Vol. 41, No. 24b
- Morning-after Republican contemplation of the mid-term election results confronts a disastrous outcome whose impact was mitigated only by universally gerrymandered congressional districts and a reasonably healthy economy. The election results were less a mandate for Democratic action than a reflection of emotional anti-Republican feeling that is surpassed in our memory only by the anti-GOP intensity of 1974.
- The answer by rank-and-file Republican politicians is that President George W. Bush must devote the end of his tenure in office to getting out of Iraq. They are saying that since the withdrawal will be painful whenever it happens, the sooner the better. However, nothing is going to happen that quickly. The bipartisan Iraq study group headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton is expected to recommend diplomatic initiatives, which will not come quickly,
- While House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is talking about a 100-hour legislative push, the insiders on Capitol Hill are talking about the budget resolution and the problems it poses for Democrats. With Democrats’ proposing hundreds of billions in additional spending, and Pay-go rules to cover additional spending, the push for additional tax revenue is ahead. It is unlikely any tax increase can get through the Senate, and President Bush would veto anything that does, but a big tax boost may get through under the guise of bi-partisan Social Security reform.
- The Democratic campaign mantra of inequality in American prosperity was not just posturing. Democrats in Congress will press equalization of economic benefits, to lay the predicates for the 2008 presidential campaign. Such massive social engineering runs counter to claims of bi-partisan cooperation.
- The Virginia Republican Party on Saturday will elect as its chairman Washington super-lobbyist and former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie. Virginia Democrats now have won the last two races for governor and this year’s election for U.S. senator. Republicans face state legislative elections in 2007 and the other U.S. senate seat is up in 2008. Virginia stands as a serious deterioration of the GOP’s Southern base that Gillespie intends to confront.
Intelligence: Speaker-in-waiting Pelosi recovered from her earlier gaffe of backing Murtha for Majority Leader when she decided against making Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) the chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee. This chairmanship, unlike those of other committees, is Pelosi’s exclusively to give.
Murtha, named by the Democratic group CREW as one of the most corrupt members of Congress, would have been a bad choice for Democrats after they won an election partly by complaining about corrupt Republicans. But to put Hastings, an impeached federal judge convicted by the Senate over the charge of taking bribes, in the Intelligence chair, would have been a truly astounding mistake, compounding the earlier mistake.
After Pelosi informed him that she was passing him over, Hastings confirmed everyone’s fears about him with a bizarre comment: "Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet."
Appropriations: Republican insurgents appear to have succeeded in forcing a continuing resolution for the rest of the appropriations bills this year. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked a pork-filled bill with bi-partisan backing. Republican leaders were ready to pass the bloated Agriculture Appropriations bill. Now the question becomes whether these insurgent senators, always ineffective in the governing majority, can get more traction from their Republican colleagues while serving in the minority.
But there is still mumbling among GOP Senate staff that they would rather pass a bill with "our pork" in it than give the Democrats "their pork."
Colombian Free-Trade: President Bush has finally signed a free-trade agreement with Colombia, which is now dead on arrival in Congress thanks to the Democratic victory. Colombian officials are extremely upset at this development, particularly since the agreement has been under negotiation since 2004. There is no chance of passage in the lame-duck session, and Democrats are sure to oppose passage next year at the behest of the extremely powerful and heavily subsidized domestic sugar industry. The public face of the opposition will include complaints about labor and environmental regulations.
Conservative Freshmen: Even as Republicans stuck with the status quo in their leadership elections, the tiny 13-member GOP class of 2006 elected conservatives to three of its four leadership positions. The 13 new GOP congressmen elected three of its four class officers who had been backed by the conservative Club for Growth.
They included Bill Sali (Idaho) as class president, Adrian Smith (Neb.) as Policy Committee representative and Doug Lamborn (Colo.) as representative to the whip. The fourth officer is Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) as the freshman Steering Committee member.
Louisiana-2: New Orleans attorney Karen Carter (D) did herself no favors when she blasted the Jefferson Parish Police Department in a documentary by Spike Lee on Hurricane Katrina. Jefferson Parish state Sen. Derrick Shepherd (D) has already backed her opponent, incumbent Rep. William Jefferson (D), in the runoff after the first round in which all three participated. Louisiana has a unique "jungle" primary system in which all candidates of any party run and a majority is needed to avoid a runoff between the top two candidates, irrespective of party.
Jefferson is widely expected to soon be indicted after $90,000 in cash was seized from his freezer by federal investigators. He has the longer odds in this race, as the corruption concerns already showed up in the November 7 result. He received only 30 percent in the first round, and even if he received all of Shepherd’s support, it would not have been enough to break 50 percent. But some Louisiana Democrats are nervous about the quality of Carter’s old-guard New Orleans consultants, and they worry that Carter has not released any polling showing herself in the lead. Leaning Carter.
Texas-23: The runoff between Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) and former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D) has been set by Gov. Rick Perry (R) for December 12. This happens to be the Mexican Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, causing Democrats to cry foul, but it also falls on the Tuesday after the New Orleans runoff. Bonilla came very close to winning an outright majority in this special election on November 7 against seven other candidates, and with $1.4 million on hand afterward, he is still favored to win the runoff. Leaning Republican Retention.
