ENPR: Week of August 29, 2007

August 29, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 18a


  1. Alberto Gonzales‘s resignation, inevitable and overdue, was ugly punctuation in the middle of a very bad week for Republicans. The other two GOP casualties of the past week were scandal-plagued Congressman Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who announced his retirement at the end of this term, and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who at press time was digging in his heels.
  2. The admitted improper behavior of Craig in an airport men’s room stunned his Senate colleagues, but it provided an opening for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in his Republican presidential campaign to underline his theme of Washington being a pit of corruption. He is the only candidate, Romney says, totally free of the capital city’s taint.
  3. Awaiting the September report by Gen. David Petraeus, Congressional supporters of the Iraq war policy feel they can regain the initiative in Washington. Democrats are divided about how hard to go in demanding a troop pullout. The line by the pro-war loyalists is that the deadline for the Surge is April 2008, after which there will not be enough troops to sustain it.
  4. The call for a small Iraqi troop reduction by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) strengthens the belief that he soon will announce that he is not seeking re-election next year. His probable successor is former Gov. Mark Warner (D). Republican Senators are now talking about losing four seats in 2008.
  5. Nervous freshman Democratic House members who won close elections in 2006 are nervous about the impact of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as the party’s presidential nominee on their re-election prospects. Despite polls showing Clinton leading all Republican possibilities, concerns inside the party about her “electability” haunt her campaign.

White House

Gonzales Resignation: The resignation of Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales was greeted on both sides of the aisle with relief and cries of “what took you so long?” It also set off rampant speculation about his replacement.

  1. Republican officials and conservative leaders had been calling for Gonzales’s resignation for months. He was never popular with the base, and he could be seen as an allegory for Bush’s leadership style: Out of personal loyalty and old friendship, Bush stood by and promoted Gonzales, leaving political prudence and ideology behind. Earlier in his tenure, Bush repeatedly floated Gonzales’s name as a possible Supreme Court nominee, long after the pro-life base had made it clear he was unacceptable. The same dynamic was at play in keeping Gonzales aboard as attorney general: Bush’s stubborn loyalty.
  2. Gonzales certainly suffered from being a convenient target for blood-thirsty Democrats and from being too moderate for staunch conservatives, but he primarily suffered from his own missteps. Firing eight U.S. Attorneys was certainly the President’s prerogative, and it might never have erupted into a scandal had Gonzales been more deft and more forthright. That scandal may yet affect House and Senate races in 2008: Democrats plan to continue their high-profile investigations of the firings.
  3. The timing of the resignation was good for the White House: With Congress out of session, there is less opportunity for endless attacks on “Bush’s politicized Justice Department.” Inevitably, however, the resignation provided Democratic leaders and presidential candidates with a chance to beat up the White House.
  4. The White House and Republican Senators likely do not have the stomach for a tough confirmation battle over the new attorney general. This is a point against the case for nominating Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, currently the most often-rumored name in Washington circles.
  5. DOJ lawyers pin former Deputy Atty. Gen. Larry Thompson as a leading candidate, but the decision has not been made by the White House. Thompson is well respected at Justice and is black. He could encounter some resistance from Bush’s Wall Street friends, however, because of his role in the aggressive and unconstitutional prosecution of accountant KPMG. A stronger prospect is former Deputy Atty. Gen. George Terwilliger.
  6. One dark horse mentioned in the halls of the Justice Department is U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ken Wainstein. Wainstein has a record of prosecuting gangs and racketeering cases.
  7. Solicitor General Paul Clement will serve as acting attorney general, and he is another potential candidate to replace Gonzales.

 President 2008

Democrats: It’s still early, but Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is fighting to pull away from the field. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) still challenges in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he could erase Clinton’s national lead. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has lost his once-formidable lead in Iowa.

  1. National polls — significant mostly of name recognition and superficial impressions — continue to show Clinton way ahead, pulling in about 40 percent. Iowa, for weeks, has been a three-way tie between Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, and so it will largely come down to organization. In New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida polls, Clinton generally posts healthy leads.

  2. Obama plays into Clinton’s main theme of experience vs. inexperience which resonates with voters, party operatives, and journalists. Now Obama has to be extra careful not to look like a rookie. But his supposed foreign policy gaffes are playing well with the Democratic base.

  3. Edwards has not yet made a buzz. His second-place finish in Iowa in 2004 was something of a stealth attack, and so he is certainly capable of surging late. He faces a much more formidable foe this time around, though.

