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Orlando debate was good for Thompson and Giuliani, not for Romney; GOP fight over primary dates escalates; Davis drops out of Virginia Senate race; Fletcher in trouble in Kentucky; Jindal wins big in Louisiana

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ENPR: Week of October 24, 2007

Orlando debate was good for Thompson and Giuliani, not for Romney; GOP fight over primary dates escalates; Davis drops out of Virginia Senate race; Fletcher in trouble in Kentucky; Jindal wins big in Louisiana

Outlook

  1. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) committed the biggest blunder of her tenure by pressing the Armenian genocide resolution and then having to back down when her support vanished. She should have taken the advice of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who has opposed the Armenian proposal dating back to his days as an aide in the Clinton White House. Democratic support, once at more than 225 members, collapsed when Gen. David Petraeus, the Iraq commander, briefed congressmen individually and pointed out serious problems with Turkey created by the genocide resolution.
  2. The present inclination by Democrats is to quickly pass a slightly scaled-down version of SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program). That would present a tough decision to President George W. Bush. Should he veto the bill, even though he is likely to get overridden the second time around? Prominent congressional Republicans want a veto, advising that an override would not be all that bad.
  3. The "mother of all tax reforms" — to be unveiled Thursday by House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) — is for show rather than play. It certainly won’t pass the Senate and probably won’t even get to the House floor.
  4. In a rare public Democratic split between two important Senate committee chairmen: Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) argues that the party’s Pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules don’t require offsets (tax hikes or spending cuts) to compensate for an AMT (alternative minimum tax) "patch," while Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) insists on PAYGO offsets. Baucus’s position is a huge plus for Republican supply-siders.

President 2008

Orlando Republican Debate: The most recent GOP debate was the most important to date. Thompson and McCain improved, Giuliani was strong, and Romney faltered.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani
: Once again, he led the Republican pack. He looks like a President more than the others, and he has learned to avoid the pitfalls of his past liberalism. He still faces very serious problems: possible mass defection of social conservatives (though he was effective at last week’s Values Voters Conference) and weakness in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: Presented with the chance to grab some of the pro-life base in the wake of Sen. Sam Brownback‘s (R-Kan.) departure, Romney did not give a very good performance. He looks a little off balance lately and seems intimidated by Giuliani. But his hole card is that he leads in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson: He did better and looked better than in his previous performances, but he still didn’t knock anybody’s socks off. The wait-and-see Republicans are not waiting much longer and indeed are looking elsewhere.

Arizona Sen. John McCain: He looked better, but he seems unable to retrieve his front-running status.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: He is smooth, likable and has a rare sense of humor (pushing him up in the polls). He hit the abortion message harder, clearly reaching for Brownback’s supporters. But do conservatives know he is a protectionist and a carbon taxer?

Primary Calendar: The skirmish over presidential primary dates has escalated in the past week.

  1. The Republican National Committee’s Executive Committee voted unanimously to punish the states that have moved up their primary dates in violation of party bylaws. Even New Hampshire, according to party rules, is prohibited from holding its primary before the first Tuesday in February (February 5). This means New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan, Florida and Wyoming would all be sanctioned.

  2. South Carolina has threatened to sue the RNC over its loss of delegates. Other states appear set on defying the party. Republican candidates seem to be following the calendar where it leads them rather than standing with the national party.

  3. Iowa and Nevada will not be punished for their January caucuses. Those caucuses are precinct caucuses, where the votes are not binding, and they choose only delegates to the county caucuses. In Iowa, delegates to the national convention are chosen later, at the state and district caucuses.

  4. This week, Romney set the tone for the candidates’ reaction to this RNC scuffle, telling to a Florida crowd that he would insist all of Florida’s delegates are seated. Thompson, McCain and Giuliani all were campaigning in Florida, too.

  5. Early wins are so important for momentum that these five states will not lose any prominence. If the nomination comes down to delegate count — which it hasn’t in decades — what candidate would want to win by virtue of denying Michigan and Florida half their delegates, thus sinking his chances in those key states?

  6. The real fallout of this skirmish will be that the GOP needs to revamp the primary process — probably dramatically.

Senate 2008

North Carolina: Democrats failed to recruit their desired candidate for this Senate seat, leaving Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) a little bit safer. State Rep. Grier Martin (D), an Iraq War veteran, was the top choice of Washington Democrats after Rep. Brad Miller (D), Gov. Mike Easley (D) and state Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper (D) all passed on challenging Dole. Martin has passed on a run, too.

Currently, her only opponent is investment banker Jim Neal (D), which leaves Dole safe for now. Likely Republican Retention.

Texas: Sen. John Cornyn (R) also appears to be safe for now, as multi-millionaire personal-injury trial lawyer Mikal Watts (D) has bowed out of the Senate race after a few months. Watts had contributed more than $5 million to his own campaign and was going to be able to outspend Cornyn without having to raise much money or draw on the resources of national Democrats.

State Rep. Rick Noriega (D) now appears to be Cornyn’s most likely opponent. Cornyn is fairly popular, and Texas is still a Republican state. Without a candidate who can dwarf his spending, Cornyn likely won’t join the ranks of vulnerable Republicans. Likely Republican Retention.

Virginia: After a move by the state GOP, Rep. Tom Davis (R) has decided to bow out of this uphill climb of a Senate race, leaving former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) as the nominee to run against former Gov. Mark Warner (D) in next year’s open-seat Senate race.

