- The Iraq War may be fading as a transcendent issue for the ’08 election, partly from the result of reduced casualties and partly because of Democrats’ inability to agree on a coherent, unified policy in Congress. Anti-war hawks are furious with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for refusing to take the risk of cutting off war financing.
- Speaker Pelosi is intent this year on getting an energy bill through the House containing higher mileage and emission standards. The Democrats also are divided on this issue with House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), representing Detroit’s interests in opposing Pelosi.
- As former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) rises in the polls as a social conservative and especially becomes a strong vice presidential contender, he became a center of controversy under attack as a economic liberal. The level of his response is characterized by his saying that a critic, the Club for Growth, is really the "Club for Greed."
- Republican anxiety over runaway losses in the Senate next year was eased by two developments. First, the decision by former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) not to run in Nebraska for an open seat (see below) turns a probable Republican loss into a probable retention. Second, the landslide win for governor of Louisiana by Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) reflects the loss from the state of up to 200,000 black voters caused by Hurricane Katrina and puts Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in jeopardy next year.
Democrats: The race is far from over as Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), undoubtedly the front-runner, had a poor debate performance. Still, the race is hers to lose.
- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has begun announcing that he will go on the attack against Clinton, and in the first debate he launched some shots across her bow. So far is talking about attacking more than actually attacking. His harshest criticism since allegedly switching to the offensive has been calling her out for not having a plan about Social Security. While he has hit her Iraq inconsistencies, he has avoided her other obvious faults — fundraising scandals and closeness to corporate lobbyists — and mostly picked around the edges on policy issues. While the excitement he has generated could still catapult him to an Iowa upset, it is unlikely.
- Meanwhile, former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has actually begun hitting Clinton. From his staked-out position as a left-wing populist, he’s attacked her for questionable meetings with defense industry lobbyists and her support for Iraq, asserting a Clinton presidency would be trading "their cronies for our cronies." However, he’s not getting that much attention in the crowded field where he has to compete with Obama and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) for attention. If he survives Iowa and enters a two-way race, his class-warfare rhetoric could catch on with liberal voters wary of Hillary.
- The liberal base — which could theoretically bring down Hillary — is divided. Portsmouth, N.H., Mayor Steve Marchard (D) has endorsed Richardson. The leading liberal blog DailyKos has torn into Obama for featuring a formerly gay gospel singer who preaches against homosexual behavior, and the site has also started throwing support to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
- There’s reason to doubt a recent poll that showed a very tight three-way race in Iowa. The poll, conducted by the University of Iowa was of fewer than 300 voters, and their screening method for likely caucus-goers is less rigorous than other pollsters’. Iowa is certainly still in play, but Hillary is the bona-fide favorite.
- Around this time four years ago, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) was the favorite, but he sank to third in the caucuses and then imploded. Clinton is not likely to face the same fate. Dean’s candidacy, an insurgency based on his energy and his maverick reputation, was inherently unstable. Clinton’s campaign is the opposite — safe, scripted and run by experienced establishment professionals. She is not terribly prone to a meltdown.
- If anything, Obama is more analogous to Dean. Obama will likely win more adulation than votes. Kerry’s campaign in 2004 sounded the theme "Dated Dean, Married Kerry." This year it may be "Dated Obama, Married Clinton."
SCHIP: It increasingly seems that the legislative skirmishes over the bill to reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) are part of a political, not a policy battle.
- After failing to override the President’s veto, Democrats introduced a "compromise" version that was substantially identical to the first bill. Not only did they not gain any Republican votes, they lost one, thanks to their insistence on pushing a vote while some GOP California members were back in their fire-devastated districts.
- Democratic leaders continue to hold negotiations with select Republican opponents, but a few GOPers have been frozen out of the discussions for questioning whether the Democratic offers were really made in good faith. Even Republicans who have voted for the bill openly say Democrats do not want to reach a compromise — they want to keep passing the same bill and running ads against Republicans who vote no.
- Either they will win over some Republicans with their attacks or the lame duck President will cave or they will take SCHIP reauthorization into the 2008 elections, as both a presidential and a congressional issue. Right now the last seems most likely.
Taxes: Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel‘s (D-N.Y.) "Mother of all tax reforms" (or "Mother of all tax hikes" as Republicans call it) has made its official debut on Capitol Hill.
- The massive and far-reaching bill is just for show. There is no chance this year of Democrats’ moving the corporate tax rate changes, the Alternative Minimum Tax repeal, the hedge-fund tax hikes or the individual income tax hikes.