  4. With $45.2 million, Clinton has about 33% more cash on hand than Obama, and more than three times as much as Edwards. Additionally, she can tap the tens of millions of dollars in her husband’s fortune.

Primary Dates Battle: Florida’s decision to move its presidential primaries to January 29 — and the Democratic National Committee’s decision to strip the state’s delegates if they don’t change the date — have injected new uncertainty into the race.

  1. One side or the other could back down, but the most likely outcome now is that both parties in Florida will hold their primaries on January 29, and the Democratic primary winner will not be guaranteed any delegates to the Democratic National Committee. (The Republican primary, on the other hand, could be binding, but the state would lose half of its delegates for violating national party rules.) Eventually, one way or another, Florida will likely get its delegates at the convention in both parties.

  2. In any event, the Florida primary will be a major prize for the candidates. No recent nomination has really come down to a delegate race. The media-created momentum of early wins has always resulted in blowouts on that score. Winning Florida with no delegates or half the delegates at stake could still provide the same boost.

  3. Clinton, in all likelihood, will win Florida. Moving the date up helps her, but losing the delegates could give an excuse to Obama or Edwards, who could try to spin away a lost by designating the non-binding primary as a beauty contest.

  4. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has visited Florida more than any other Republican, but it’s not clear he’s gaining ground. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) leads in all polls there, and moving the primary up could give him a boost, especially if he loses Iowa and New Hampshire to Romney (campaign documents describe Florida as Giuliani’s “firewall”). If Romney decides to try to win Florida, it would pose the greatest test yet to his campaign’s vaunted organization.

  5. The Republican-controlled legislature and the Republican governor directly snubbed their senator, Republican National Committee Chairman Mel Martinez, who lobbied them not to violate party rules. This is another example of the national party’s weakness, as well as a show of the strength of the Sunshine State GOP.

 Senate 2008

Idaho: The revelation of Sen. Larry Craig‘s (R) arrest in an airport men’s room under suspicion he was soliciting sex from a male plain-clothes officer, and his subsequent guilty plea for disorderly conduct, have complicated the situation in this Senate race.

Craig had openly been mulling retirement, and the question now is whether he will resign early. Considering his defiant comments Monday night and Tuesday to the media and his reputation as stubborn, Idaho and Senate sources speculate Craig has no intention to fold easily. Party pressure could combine with unpleasant media attention to make Craig change his mind. In any event, he won’t be the GOP Senate candidate in 2008 unless somehow he is able to show all the charges to be entirely false.

When a simple Craig retirement was on the table last week, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R) seemed the most likely Republican to step up for the 2008 campaign. He served well as acting governor last year, and is a skilled, well organized politician. His rising star might have been enough to crowd out other GOP contenders. However, even before Craig’s arrest became news, well-connected Idaho Republicans sensed that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (R) (a former Senator and former Governor) might want to return to his old job in the upper chamber.

If Craig resigns, Gov. Butch Otter (R) would get to appoint a replacement who would serve out the remainder of the 110th Congress. This could actually play to the advantage of Republicans, who would have the opportunity to put up a sitting Senator in 2008 rather than filling an open seat. This possibility boosts the speculation that Rep. Mike Simpson (R) might be the next Senator — and also the GOP candidate in 2008. Simpson, always mentioned for the seat when Craig started talking retirement, had decided not to run as long as Risch was considering running. An appointment could eliminate a primary, thus thrusting Simpson back into consideration.

Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D) had been planning to run, but he was also considering a challenge to 1st District Rep. Bill Sali (R). Millionaire Walt Minnick (D), who lost to Craig in 1996, might abandon his challenge to Sali in favor of a Senate bid now.

Although the current landscape suggests Craig will either resign, retire, or lose a primary, Craig’s troubles could help Democrats. But this is among the reddest of red states. Risch, Simpson, or Kempthorne would all be very strong candidates, and the Democrats don’t appear to have a superstar. Leaning Republican Retention.

 House 2008

Arizona-8: Rep. Rick Renzi (R), currently under investigation by the FBI, will not seek a fourth term. This presents another pickup opportunity for Democrats in a district Renzi won narrowly won when it was created in 2002.

State Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) was the leading Democrat to have entered the race against Renzi, and she is joined by Attorney Howard Shanker (D) and former television reporter Mary Kim Titla (D). Any number of Democrats could jump in this race now that it is open, including 2002 primary loser Fred DuVal (D) and 2006 Senate candidate Jim Pedersen (D).

