- Peace advocates in Israel are looking toward the coming Annapolis conference on the Middle East as a last hope for a peace settlement that President George W. Bush, as a lame duck, will seek as a glorious ending to his presidency. That course could be aided by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be there as virtual lame ducks. However, there is no sign that Bush is so inclined or even that he will attend much of the proceedings at Annapolis.
- Frustration over getting their act together on any resolution on removing U.S. troops from Iraq has led congressional Democrats eagerly to seize on the use of Blackwater company private security forces. In fact, the commotion about Blackwater has been instigated by lawyers for the families of former Blackwater employees killed by insurgents and seeking a massive cash settlement. The question of "mercenary" forces is a phony issue and a sign of Democratic inability to address the war.
- Inflation hawks deplore the Federal Reserve’s decision, under Chairman Ben Bernanke‘s leadership, to cut the federal funds rate by 50 basis points. But it has reassured equity markets. The gloom-and-doom forecasters of a severe stock market drop followed by a deep recession have been proven wrong for now.
- The growing sense of inevitability of the Democratic nomination of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is seriously undercut by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama‘s (D) moving ahead in the Iowa polls. An early Obama victory in Iowa would unsettle the Democratic race in a major way.
- Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), in his second term running the Senate Democratic campaign, publicly expresses doubt about picking up an additional nine seats to achieve a filibuster-free Senate. But he has been soliciting popular Democratic governors from Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming to run against incumbent Republican Senators from those "red" states — perhaps even to win the magic nine seats. The problem is that these governors do not relish running with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket.
- The continued retirement of Republican House members erases hopes of GOP gains in the House by taking out ’06 winners of marginal districts. One Democratic operative with a reputation of cautious predictions now forecasts a Democratic pickup of 10 House seats.
SCHIP: Democrats have expertly used this debate to put the White House on the defensive, rally their base and cultivate expanded support. Whether this skirmish will be relevant in a year, and whether Republicans can fight back, is still up in the air.
- The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), currently providing health insurance for poor children, would be expanded under Democratic legislation to include upper-middle-class "children" (up to age 21). Democrats, however, have very effectively cast the debate over the bill as one over insuring children or not. Mainstream media outlets repeat the Democratic framing, and very few Republicans are able to fight back effectively.
- President Bush on Wednesday vetoed the reauthorization bill that would expand the program. The White House argues that the expansion is a step towards "government-run healthcare." This objection comes across as a vague and weak one in the face of Democratic cries that a veto will leave sick "kids" without doctors. Only a few congressional Republicans are making the more straightforward objection that SCHIP is welfare, and government shouldn’t be giving welfare to people who aren’t poor. The White House’s lack of a real compass on limited government is hurting it here politically.
- Senate SCHIP supporters have enough votes to override a veto there, but House supporters do not. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) relishes the opportunity to target vulnerable Republicans, running ads in their districts calling on them to override the veto.
- The debate is a good opportunity for Democrats to rally their strongest base of activists: labor unions. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) dispatched dozens of children to the White House in a protest Monday.
- Expanding SCHIP also endears Democrats to governors of both parties, happy to have a bigger federal pipeline of cash, and to the insurance industry, typically a GOP ally but eager to garner more subsidies under a broader SCHIP.
Republicans: A flurry of action in the GOP field brings the race a little closer to where it started: a three-way contest among former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) appeared to be on the cusp of a presidential run just before he declined. His reason for passing on the run — advice from his lawyers that he would need to quit work with his fledgling 527 organization — suggests that Gingrich’s earlier intent to run was not based on a real hope of becoming President. Gingrich had hoped to use a candidacy to advance his ideas, his image and, perhaps, his income. He has made it clear that he thinks any Republican nominee will be at a severe disadvantage in 2008.
- Gingrich’s decision not to run is a relief for former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who would have been further deflated by a new candidate with some conservative cachet.
- Christian and conservative leaders in Salt Lake City garnered national headlines this week by publicly threatening to run a pro-life, socially conservative third-party candidate if Giuliani is the Republican nominee. This was not a shot across Giuliani’s bow but a plea to other Republican activists and donors to make sure someone else wins the nomination.
- Whether or not a serious third-party candidate were to surface, the statement, whose signatories included James Dobson and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, reflects the task Giuliani would face as the nominee: He would somehow have to win the presidency in a Democratic year while much of his party’s base stayed home or cast protest votes.
- The most significant fact about GOP third-quarter fundraising is how it pales in comparison to Democratic fundraising. Romney, the GOP’s biggest raiser at $10-12 million, hauled in less than half of what Clinton did. Giuliani ($10 million) and Thompson ($8 million) combined don’t equal Obama’s numbers. Giuliani’s success reflects his broad popularity, his chief asset in this race. Fifth place in fundraising was libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), reflecting deep conservative discontent with the GOP establishment.
- McCain’s campaign may still be weak, but it’s headed in the right direction. He’s jumped slightly in South Carolina and New Hampshire polls, and his much-criticized comment that he hopes for a "Christian President" is much more of an advantage than a liability. Almost ironically, McCain could make a serious run as the conservative alternative, despite years of aberrations from the conservative stand and adulation from the mainstream media.
