- The failure of Congress to move promptly on adjustment of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) may mean a delay in income tax refunds next year for people who count on them. The problem is a dispute over proposed tax hikes in the Democrats' AMT bill.
- Yasuo Fukuda, the low-key new Japanese prime minister, comes to Washington this week to privately tell President George W. Bush that U.S. policy has gone too far toward conciliation with North Korea. The Japanese are unhappy about lack of U.S. interest in the Pyongyang regime's abduction of Japanese nationals.
- Complaints grow over the inattention of Sen. Christopher Dodd (D- Conn.) to his duties as Senate Banking Committee chairman as he campaigns for President. In addition to the backlog of legislation, several confirmations - including Federal Reserve members - await action.
Republicans: In the past week, three different social conservatives endorsed three different candidates, highlighting the quandary of the pro-life base of the Republican Party.
- Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who dropped out of the race in mid-October, last week endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain's voting record on abortion is 100 percent pro-life, but he was a vocal supporter of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research (last week, we erroneously wrote that he had a 100 percent pro-life voting record).
- Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) got the endorsement of televangelist Pat Robertson, who founded the Christian Coalition and hosts the "700 Club" on national television. Robertson explained his endorsement of the pro-choice mayor with a history of supporting the gay political agenda by saying the war against Islamic terrorism is the central issue of the election. This could help blunt some conservative attacks on Giuliani.
- The National Right to Life Committee then jumped in and endorsed former Sen. Fred Thompson (R) just after he had gone on "Meet the Press" dismissing the GOP plank endorsing a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution. This could boost Thompson, but he needs lots of help. More than anything, the NRLC endorsement is significant in that it did not go to one of the candidates who might have benefitted from it - former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R).
- These endorsements are not terribly influential on voters, but Giuliani's may be the most important - by assuaging the conscience of Christian voters considering a pragmatic anti-Hillary vote. They also show a perception by Brownback, Robertson and Right to Life that this is a four-way race (Thompson, Romney, McCain and Giuliani). For example, Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Ron Paul (R-Tex.), as well as Huckabee, all are more reliably conservative and pro-life than McCain, Giuliani or Thompson.
- Poll numbers are looking good for Romney in the early states. He consistently leads in Iowa polls, posting 10- to 15-point leads over his nearest competitor (generally Huckabee or Giuliani). In New Hampshire, he also averages double-digit leads. An American Research Group poll in South Carolina of 600 likely primary voters also showed a Romney lead, following a Winthrop University survey that showed Romney in a three-way tie with Thompson and Giuliani.
- Romney's leads in the early states reflect the money he has spent there and effective retail politicking, while Giuliani's national leads reflect a broad popularity and name recognition. If Romney wins the first three states, it would be a Romney vs. Giuliani one-on-one contest - a prospect that looks increasingly likely every week.
- McCain could still make a comeback, however, and it would be premature to rule him out. He may drop out of Iowa (where he is running poorly) and concentrate on New Hampshire.
Democrats: Hillary's poor debate performance and Obama's Iowa blitz may be deflating the sense of inevitability this race was starting to have.
- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) looked very bad October 30 in the presidential debate, and polls taken since then reflect a dip by her. Around the same time, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) increased the intensity of his Iowa campaigning.
- A Zogby poll on November 6 of 502 likely caucus-goers showed Clinton's lead shrunk to three points - within the survey's +/- 4.5% margin of error. The narrowing, however, is mostly do to an Obama surge, from 19 percent in Zogby's August poll to 25 percent. Zogby also asked backers of the second-tier candidates whom they would support among Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) (in caucuses, minor candidates are often declared "non-viable" and their supporters can choose a different candidate). When second-choices were included, it was basically a three-way tie.
- Hillary's missteps will melt away by January if she performs well in the next debates. In the five national polls since the debate, Clinton still led by 19 points or more. There is no national Clinton collapse.
New Mexico: Republicans breathed a sigh of relief in early October when Rep. Tom Udall (D) announced he would not run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Pete Domenici (R). Last week, however, Udall changed his mind and entered the Senate race, exacerbating GOP headaches nationwide.
Udall is an immensely popular congressman, not only winning high percentages in his race, but bringing in mammoth vote totals - 175,000 in presidential years, and 145,000 in mid-term elections in his Santa Fe-based 3rd District. With a cushy seat on the Appropriations Committee and a safe job, he didn't want to run for Senate, which left Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez (D) as the Democrats' top candidate. National Democrats, however, twisted Udall's arm, and he jumped in. In early Democratic polls, Udall soundly defeated the two leading Republican candidates, Representatives Heather Wilson (R) and Steve Pearce (R). While the early polls likely shortchange the eventual Republican nominee, they are a testimony to Udall's statewide popularity.