Republicans eying a run include 2002 primary loser Sydney Hay (R) and former State Senate President Ken Bennett (R).

This rural district takes up a majority of Arizona’s land area, and is mostly white with 23 percent of the population Native American. All of Arizona’s districts were redrawn after the state gained two House seats following the 2000 Census, and so Renzi is the only congressman this district has ever had. He won his first race in 2002 (funded, it turned out, by “impermissible” contributions) by 5,700 votes, but his subsequent races were easier. Bush won 54% of this district in 2004, and Libertarian congressional candidates have always fared well here, pulling in about 5% in the last three elections.

If the taint of Renzi’s departure carries over to the GOP nominee, this district will go the Democrats. If not, it will be a tight race that leans slightly Republican depending on the nominees. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

 Election 2007

Massachusetts-5: Republicans and Democrats in Massachusetts will select their nominees September 4 for the October 16 special election to fill the seat left vacant by Rep. Marty Meehan (D), who resigned to take an academic post.

The Democratic frontrunner is Niki Tsongas (D), widow of Paul Tsongas (D), former congressman, senator, and presidential candidate. In the most recent FEC filings, Tsongas had a healthy lead in campaign cash, thanks to her fundraising experience with her husband’s runs. She also leads in a recent poll, more than doubling her closest competitor.

Challenging Tsongas are Lowell City Councilor Eileen Donoghue (D), and State Representatives Barry Finegold (D) and Jamie Eldridge (D), (State Rep. Jim Micelli (D) takes up the rear in fundraising and poll numbers). Likely Tsongas.

Republicans will almost certainly nominate Jim Ogonowski (R), a retired Air Force officer and the brother of one of the pilots murdered by hijackers on 9/11. Ogonowski would have an outside chance of beating the Democratic nominee, but this is a very Democratic district. Retired Marine Tom Tierney (R) is also on the ballot. Likely Ogonowski.

Mississippi Governor: In Mississippi, it’s the trial lawyers vs. the insurance companies if you follow the negative campaigning of both sides. Well-heeled trial lawyer John Arthur Eaves (D) is going after popular Gov. Haley Barbour (R) by tying him to insurance companies, which are not the most popular entity in the state, especially in the aftermath of Katrina. In Mississippi of all states, trial lawyers do not have the most pristine image, either.

Barbour is a popular governor, and most Mississippians approve of his handling of the Katrina disaster. While Mississippi is a conservative state, it is still hanging on to its Democratic roots that run as deep as the Civil War. The state is one step ahead of Louisiana in its GOP realignment, but one step behind Georgia and South Carolina. Barbour hopes this election will be the watershed, as the GOP is eying takeovers of the legislature.

Eaves, whose statewide name recognition originally resulted from his “ambulance-chaser” ads for his law firm, spearheaded the unsuccessful trial-lawyer revolt in the state’s party in 2003. That year, Eaves briefly attempted to challenge Governor Ronnie Musgrove (D) in the primary after Musgrove signed a sweeping tort reform bill. Earlier this month, Eaves won the Democratic primary without much trouble.

Eaves has deep pockets of his own, plus seemingly bottomless fundraising potential from his colleagues in the trial bar. Despite his alliance with liberal presidential candidate John Edwards, Eaves is campaigning as a social conservative. He has made school prayer a top issue and vocally opposes gay marriage. He uses his occupation — and Barbour’s ties to big business including the insurance industry — to cast himself as an old-school crusading populist. The message has some cachet, it appears, as a pre-primary poll (conducted, albeit, by a teachers’ union) showed eaves at 25 percent with only 66 percent name recognition, and Barbour just below 50 percent.

“Any Democrat with a pulse starts with 45 percent,” Barbour has said, but the incumbent has reason to be confident. His Katrina handling has won broad praise, including praise from Democratic politicians. Recent national news stories showing Barbour’s family has profited from the state’s rebuilding effort widen the small hole through which Eaves is trying to run.

Just recently, Barbour announced a new Toyota plant will open next spring near Tupelo, a job-hungry part of the state. Barbour is even being spoken of as a possible running mate for the GOP’s 2008 ticket.

Barbour could be the guy to turn Mississippi fully red, but Eaves’ populist plea is well-honed. Likely Republican Retention.