Democrats: Sen. Hillary Clinton‘s (D-N.Y.) first place in the fundraising race strengthened the appearance that this is her race to lose, which has brought out some Democratic worries about her as the nominee.
- Clinton announced Tuesday that she raised $27 million in the third quarter, typically a slow fundraising quarter. The campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) had announced a day earlier that it had hauled in "at least" $20 million. The Obama figure could be an intentional low ball, allowing the campaign to announce a bigger haul when official papers are filed later this month. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) pulled in $7 million.
- The Obama campaign has raised a staggering $75 million since its onset. Lacking the natural advantages the other candidates have (huge personal wealth, an ex-President as a husband, decades-old fundraising networks), that is truly impressive, reflecting a well-run fundraising machine and the enthusiasm Obama generates.
- Polls in the key states look good but still not decisive for Clinton. She is climbing in Iowa, having already overtaken a sinking Edwards, but Obama leads there. In New Hampshire, the polls would suggest she is running away, approaching 40 percent while Obama and Edwards both fall. In South Carolina and Florida, she continues to hold big leads, and none of the runners-up are making discernible moves in the polls. Yet, all this could be changed by one big loss in Iowa.
- Her steady emergence as the woman to beat has elicited reactions from her rivals and from her critics within the Democratic Party.
- Obama has begun to become more pointed in his critiques of her, specifically assailing her vote in favor of the Iraq War. Because Iraq was a key motivator for Democratic voters in 2006, this is Obama’s best opening. The questions are: (a) Will Obama hit hard enough? and (b) Can he come across as knowledgeable and beat the rap of being too wet behind the ears on serious issues?
- The New York Times has recently run a handful articles and columns criticizing Clinton or worrying about her as the party’s nominee. Veteran Democrats fear she is too polarizing with too high negatives and that she could actually lose in a year that, by all rights, should be tilted heavily towards the Democrats.
Alabama-2: Rep. Terry Everett (R) announced he would retire at the end of his term, when he will be 71 years old. This is the ninth Republican-held open seat so far, compared to two Democratic open seats.
This Southeast Alabama district includes parts of Montgomery and stretches out to the Florida and Georgia borders. The 2nd District has been held by the GOP since 1964, and this is the second time the seat has opened up since then. (Everett defeated Democrat George Wallace, Jr., in 1992, the only other time it opened up). That makes for quite a queue of contenders this year.
The three Republicans currently in the race are State Representatives David Grimes, Jay Love and Greg Wren. There’s also a long list of potential candidates, including Atty. Gen. Troy King (R) and Everett’s former staffer, Steve Pelham (R), now an Agriculture Department official in the state.
Democrat hopes are pinned on popular Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright (D), who is currently undecided on a run and, in fact, could run as an independent or a Republican. The first Democrat to officially toss his hat in the ring is State Rep. Terry Spicer (D).
If Bright runs as a Democrat, Republicans will have yet another headache. As it is, another open seat means another place for the National Republican Campaign Committee to spend the money it doesn’t have.
Still, Bush won this district by double-digit margins, and Everett always carried it easily. Alabama will not be in play in the presidential election, and there are no big Democratic names running for Senate. If Hillary or Obama is at the top of the ticket, that will hurt any Democrat. Likely Republican Retention.
Ohio-5 Special Election: On November 6, both parties will hold primaries to nominate their candidate for the U.S. House seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Paul Gillmor (R), with Republicans choosing from among six candidates and Democrats choosing from among three contenders.
The Republican front-runners are State Rep. Bob Latta (R) and State Sen. Steve Buehrer (R). The other candidates are teacher Mark Hollenbaugh (R), Navy veteran Fred Pieper (R), retiree Michael Reynolds (R), and business consultant Mike Smitley (R). Buehrer and Latta are both running on their conservative records. Latta is the son of former Rep. Del Latta (R), who held the seat for 30 years until retiring in 1988, at which time Gillmor narrowly beat the younger Latta in a primary. Since then, Latta has served as Wood County commissioner and a state senator before term limits pushed him out.
While Buehrer currently has a larger constituency, serving in the state’s upper chamber, Latta’s base, Wood County, is the most populous part of the district. This could be a very close race that comes down to the turnout for local elections. Leaning Latta.
Three Democrats are running, led by 2004 and 2006 nominee Robin Weirauch (D). The other candidates are Air Force veteran Earl Campbell (D) and 2006 Senate candidate George Mays (D). Likely Weirauch.
The general election will be December 11. This is a strongly Republican district, with Bush carrying 61 percent in 2004, but with a very low turnout likely, and a five-week general election, anything can happen. Leaning Republican Retention.
Mississippi Governor: Gov. Haley Barbour (R) and trial lawyer John Arthur Eaves (D) have begun engaging one another in the last six weeks of the campaign. The first debate was lively, with no clear winner, which is good for Barbour.
Eaves, to date, has run a campaign grounded in generalities — talking about prayer in school and looking out for the little guy. Recently, he has started running ads attacking Barbour the Beltway lobbyist and hitting him for his family’s connections to firms that received state money for post-Katrina reconstruction.
This race won’t be a blowout, but Eaves still has yet to show he can win it. Likely Republican Retention.