ENPR: Week of September 5, 2007

September 5, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 18b 

To: Our Readers


As Congress returns to town, and focus turns to the Iraq debate, times are very bad for Republicans on many scores.

  1. The guilty plea of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) adds to the lengthening list of Republican criminals. The allegations of Craig’s homosexual liaisons in public restrooms, still simply hearsay and inference, strike some Senate leaders as unsurprising. This recalls the same questions that arose following the Mark Foley scandal: Why did Republicans let him stick around and give him leadership roles if they knew? What other surprises are Republicans keeping in the closet? Craig’s potential un-resignation causes more headaches, but the GOP Senate leadership signals it will flex its muscle to force Craig out as soon as possible.
  2. The announced retirement of Sen. John Warner (R) last week is an even more concrete political setback. Former Gov. Mark Warner (D) is likely to run and would be the odds-on favorite. With Colorado’s open seat already tilting towards Democrats, the majority has two excellent pickup opportunities before they even take out any GOP incumbents. With Senators Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.) extremely vulnerable, some Republicans privately predict a net loss of four Senate seats, which would give Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) a real working majority.
  3. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) is stepping down amid a cloud of scandal, one of at least half a dozen House Republicans under federal inquiry. His district is competitive, as are the districts of some other retiring Republican congressmen. Any hope of restoring a GOP House majority in 2008 is fading rapidly.
  4. The most politically significant element of President George W. Bush‘s surprise visit to Iraq was his seemingly offhand comment that there might be troop withdrawals in the offing. That brings out in the open what had been implicit anyway: that the debate over Iraq is no longer whether there should be troop withdrawals, only how rapid they should be.
  5. The Bush Administration’s plan for a series of vetoes of individual appropriations bills is being torpedoed by plans of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to wrap all but national security spending into one omnibus bill. That will dare the President to veto it and risk a government shutdown, as he almost certainly will have to do. President Bill Clinton made the majority Republicans take the blame for the shutdown a decade ago. Is Bush skillful enough to do the same?
  6. There is no question that a federal funds rate decrease by the Federal Reserve is in the offing. The only questions for Chairman Ben Bernanke: a) Will he be able to wait until the next FOMC meeting September 18? b) Will the cut be 25 basis points or 50 basis points?
  7. The decision by all major Democratic presidential candidates not to campaign in the outlaw Florida primary looks like a boon for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). By virtue of her high name identification, she figures to be way ahead in this important state. Unless the media completely ignore the primary because of the boycott and the absence of delegates, a victory can more than write off her expected defeat in South Carolina.
  8. Those few Republican governors remaining have abandoned conservative principles in favor of federal dollars, backing the Democratic-sponsored extension of SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) to people who are neither children nor poor. Only the most conservative — Mitch Daniels (Ind.), Haley Barbour (Miss.) and Mark Sanford (S.C.) — remain opposed.

  9. In Texas over the weekend, the state Republican Party held its straw poll, open only to party activists. The turnout was dismal: 1,300 after party officials had predicted 2,000 (California Rep. Duncan Hunter won). Iowa’s straw poll, open to anyone who buys a ticket, also had a low turnout.

Bush Administration

Attorney General: In the face of widespread advice to put up a “non-controversial” attorney general nominee, the White House is fixing for a fight — but they might not be able to tap an A-list nominee for this spot. White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten has a short list of ideal nominees, and they are not the “consensus nominees” requested by Judiciary Committee power-broker Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). The list includes former Solicitor General Ted Olson and former deputy Attorney Generals George Terwilliger and Laurence Silberman.

  1. The problem would be convincing these men to accept the nomination, which requires a public grilling by Schumer and his colleagues such as Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) for the reward of serving out the final months of an unpopular administration.

  2. A powerful, effective and like-minded attorney general is critical to any administration’s success, and the weaknesses of Gonzales were certainly a major contributor to the Bush Administration’s second-term woes.

  3. Within the Department of Justice, there is speculation that acting Atty. Gen. Paul Clement might just ride out the term in an acting role or as a recess appointment.

President 2008

Primary Dates Battle: The decision by Clinton, Obama and Edwards to follow the Democratic National Committee mandate and skip disobedient states Michigan and Florida may be a huge windfall for Clinton.

  1. The key state is Florida. If nobody campaigns there, Clinton — with her big lead in the national polls and her name advantage — has the clear edge. The results will get headlines anyway, and a Clinton win there would overcome a loss in South Carolina to Obama or Edwards.

