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Week of December 20, 2006

December 20, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 26a

  • Warner gives up plans to take EPW Republican leadership from Inhofe
  • Democrats still not accepting loss in Florida’s 13th District
  • Republicans may have tough time in Kentucky’s 2007 race for governor
  • Blanco might opt out of re-election
  • Recent Clinton v. McCain poll disconcerting for GOP
  • Outlook

    1. The talk of Washington in the dull interregnum prior to the convening January 4 of the new Democratic Congress has been the sudden, serious illness of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) His life appears to be out of danger, but nobody can be sure. The one-seat Democratic plurality means the Senate would return to Republican hands if South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) filled a vacancy with a Republican appointment.
    2. All signs are that at best, Johnson will be gone from the Senate for many weeks-depriving Democrats of a needed vote on key rollcalls. More specifically, that means that Democrats at least temporarily will lose their majority on what for the time being will be an evenly divided Senate Banking Committee.
    3. Johnson’s absence could be critical on the stem-cell research bill, vetoed by President George W. Bush this year and set to be brought up immediately in the new Congress. The question is whether the administration can get the 34 votes needed to sustain a veto, and Johnson’s presence or absence could be critical.
    4. The Iraq-related election defeat has not resulted in a significant war policy shift by the Bush Administration, much to the discomfort of Republicans. The party’s politicians are disturbed that Bush seems to have opted for a troop increase in Iraq. The leak to the Washington Post of a unanimous vote by the Joint Chiefs of Staff against any troop increase showed an administration in deep disarray.
    5. House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will take her oath amid continued backstage grumbling over her ill-fated challenge of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on behalf of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). There is talk that the first female speaker is simply not up to the job.
    6. Nevertheless, the mood is clearly an upper for Democrats and a downer for Republicans. The GOP awaits the first Congress in a dozen years with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress in a state of apprehension and fear.

    Congress

    Senate EPW: Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) ended his attempt to unseat Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) as ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee. This is a setback for environmentalists, because they had hoped to work with Warner instead of against Inhofe, who is their most aggressive enemy and gives an annual speech denouncing climate science that suggests humans are destroying Earth through global warming. The chairwoman of the EPW committee will be Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), an extreme environmentalist who will push for carbon dioxide caps and other green measures.

    Warner appeared to imply in his drop-out announcement that he will seek re-election again in 2008, but some Virginia Republicans are less certain. If Warner retires, the seat could go to the Democrats.

    Securities: The business community is eagerly awaiting the outcome of a wrestling match between Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and John Dingell (D-Mich.), incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell is seeking to have jurisdiction restored to his committee over securities law and oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Jurisdiction was changed under Republican control of Congress in 2001.

    Changes in the worlds of banking and securities during the Republican era were such that the status quo will likely be maintained, however. To separate securities from banking after the legal integration of the two is considered impractical by most.

    Lobbyists believe that Frank will win this turf war. Wall Street would much prefer the business-friendly Frank to the populist Dingell, who conducted endless investigations of Wall Street during his last stint as chairman. The chairman who presides over the issue will have huge influence over the process of reforming the Sarbanes-Oxley law, which the financial industry blames for the flight of new public offerings to European exchanges, and for unduly burdening small- and medium-sized businesses.

    House 2006

    Florida-13: Republican auto dealer Vern Buchanan officially won this race by a 369-vote margin over Democrat and banker Christine Jennings, but Jennings continues her fight in court to throw out the election on the grounds of faulty voting machines.

    In fact, no one can produce proof that there was anything wrong with the voting machines. Instead, Jennings’s allies now claim that a faulty ballot design in Sarasota County caused her downfall.

    Jennings will appeal to the House ahead of today’s 30-day deadline from the certification to contest the results. Her aim is to block Buchanan from taking the oath of office, but this is unlikely to happen. The most recent precedent was from 1996, when Rep. Bob Dornan (R-Calif.) unsuccessfully challenged his defeat by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D). Sanchez was seated, pending the outcome of the election contest, which was eventually dismissed.

    Thus, precedent dictates that Buchanan would take the seat until it’s proven otherwise, but the decision ultimately lies with the Democratic leadership for the 110th Congress.