The state's political landscape favors the Democrats. Udall will have the help of Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Democratic Gov Bill Richardson, who will either be campaigning for Udall come fall or on the national ticket as a running mate. Domenici has not indicated he will back any Republican candidate, and his declining health might keep him from campaigning. Nearly half the state's voters are registered as Democrats, with only a third registered as Republicans. The state is also 42 percent Hispanic. However, this Hispanic population - unlike Hispanic population in most states - is not made up of new immigrants, but long-time residents. Domenici consistently won the Hispanic vote, and the most Republican district in the state (Pearce's 2nd District) is the most Hispanic.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has a big fundraising edge over its Republican counterpart, and with the GOP defending at least five open seats and at least three vulnerable incumbents, their resources will be spread thin. The Republicans might find some hope in the fact that Udall didn't really want to run in the first place, but this is the fourth GOP Senate seat to enter our Democratic column. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
New Mexico-3: Rep. Tom Udall's (D) decision to run for the U.S. Senate (reversing an earlier announcement) means all three New Mexico congressional districts will be open in 2008. This may be the least competitive of the three.
Udall's district covers the top third of the state, and is anchored in the state capital, Santa Fe, a liberal town. The 3rd District also includes Los Alamos and the other national laboratories. The Northwest corner of the district, around Farmington, is Republican, but the district is "majority-minority," 36 percent Hispanic and 19 percent American Indian. John Kerry carried 54 percent of the district in 2004 (and Ralph Nader won five percent here in 2000).
Liberal activist Don Wiviott (D) exited the Senate race upon Udall's announcement and immediately jumped into this race. Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya (D) is also running. No Republicans have entered the race yet. Likely Democratic Retention.
New Jersey-3: Rep. Jim Saxton (R) announced this week that he would retire at the end of his current term, creating another possibly competitive open seat for Republicans to defend. Saxton's Southern New Jersey district is a mixed bag, stretching from the Shore almost to Philadelphia, stopping just before Camden. The Jersey Shore regions are Republican retirees, while the parts closer to Camden are more African-American and Democratic. Bush won 51 percent here in 2004, down from his 54 percent in 2000.
Republicans are likely to nominate State Sen. Diane Allen (R), whose senate district is on Democratic turf. Her former career as a local newscaster boosts her popularity. She is a liberal Republican described by one GOP operative as "left of [former Gov.] Christie Todd-Whitman." Because the district is not that liberal, a conservative might challenge her in the primary.
State Sen. John Adler (D) was already gearing up to challenge Saxton and probably could have given him a good race. Like Allen, Adler hails from the Camden area.
The geography in this race plays to Allen's advantage - voters who don't know either candidate are in Republican shore areas. Adler's major advantage is being a Democrat in New Jersey - especially in South Jersey where political boss George Norcross reigns. Norcross is the real Democratic power broker there, and he can easily raise a sizable sum for Adler, as he did in winning state legislative races in South Jersey. Norcross will also make life difficult for Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R) in the neighboring 2nd District.
Republicans in New Jersey are in bad shape, lacking any strong leadership for the last six years. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is riddled with dissension and corruption, and Gov. Jon Corzine (D) is not a party leader. With Norcross's leadership and the gradual shift of suburbs to the Democratic Party, Republicans here have reason to worry. If Allen can compete on cash, though (she will be outspent, but by how much?), she will be the favorite. Leaning Republican Retention.
Virginia-1: In the special election to replace deceased Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R), freshman Del. Rob Wittman (R) scored a come-from-behind victory in the 1st Congressional District GOP nominating convention. Free-market activist Paul Jost (R) led the voting in the first five ballots, but as other candidates withdrew, they increasingly threw their endorsement to Wittman. When the late congresswoman's widower, Chuck Davis (R) backed Wittman, that pushed him over the top. Jost had the backing of the Club for Growth, but he also had personal enemies, and social conservatives doubted his commitment to their causes.
Democrats nominated Iraq War veteran and teachers union favorite Philip Forgit (D). The district voted 60% for Bush in 2004 and is heavily military. Forgit's military record and Bronze star will help him, but this is a Republican district. Leaning Republican Retention.
Wyoming-At Large: Republicans are relieved that seven-term Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) will not run for re-election. Thanks to her high absentee rate (attributed to her husband's poor health) and her tendency to say embarrassing things, Cubin had become something of a liability in recent years and only eked out wins in both the primary and general elections in 2006. Her retirement makes Republicans more confident about holding the seat.
State House Majority Leader Colin Simpson (R), son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R), was already in the race, challenging Cubin, and he is expected to stay in the contest. Three candidates have jumped in, but Simpson's real challenge will come from either former State Treasurer Cynthia Lummis (R) or former DOJ lawyer Tom Sansonetti (R), the two losing finalists for the appointive Senate seat that went to John Barrasso (R) last year. Both Sansonetti and Lummis would run to the right of Simpson, but currently they are hoping to decide between themselves who should run, so as not to split the conservative vote.
The Democratic candidate will be Gary Trauner (D), who lost by only 1,000 votes to Cubin in 2006. Trauner will start with experience and a fundraising network, and unlike the conservative Republican candidates, he has been running for a year already. His strong showing against an incumbent last year bodes well for him, but enough of that vote was an anti-Cubin vote that he may not fare as well in 2008 - especially with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards atop the ticket.
If the GOP primary is bruising, Trauner has a real chance, but this is Wyoming. Leaning Republican Retention.