  2. Obama is in a box. He cannot go to Florida, which would ruin any of his chances in Iowa and New Hampshire, trying desperately to maintain their early status. Once Iowa and New Hampshire actually have voted, it will be too late for Obama to parachute into Florida.

  3. It is expected that the Democratic delegate penalties will be revoked before the convention rather than offend states as important as Florida and Michigan. The entire charade points to a long overdue reshuffling of the primary system for 2012.

  4. Republican candidates have issued no such pledges and the disobedient states are under much less harsh threats from the party establishment (they would lose half their delegates). An early Michigan primary helps former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who was born in the state and whose father was governor of Michigan.

Senate 2008

Colorado: The retirement of Sen. Wayne Allard (R) provides Democrats with their best chance to expand their majority in the Senate. While the primary is a year away and the filing deadline eight months from now, the general election match-up may already be set. Rep. Mark Udall (D) is the anointed Democratic candidate, while former Rep. Bob Schaeffer (R) is currently the presumptive GOP nominee.

Udall, while on the liberal half of the House Democratic caucus, has portrayed himself as a moderate. He is an excellent campaigner from a political family with a natural charisma. His negatives are low, and his campaign is organized and very well funded. Udall raised $1.1 million in the second quarter of 2007, raising his total to $2.5 million raised.

Schaeffer was a popular conservative congressman, first elected in the Republican Revolution of 1994. As part of his image as a reformer, he kept his pledge to serve only three terms, and since retiring in 2000 has run for Senate and governor. While he performed fairly well in those races, his third statewide run is anything but a charm, judging by the early going. His reformer image is already tarnished by accusations of bribery, and his fundraising is very poor (he had raised less than $750,000 by the middle of 2007).

Most of Schaeffer’s trouble is really the Colorado GOP’s trouble. One politico in Colorado described the problem as “Republican donor fatigue,” with causes ranging from conservative frustration with former Gov. Bill Owens (R) to a string of Republican losses at the legislative, Senate, congressional and gubernatorial levels. Bush’s unpopularity is a real issue, too.

Possible primary battles could shake up the race, but it’s a bad time to be a Republican in Colorado. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Idaho: The resignation of Sen. Larry Craig (R) following the news of his disorderly conduct guilty plea and rumors of sexual deviancy gives Gov. Butch Otter (R) the chance to anoint Craig’s successor.

Lt. Gov. Bill Risch (R) was the favorite to be the GOP nominee when Craig was talking retirement before the scandal erupted. Risch’s early organization had crowded out possible contenders, but since the next Senator will now be chosen by appointment, Risch’s early advantage is nearly erased. This has piqued the interest of Rep. Mike Simpson (R) who had earlier sworn off a run for Senate, and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (R) — a former governor and senator.

Risch, however, is still the favorite for the seat. Appointing Simpson would create a House vacancy at a time the other Idaho congressman, freshman Rep. Bill Sali (R), is vulnerable. Also, Risch and Otter do not have a good working relationship, according to Idaho sources, and appointing Risch would give Otter the chance for a more amenable lieutenant governor. Leaning Republican Retention.

Virginia: The announced retirement of Sen. John Warner (R) creates the second open seat of the 2008 election, alongside Colorado. Like Colorado, Democrats here start with the upper hand, likely fielding a stronger candidate in a state trending towards the Democrats.

Former Gov. Mark Warner (D) has not yet officially announced his candidacy, but it is almost certain that he will. Mark Warner, a dot-com millionaire, gave John Warner something of a scare in 1996, holding him to 52%, and then handily won the governor’s mansion in 2001. He left office in 2005 fairly popular and handed the governorship over to another Democrat. He has plenty of his own money to spend, no prospect of any serious primary opponents, very high name recognition, a good network for both fundraising and campaigning, and political experience.

On the Republican side, meanwhile, a nomination battle looks likely. Rep. Tom Davis (R) has been eyeing this seat for years. The former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Davis has hired up his top NRCC staff to leverage chits earned into political support statewide. Davis, a moderate, has good fundraising strength and a base in Northern Virginia, the state’s population center.

His chief challenger, it appears now, will be former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R), who briefly ran for President. Gilmore still has some residual connections within the state party, but his tenure in Richmond ended six years ago. To make up for this long absence, Gilmore has launched a PAC to help Old Dominion Republicans try to hold on to their legislative majority in Richmond. Gilmore’s name recognition is higher than Davis’s, and he has the experience of statewide races under his belt.