    The left is strongly urging that incoming Speaker Pelosi deny Buchanan the seat and demand a re-vote. MoveOn.org is conducting a petition drive to that end, and Jennings is seeking a remedy in the Florida courts. It is considered unlikely that Pelosi will upset the allegedly new bipartisan tone by refusing to seat Buchanan with the other winners on January 4, but she has that power.

    Governor 2007

    Kentucky: Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), after seizing Kentucky’s statehouse from the Democrats in 2003 for the first time in decades, got off on a bad foot and just kept on going in that direction. His plane was almost shot down on its way to Washington June 9, 2004, when it failed to adhere to the no-fly zone restrictions, and in May of this year, he was indicted (the charges were dropped in August) for hiring outside the state’s rigid civil service system.

    The lead prosecutor in that case, state Atty. Gen. Greg Stumbo (D), was eventually forced off the case by a judge since it appeared that he was pursuing it as part of a run against Fletcher next November. This week, a ruling by the executive ethics board seriously damaged Stumbo’s not-yet nascent gubernatorial campaign by alleging a conflict of interest because of his prosecution of Fletcher. The decision does not block Stumbo from running for governor, but a run would trigger an investigation.

    Fletcher came off somewhat poorly when he issued a blanket pardon to anyone involved in the hirings. That and Stumbo’s work succeeded in ruining Fletcher’s reputation with the voters, sending his approval ratings to the 30s for months, and he will get a challenge in the May 22 Republican primary — the only question is how credible the challenge. Currently, businessman Billy Harper (R), a finance chair for Fletcher’s 2003 campaign, is in the race on the justification that Fletcher simply cannot win in November.

    If his 2003 running mate, Lt. Gov. Steve Pence (R), gets into the race, Fletcher will have to make a tough choice about whether it is worth his while to run again. But as matters stand, the failure of any of the best Democratic candidates to run has given Fletcher some breathing room. Early rumors that Rep. Anne Northup (R), who was defeated last month, would run appear to have been untrue.

    State Treasurer Jonathan Miller (D) is considered by the local press to be the closest thing the Democrats have to a top-tier candidate. Former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has announced with state Sen. Dan Mongiardo (D) as his running mate, even as the latter admitted to a minor campaign-law violation that could be mildly embarrassing. Mongiardo was the long-shot who almost unseated Sen. Jim Bunning (R) in 2004.

    Louisiana: This is not the simple rematch many had expected between Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) and Rep. Bobby Jindal (R).

    Blanco, widely criticized for her performance during Hurricane Katrina, is now coming off a massive legislative defeat on key priority spending issues, dealt her both by the Democratic legislative majority and the minority Republicans. GOP lawmakers were unusually united in blocking her attempt to get the two-thirds vote needed to override state spending caps. Blanco also wounded herself by going after state Senate Majority Leader Donald Hines (D), preventing him from getting a proposed state-financed sugarcane mill through the state Bonding Commission. The mill was to be placed in Hines’s district. Just to add to the fun, a Blanco aide was accused of sexual harassment three weeks ago.

    At this point, it is by no means a done deal that Blanco will run for re-election. In a recent widely publicized incident, a Chamber of Commerce official played a practical joke that went awry by bidding $1 for lunch with Blanco in an auction at the governor’s mansion for the Chamber of Commerce holiday fundraiser. His bid won. It simply underscores the point that Blanco is likely to find fundraising difficult this year.

    Democrats have one alternative candidate in Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who is raising money. Campbell lost a 1990 congressional race against Rep. Jim McCrery (R) after being injured in a car accident just weeks before Election Day. But many consider him too weak a candidate to run a credible race against Blanco or Jindal, and some have already approached Rep. Charles Melancon (D) to urge him to run. Melancon would be less likely to take on Blanco or get involved in a complicated race with several Democratic candidates, but if Blanco drops out promptly, he could get the field all to himself.

    Jindal, during his two years in the House, has built a much bigger political base than he previously had. His stature increases particularly if Blanco chooses to remain in the race, or delays her decision for a few months and drops out too late for another credible Democrat to run. In such an interim, Jindal could raise enough money to make the race cost-prohibitive for Melancon or anyone else.