- The only element that will definitely move this year is the AMT "patch" extending the temporary higher thresholds. Most Democrats argue that their "Pay-As-You-Go" (PAYGO) rules require this patch be "off set" by some tax hike, because it would reduce revenues lower than they would be if last year’s patch were allowed to expire. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D) argues that the PAYGO rules don’t apply to the AMT patch, because the bill preserves current tax law.
- Rangel’s bill also contains provisions that would extend for one year certain special tax breaks, such as a research-and-development tax credit and the option to deduct state and local sales tax instead of state income tax. Democrats might pass these provisions, but the same questions arise over PAYGO. Both of these measures could move this week.
Nebraska: Republicans are relieved that former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) has decided not to run for the seat being made vacant by Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel‘s retirement. Kerrey certainly was not guaranteed victory, but he would have started as the front-runner.
Although a very popular former governor and senator with bipartisan credentials, Kerrey would have faced some uncomfortable questions if he re-entered the political fray. Questions about his role in the slaughter of a Vietnamese village, a story that surfaced after his 2000 retirement from the Senate, could have made things ugly, as could have his close connections to millionaire felon Democratic donor Norman Hsu.
This leaves former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns (R), also a former governor and mayor of Lincoln, as the favorite in this race. Johanns has the backing of current Gov. Dave Heineman (R) and starts with high poll ratings and fundraising potential. He will face a serious primary challenge, however, from state Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning (R), who was already in the race before Hagel’s retirement, planning to challenge the incumbent on his opposition to the Iraq War.
On the Democratic side, next in line after Kerrey is Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey (D), who will decide on a run in the coming weeks. If he passes, the candidate would probably be Scott Kleeb (D), who lost a congressional race in the staunchly conservative 3rd District, a huge rural district encompassing nearly the whole state west of Lincoln.
Without a high-profile Democrat, the Republican nature of this state makes it fairly safe. Even in a bad GOP year, this one becomes a contest only if the Republicans bungle it, either through a very bruising primary or through an unforeseen scandal. For now, this race can be moved to the second tier. Likely Republican Retention.
Colorado-6: Rep. Tom Tancredo (R), amid his longshot run for President, has decided not to seek reelection in the House, where he has helped make immigration enforcement a prominent and divisive issue. Tancredo’s retirement creates a second open seat, alongside GOP Sen. Wayne Allard‘s Senate seat, for Colorado Republicans to defend. Colorado is showing some of the best trends anywhere in the country for Democrats, which means an open seat is a cause for GOP concern.
Republicans have the consolation that this is a GOP district. Republicans have a strong registration advantage here, and Tancredo — who usually faced vigorous challenges — typically won easily.
The likely Republican candidate early on is Wil Armstrong (R), son of former Sen. Bill Armstrong (R). There is also speculation that Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman (R) could run.
Some Democrats fear that without Tancredo to run against, they may not be able to win over the independent voters who hold the balance of power in this district. The only candidate they have so far is University of Colorado Regent Steven Ludwig (D).
If Democrats can recruit a top candidate, this is another seat Republicans will desperately be defending next fall. However, it could prove itself by next summer to be a safe GOP hold. Leaning Republican Retention.
New York-21: Rep. Michael McNulty (D), who has represented Albany and the surrounding area for 20 years, is retiring at the end of his current term, creating only the third Democratic open seat.
McNulty’s family is a prominent one in Albany-area politics, and he easily won all of his elections, including his first, in 1988. It is possible his sister Erin McNulty-Ryan (D), mayor of the small town of Green Island, could seek the seat, but the district’s political anchor is metro Albany. Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings (D) embodies the district’s ethnic Democrat atmosphere, and he is close with Hillary Clinton. He has not decided yet whether to run. A Jennings rival, State Sen. Neil Breslin (D), has expressed interest, and he is probably the closest to the local political machine. Schnectady Mayor Brian Stratton (D), son of former Rep. Sam Stratton (D), is a possible candidate.
Republicans are certainly the underdogs in this race. George Bush won only 43 percent here in 2004, an improvement on his 39 percent in 2000. While the constituency is neither black nor terribly liberal, the white ethnics are loyal to the party in power. State Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco (R) is a rare local elected Republican, but he just assumed his new leadership role and might not be eager to step down for a longshot run. State Assemblyman George Amedore (R) and businessman Gavin Donohue (R) are the other candidates mentioned. Likely Democratic Retention.