The key in the GOP contest will be the method of nomination, which is left entirely to the state GOP’s central committee. Rather than a primary, the committee is currently leaning towards a nominating convention. Under a convention, each county is allocated votes according to the Republican performance in recent elections, thus diminishing the importance of Northern Virginia. Also, because Virginia voters do not register by party, a primary would likely see many Democratic voters supporting Davis (especially because Warner could be unopposed for his nomination).

Gilmore’s claims to the conservative mantle in this race will draw some eye-rolling from a number of state activists who recall his moderate stance on abortion and his high spending as governor that undermined his pledge to abolish the car tax. Some murmurs arise from the grassroots for a run by Rep. Eric Cantor (R), but he seems determined to rise through the ranks of the House leadership.

Whoever the nominee, Mark Warner will be the favorite in this state seeing a Democratic resurgence of late. It’s possible that being down ballot from Hillary Clinton could hurt the Democrat, but this is one of the Democrats’ most likely pickups. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Wyoming: Wyoming will be home to two U.S. Senate races on Election Day 2008, but only one of them has a real chance of being competitive. Sen. Mike Enzi (R) is up for re-election, but he is currently unopposed. Democrats in Wyoming don’t expect to put up any serious challengers in this one. Likely Republican Retention.

Any would-be Democratic challengers to Enzi have been drawn away by the special election in the Senate seat vacated by the death of Sen. Craig Thomas (R) and currently occupied by appointed Sen. John Barrasso (R).

Barrasso was appointed by Gov. Mike Freudenthal (D), who was bound by state law to choose from a list of three nominees selected by the state Republican committee. Barrasso was the moderate of the group. He is the front-runner in the special election, the winner of which will serve until 2012.

There is some talk of a Republican primary challenge, with three names commonly mentioned: former State Treasurer Cynthia Lummis (R), former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead (R) and State House Majority Leader Colin Simpson (R). Lummis was on the short list chosen by Republicans and presented to the governor, but the scuttlebutt is that this was mostly name promotion on her part, because Freudenthal would never have chosen her, and she is more interested in becoming governor. Mead and Simpson (the son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R), snubbed by state Republicans in creating the short list) are both more likely to launch a primary challenge against Rep. Barbara Cubin (R), probably a more vulnerable target than Barrasso at this point.

The big target on Cubin’s back also may draw the top Democratic candidates away from challenging Barrasso. Attorney Paul Hickey (D), State Sen. Mike Massie (D) and 2006 congressional nominee Gary Trauner (D) are the Democratic names thrown about. Trauner has already filed to run against Cubin again, and he is likely to keep with that idea. Hickey, son of former Gov. and Sen. Joseph Hickey (D), has considered a race but does not have strong fundraising potential at the moment. Massie could very well run.

Considering the support of Enzi and Wyoming native Dick Cheney, Barrasso has a slew of advantages in this heavily Republican state. Likely Republican Retention.

House 2008

Ohio-15: The seat vacated by retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (R) is looking more and more like a Democratic pickup in 2008. The top two GOP potential candidates, former State Atty. Gen. Jim Petro (R) and State Sen. Steve Stivers (R), have declined to run, as has former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka (R). The wariness of these top Republicans — any one of which, by remaining in the race, could have had an easy walk to the nomination — reflects the depression among the GOP that is acutely felt in Ohio. Petro had been heavily lobbied by his party’s leaders, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

This leaves Franklin Co. Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who nearly defeated Pryce in 2006, as the favorite for this seat. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Election 2007

Massachusetts Special: As expected Niki Tsongas, widow of late Sen. Paul Tsongas (D), won the crowded Democratic primary in the race to succeed Rep. Marty Meehan (D), who resigned to take an academic post. Tsongas beat out three state lawmakers.

The Republican nomination went to Retired Air Force Officer Jim Ogonowski, brother of a murdered 9/11 pilot. Ogonowski is a heavy underdog — as is any Republican running for Congress in Massachusetts, the largest state with a homogenous congressional delegation: 10 Democrats, 0 Republicans.

The general election will be October 16. Likely Democratic Retention.

Ohio-5: The sudden death of Rep. Paul Gillmor (R) creates a vacancy in this Northwest Ohio district. This is a strong Republican district in which Bush carried more than 60% in 2004 and which Gillmor won by 2-to-1 margins most years. Last year, in a very bad year for Ohio’s GOP, Gillmor still garnered 57% of the vote. A special election later this year will fill this vacancy.


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