    Louisiana’s unique jungle primary system puts the multi-party primary on October 20 of next year, with a runoff slated for November 17. The rule of thumb in modern Louisiana politics has been that in statewide races, a Republican has to win his race in the first round, unless his runoff opponent turns out to be a black Democrat. Jindal lost his race in 2003 after Blanco’s campaign deliberately darkened his appearance in her campaign ads.

    Mississippi: Gov. Haley Barbour (R) was acknowledged as one of the principal heroes of Hurricane Katrina. His race this year will test whether Republicans can hang on to the 2002-2003 gains they made in Southern governorships, when they furthered the long-in-progress Southern realignment by defeating Democratic incumbents in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Barbour has not yet announced for re-election, but he made comments to the local press indicating he is not interested in being on the national GOP ticket, nor does he plan to run for Senate in the event that Sen. Thad Cochran (R) retires next year.

    Democrats would like to see either, or both, former Governors Ray Mabus (D) and Ronnie Musgrove (D) enter the race, perhaps as running mates. But that isn’t considered realistic. Barbour has an excellent chance of drawing either a free pass or a second-tier challenger.

    If no one else gets in the race, then Democratic Jackson attorney John Arthur Eaves Jr., who ran against Republican Rep. Chip Pickering in 1996, will likely run.

    Former Mississippi Secretary of State Dick Mulpus (D), who ran against Gov. Kirk Fordice (R) in 1995, is also discussed as a possible candidate, as are several obscure state legislators.

    The bigger race may well be for the lieutenant governor post. There are seven statewide offices up for re-election, and Republicans could do well in all of them if Barbour does not draw a serious challenger. Thanks to conservative Democrats, Republicans already have operational control of the state senate, although they do not hold a partisan majority.

    Republicans have no chance of taking the state house, but a gain of a few seats would put them closer to operational control.

    President 2008

    At the end of 2006, the presidential battle lines are forming in both parties.

    1. The big edge in the Newsweek poll of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is disconcerting to Republicans who have come to think of McCain as their most electable candidate. In previous polls, McCain had led Clinton. The change reflects the predictable slump afflicting all candidates in a losing election. But McCain may also be suffering from his advocacy of additional troops for Iraq — a very unpopular position. Then again, the Newsweek poll had an over heavy Democratic sample.
    2. McCain’s slip in the polls comes just as he was firmly establishing himself as the establishment Republican candidate. The presidential hopeful who achieves that position well in advance of the primary elections almost always wins the Republican nomination (the major exception among recent nominees being Barry Goldwater, who was nominated in 1964 under very unusual circumstances). A sign of McCain’s establishment status is the unveiling of incoming Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) as his strong booster, soliciting support for him.
    3. To judge from the polls, McCain’s principal rival for the nomination would seem to be former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who now is running ahead of McCain among both Republicans and independents and doing better against Clinton. But doubt remains that anybody as socially liberal as Giuliani (pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control) can win the Republican nomination. His personal baggage — mostly unknown now to voters outside New York City — is also a formidable obstacle. He is far behind organizationally — even in New Hampshire, which would be central to his hopes for the nomination.
    4. Outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), though running far behind in the polls, had been making solid progress as a more conservative alternative to McCain. But Romney’s effort to get to McCain’s right suffered a setback with the revelation of a letter he wrote in 1994 during his Senate campaign against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) claiming he was more ardently for gay rights than was Teddy. That underlined concerns about the sincerity of Romney’s transformation on social issues, including abortion. His failure to explain the ’94 gay rights letter turned off many social conservatives who were getting ready to endorse him.
    5. There is no viable conservative Republican presidential hopeful at the moment. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), running as a social conservative, has not impressed his target audience. Nobody really takes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) seriously.
    6. On the Democratic side, Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) seem to be taking up all the oxygen, which explains why Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) bowed out last week. However, there remain doubts about Clinton’s electability and rookie Obama’s ability to handle the rough road ahead.
    7. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) should not be written off. He is working hard, is the apparent front-runner in Iowa and is ahead of Clinton and Obama with key labor unions. He is a contender for support from Change to Win unions who left the AFL-CIO (Teamsters, SEIU, Laborers, Hotel and Restaurant Workers).
    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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