EMILY Underperforms: Considering the excellent year Democrats had in 2006 at all levels, a group that funds Democratic women who are pro-choice on abortion would have been expected to do well. That EMILY’s List did so poorly, despite the trend, provides yet another interesting confirmation that this election was a non-ideological confrontation between the two parties, decided mostly on the basis of a failed Iraq occupation and a corrupt Republican establishment. Voters in swing districts were not keen on abortion-focused candidates in 2006, even as they elected several pro-choicers.
- Of the 19 competitive House races in which EMILY’s List backed and funded a candidate, only two won. This follows on the heels of the group’s 2004 performance, in which it went three for 13 in head-to-head contests against the conservative Club for Growth.
- The only successful EMILY contenders for Republican seats were state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) — who was heavily favored all along to win the seat of retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) — and New York attorney Kirsten Gillibrand, who won only after the late leak of a police report alleging that Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) had choked his wife.
- The only two other Democratic women to take Republican seats were activist Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire, a late Democratic surprise, and Nancy Boyda in Kansas. Neither was endorsed by EMILY’s List — in Boyda’s case, it was because she said she would back a ban on partial-birth abortion.
- Across the map, though, female pro-choice candidates lost in competitive contests with Republicans. Combined EMILY’s List contributions of $100,000 and independent expenditures worth $270,000 could not save the, high-profile candidacies of Iraq War vet Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and child-safety advocate Patty Wetterling (D-Minn.), and those totals may be larger once the final filings are made. In New Mexico, Atty. Gen. Patricia Madrid (D) failed in her quest to oust perennial survivor Rep. Heather Wilson (R), despite $48,000 in contributions and $110,000 in independent expenditures from EMILY. In Florida, both Phyllis Busansky (D) and Christine Jennings (D) have officially lost (the latter result is being challenged in court).
- Other EMILY candidates who had high hopes — in Arizona, Washington State, Nevada, California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Nebraska — all lost, even as male Democrats rode the wave to victory on November 7. Both of the group’s Democratic challengers in Ohio now appear to have lost as well.
- To be sure, EMILY’s List candidates also won in several safe Democratic seats, and the group’s token endorsement of scores of safe incumbents — such as Representatives Pelosi, Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and others, allows them to pad their record. They also succeeded in the defeat of Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). They should receive another such victory December 9, when Karen Carter faces Rep. Jefferson in the Louisiana-2 run-off election.
- Due to the disproportionate number of moderate Republicans who lost, the loss of 29 Republican seats was accompanied by a pro-life net loss of roughly 13, depending on what litmus test is used for the term "pro-life." Nonetheless, some appropriations language restricting the use of federal money for abortion may now be in danger because of the Democratic takeover.
We continue our state legislative overview with a quick look at three Midwestern states, each of which turned Republicans out of power in one legislative chamber but kept them in control of the other.
Indiana: Democrats, capitalizing on public anger with Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), gained three state House seats, putting them back in control of the chamber, which has changed hands in each of the last two elections. Republicans continue to control the state Senate.
The major local issues here included the switch to Daylight Saving Time, which Indiana switched to for the first time this year. Hoosiers had resisted this change for decades — it was an issue back in 1954 when a young Robert Novak was covering the state legislature.
Another problem for the Republicans was Daniels’ decision to lease the money-losing Indiana Toll Road to a foreign company. The move brought in $3.85 billion for the state’s road projects, but it also aroused public anger. Change to Mixed Control.
Michigan: Republicans lost just one state Senate seat, but they lost six House seats and control of the state House. As happened in Colorado in 2004, the state GOP became a victim of John Stryker, a liberal billionaire who sank $5 million into helping Democrats win state legislative races. Republicans complain that they were caught off guard, but their House-race fundraising is said to have been sub-par. The party was forced to borrow $900,000 at the very end just to defend themselves.
Republicans claim that they have an excellent chance of winning back the House. Failure to do so could endanger Republicans’ ability to gerrymander Michigan after the next census. Change to Mixed Control.
Wisconsin: Republicans here were a powerful force during Gov. Jim Doyle‘s (D) first term, repeatedly threatening to overturn his vetoes of key issues such as concealed-carry permits and tax-limitation measures. They have now lost much of their clout.
Doyle was re-elected, and Democrats gained seven state Senate seats and control of the chamber. The GOP margin in the state House was also pared back by six seats. Change to Mixed Control.
Frist: The news that retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is out of the 2008 presidential race came as no surprise. He is perhaps the second-biggest loser (the biggest loser, of course, being Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen) from the 2006 election among the presidential contenders — bigger even than Sen. John Kerry (D). Frist had not been considered a serious presidential contender even before the election, though. Not only does Frist now leave the Senate in Democratic hands, but he barely missed having his own seat go to the Democrats. The lack of a strategy to bring key property-rights measures (particularly after the Kelo Supreme Court decision) and judges to the floor definitely left Republicans without any ammunition when it came time to discuss accomplishments for the 109th Congress.
Gilmore: Jim Gilmore (R), former governor of Virginia and Republican National chairman, is quietly building an organization to get back into elective politics — perhaps as a candidate for President. Gilmore might be looking to fill the mainstream conservative vacuum created when fellow Virginian George Allen’s defeat for re-election to the Senate ended his presidential ambitions. Other options for Gilmore could be running for the Senate in 2008 if Republican Sen. John Warner does not seek another term at age 81, or running for governor in 2009. Warner has signaled in recent days that he is likely to run again.
The last Republican governor of Virginia, Gilmore also is the last major Republican candidate to carry populous Northern Virginia — the key to victory in the state.
|Robert D. Novak|