to Okinawa.
    3. Pelosi’s letter changes everything. It is more than a pro forma endorsement, even if she is not actively campaigning. If Hoyer still wins, as seems likely, Pelosi begins her speakership with a loss. If Murtha wins, it means Pelosi has derailed the most widely respected Democrat in the House. She gets off to a bad start either way.
    4. Earlier, Pelosi avoided a divisive fight for majority whip, the third leadership position, between Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the DCCC chairman, and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House Democratic Caucus chairman and a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus. Emanuel was talked into accepting Clyburn’s post as Caucus chairman instead of running for whip.
    5. Pelosi apparently has blocked Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) from regaining her House Intelligence Committee chairmanship. That permits another Congressional Black Caucus member, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), to move up to the chairmanship. Considering Democratic use of the “climate of corruption” against the GOP in the recent campaign, even Pelosi’s friends are appalled are her support of Murtha (an unindicted co-conspirator in the Abscam scandal) and Hastings (who was impeached as a federal judge on bribery charges).
    6. Why did Pelosi do this? The rationale might be that both Hoyer and Harman voted for the Iraq war resolution. But the suspicion is that, in both cases, the animus is personal. That is a bad sign for the future.

    Senate Success: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) showed his tremendous value to his party with his successful Senate campaign. No one in their wildest dreams expected a six-seat gain for Democrats this year. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) went so far as to say on the Senate floor that such a thing was not possible.

    1. It was possible. It just required Democrats to hold their ground everywhere and take six GOP seats. But none of this seemed likely after the Democrats’ 2004 disaster, in which they lost four seats and their Senate leader, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).
    2. Schumer’s fundraising skills, already proven in his cake-walk Senate re-election of 2004, were only the beginning of his 2006 success. After retiring the DSCC’s debt of nearly $4 million by leaning on his Senate colleagues, Schumer blew away the NRSC and its chairman, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), in fundraising consistently throughout the cycle, bringing in $110 million, and stayed ahead in cash-on-hand throughout. This was due to Schumer’s connections (he raised $23 million from the New York City area alone), a donor universe more upset with Republicans than usual, and a vacuum at the Democratic National Committee, to which many donors were wary of giving. The DSCC also stretched its cash advantage as far it could go, at times to a level of humorous detail — they stopped ordering office supplies two months out from the election.
    3. Democratic incumbents also succeeded in frightening away serious challengers by raising early money. Sen Barack Obama (D-Ill.), one of his party’s rising stars, helped raise $600,000 nearly overnight for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) over the Internet. Other incumbents built up their cash supplies as well. In the end, Republicans could not produce a single top-tier challenger worthy of the title. Their best hope, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R), lost by a disappointing 10-point margin.
    4. Democrats kept retirements to a minimum, suffering only one in Minnesota — and in that case, they were clearly better off without the incumbent, Sen. Mark Dayton (D). Retirements had led directly to five Republican Senate pickups in 2004 in Southern states.
    5. The DSCC did not waste money on uncompetitive races as it had in the past. In 2000, Democrats could have probably defeated Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and saved Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) had the DSCC not spent so much money on the race of Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who was on her way to trouncing her opponent, Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.).
    6. Schumer was also willing to pursue unconventional recruits — candidates who were not ideologically pure for the left-wing base. Notably, Pennsylvania State Treasurer Bob Casey (D) was chosen despite his pro-life, pro-gun stance. In other places, with the exception of Montana, Democrats managed to avoid contested primaries. Republicans, meanwhile, spent themselves into oblivion in Tennessee, and were never able to sort out their problems in Florida to find a viable candidate.

    President 2008

    Election 2006 produced both winners and losers in the 2008 presidential field.

    Winners

    John McCain: Naturally, McCain’s willingness to stump for Republican candidates — even those with whom he strongly disagrees on key issues — will stand him in good stead as he works the field. He was able to make up for the “kiss of death” that his endorsement represented in many Republican primaries across the U.S. But even more importantly, the disastrous result in Michigan means that his allies may get the upper hand in the state party from a faction more sympathetic to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R). His ally, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), is the new RNC Chairman.

    Hillary Clinton: She was easily re-elected, she has $14 million in the bank already and she’s everyone’s frontrunner on the Democratic side. Her challenge from the left appears to have thinned out with the exit of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) from the Democratic contest. Her challenge from her right has been diminished with the exit of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D).

    Brian Schweitzer: It’s a bit of a stretch, but this little-known governor of Montana may be a Democratic dark horse. Thanks to a massively corrupt state GOP, Schweitzer came back from a close loss in 2000 to Sen. Burns to win the governor’s race, install narrow Democratic majorities in both the state House and the state Senate and to elect Jon Tester to the U.S. Senate over Burns. He is just a first-term governor, but now that there is a vacuum to Hillary’s right, he would be a fool not to look at a run at President or at least Vice President.

    Barack Obama: He showed up when Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) needed him in his Senate race, and an email from him was all it took to raise enough money for the campaign of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). He gave away $500,000 this cycle to Democratic politicians, which adds some real substance to his hyped-up media image. As long as nothing too embarrassing comes out of a land deal he made with a corrupt Chicago fundraiser, he will continue to be the media star he has been since the 2004 convention.

    Tim Pawlenty: The Republican governor of Minnesota survived the Democratic high tide against a serious and well-funded opponent. He is a McCain ally, but a conservative, a winner in a blue-purple state, and a Midwesterner. That is a winning formula for future Republican presidential candidates. The GOP convention just happens to be scheduled for his town in 2008. Like all other conservatives, he benefits from the defeat of Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), which narrows the competition for the conservative vote. Even if he’s not ready for the big game yet, he’s vice-presidential material. If McCain bows out of the race, he could get backing from him and from many conservatives as well.

    Losers

    Mitt Romney: Republicans were creamed throughout the Northeast, and his governor’s mansion was handily lost to the Democrats for the first time since Michael Dukakis (D) inhabited it. But Romney’s toughest blows came in Iowa and Michigan, where the candidates (outgoing Rep. Jim Nussle in Iowa) and party leaders (State Republican Chairman Saul Anuzis in Michigan) in whom he invested either lost big or presided over losses.

    John Kerry: His ill-considered last-minute remarks on education and the military did not cost Democrats the election, but they did upset a great number of military people and many Democrats who wish he would shut up and go away. Kerry stoked the flames of the culture war at just the wrong time, and Democrats won’t forget it. Ideally, Kerry would be just now emerging as a statesman after spending time as a late-night joke line. Unfortunately, Kerry has just now gone back to late-night joke line.

    Immigration Hawks: Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) is out of the running for President anyway, but his immigration issue turned out to be a total non-starter. A single-minded fixation on the issue, at the expense of everything else, probably cost Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) his seat. Immigration hawks tell themselves the lie that Hayworth’s opponent, state Sen. Harry Mitchell (D), was also a border hawk, but he supported the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill. If immigration was ever going to win an election, this would have been it. It doesn’t appear to have meant anything anywhere else, either. That doesn’t mean that immigration is a loser for border-hawks — it’s just a dud.

    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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