Davis, in his seventh term representing his Northern Virginia district, had long been eying a Senate race, and since Sen. John Warner (R) announced he would retire at the end of this term, Davis was readying to run. The state Republican Central Committee, however, gets to select the method for choosing the Republican nominee — a primary or a convention. Because Virginia voters do not register by party, their primaries are open to all voters, which could have helped the more moderate Davis. The conventions, however, consist of delegates elected by party caucuses in each county. Delegates and caucus-goers tend to be more conservative, and delegates are apportioned among the counties in a manner that disfavors Davis’s base of Northern Virginia. The state party, also controlled by conservatives, opted for the convention.

While Davis was not expected to officially bow out of the race until Thursday, he has already made it clear he wouldn’t relish the idea of a run. He said at the National Press Club: "If I have to spend eight months slogging through a party convention, talking to 15,000 Republicans around the state where they’re going to ask you how conservative you are, that does not set you up very well for a general election."

Davis’s dig at the state party reflects long-standing antagonism between the congressman and his party. It also suggests he may not be seeking re-election for Congress, although he didn’t rule out a race against Sen. Jim Webb (D) or a governor run. Davis’s seat would be a tough one for Republicans to defend.
Mark Warner would be the odds-on favorite against Gilmore in the general election, as he would have been against Davis. Likely Democratic Takeover.

House 2008

Maryland-1: Once again, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R) will face a primary challenge, and this one might be his toughest.

Gilchrest represents Maryland’s Eastern Shore, lying on the East side of the Chesapeake Bay, consisting mostly of farms and beaches. It is the most conservative region of the state aside from the Western panhandle, which stretches across the top of West Virginia. Gilchrest is far to the left of his constituents, voting with Democrats on abortion, gun control, gay marriage, oil drilling and campaign finance, among other issues. Conservatives have tried challenging the nine-term lawmaker in the past, but state Sen. Andy Harris (R) appears to be a serious threat.

Harris outraised Gilchrest nearly four to one in the third quarter, and he now matches Gilchrest’s cash on hand. Harris has the backing of the Club for Growth PAC, and he now has won the endorsement of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R). A party leader opposing an incumbent — and his former House colleague — is extraordinary.

Gilchrest, as an incumbent, has the backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee, but they will be hard pressed to spend money protecting an incumbent in a primary considering their poor cash situation.

Election 2007

Kentucky Governor: Two weeks to Election Day, Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) looks like a one-termer. He sits at 40 percent in the most favorable polls, while former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is polling well above 50 percent.

Fletcher is being dragged down by a patronage scandal, adding to the list of Republicans nationwide suffering from the taint of corruption. He also suffers from (and contributes to) the commonwealth’s shift towards Democrats in the past two years. Fletcher had been relentlessly attacking Beshear, and Beshear was firing back. Fletcher has shifted to a positive tone at the last minute. At this point, it would take a severe Beshear misstep to make this a race again. Likely Democratic Takeover.

Louisiana: Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) steamrolled his opponents on Saturday, winning the governorship without a runoff by capturing 54 percent of the vote in the open primary. State Sen. Walter Boasso (D), a former Republican, finished second with 17 percent. Jindal, at age 36, will be the youngest governor in the country and one of only three non-white governors. He is also only the third Republican governor in the state since Reconstruction.

Jindal’s landslide, winning 60 of 64 parishes, reflects his well-run campaign and his own political skills, but it also reflects the state’s dramatic Republican shift this year, moving it in line with South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D) won re-election, and by January, he may be the only Democrat in Baton Rouge holding a statewide office. Runoffs remain in the attorney general and the agriculture commissioner race, where the Democratic Party is tainted with corruption troubles. Republicans won outright the races for secretary of state, treasurer and insurance commissioner. The GOP made gains within the state senate and have an outside shot at gaining majority of the state house by winning 13 of 16 inter-party runoffs.

Unfortunately for national Republicans, the GOP success in the Bayou State has little implication for the national party. The political situation in Louisiana is unique, as we explained last week.

The only broad national implication of Louisiana’s elections is that the South is still solidly Republican while other former GOP strongholds suffered in 2006. The Northern parts of the state, which are more Southern culturally, went strongly for Jindal after he had lost them in 2003.

There are a few specific national implications of this election. First, Treasurer John Kennedy (R), a former Democrat, won his first election as a Republican, setting him up to challenge Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in 2008. Mitch Landrieu‘s easy reelection sets him up to possibly challenge scandal-troubled Sen. David Vitter (R) in 2010. Jindal’s resignation from the House leaves the GOP with another congressional open seat to defend, this one in a special election sometime next year.

Mississippi Governor: Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is a very good politician, and it has shown in his skillful re-election bid against trial lawyer John Arthur Eaves (D). Barbour started with a huge lead in the polls but hasn’t taken the election for granted against his wealthy, self-funded opponent.

Eaves’ campaign has looked like an overdone stereotype of an evangelical conservative politician. He has emphasized school prayer, waved Bibles in his television spots and constantly invoked biblical terminology, such as referring to Barbour’s lobbyist colleagues as "money changers." This has allowed Eaves to tap into the state’s large conservative white Democratic population, but Barbour’s popularity has kept Eaves from getting too close. Likely Republican Retention.

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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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