- Despite the continuing partisan stalemate on appropriations in Congress, there almost surely will be no government shutdown. Congress would get the blame for that, and Democrats as the majority party will not let that happen. The best bet is that the government will be kept running by a continuing resolution (CR) until early next spring, postponing determination of the actual spending level until then.
- Behind this postponement are major splits in both parties. Democrats were unable to get their act together the past week for an omnibus appropriations bill. Anti-earmark Republican senators are bitter that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is willing to make across-the-board cuts in order to save earmarks for himself and other senators. While the reformers do not publicly criticize McConnell, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.) has.
- The story of CIA destruction of its detainee interrogation tapes is the latest scandal pitched by Democrats, but mistreatment of suspected terrorists is not a good campaign issue and Democrats know it. Democrats increasingly look to the faltering economy, not the Iraq war, as the key to a truly commanding victory next year.
- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) still has a huge national lead for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it is deceptive. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has not only moved ahead of her in the opening Iowa caucuses but has pulled even in the subsequent primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina. The panic felt by the Clinton camp explains the attacks on Obama, which so far have proved counterproductive. Democratic insiders who not long ago viewed Clinton’s nomination as inevitable now see it as only a slightly better than even bet.
- The rise of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee makes the outcome of the Republican presidential nomination totally unpredictable. Huckabee is so out of phase with the conservative mainstream (and even with the evangelical movement) that it is still hard to see how he can be nominated. But if he defeats former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Iowa, the outlook becomes blurred. In Republican ranks, the contest is seen as a battle between Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Republicans: The race is looking a lot more exciting today than it did a few weeks ago.
- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has come out in front in Iowa on four different recent polls, including double-digit leads in the Rasmussen, Newsweek, and Mason-Dixon polls. This surge is for real.
- Interestingly, most surveys don’t show a huge decline for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who hovers around 20 to 25 percent in most polls, not far off his peak. Huckabee’s big jump comes at the expense of former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
- Iowa’s caucuses, however, are famously difficult to poll. It’s very possible Romney could win in Iowa in three weeks, despite Huckabee’s big leads.
- South Carolina polls now show Huckabee ahead, but Romney still leads big in New Hampshire.
- Romney would much rather face a one-on-one against Huckabee than against Rudy Giuliani. Huckabee lacks the money, fundraising potential and organization of Giuliani. However, if Romney and Huckabee split the early contests, that almost guarantees Giuliani will survive until the February 5 Super Tuesday primaries.
Ways and Means: Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), the ranking Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee, will retire at the end of this term, setting off a scramble for the top GOP spot on the powerful tax-writing committee.
- In the House GOP, the importance of seniority has diminished in recent years, especially in the Ways and Means Committee, where Rep. Bill Thomas‘s (Calif.) leap past Phil Crane (R-Ill.) for chairman was the most dramatic breach of seniority, and McCrery’s jump to ranking member from the No. 4 spot continued the trend.
- Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) is the most senior Republican on Ways and Means, but last year, he didn’t challenge McCrery’s bid for ranking member after the retirement of Chairman Thomas. This year, he is making a bid, and he is the more conservative of the contenders.
- While other names are mentioned, it seems likely to be a race between Herger and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who is third in seniority after Herger and McCrery. Camp’s main advantage is his closeness with the party’s leadership. He serves on the steering committee, which more or less gets to pick committee leaders. Republican colleagues see him as an effective spokesman, and he took a central role in upholding Bush’s veto on children’s healthcare legislation this year.
- Camp has been a more aggressive fundraiser for himself and for his colleagues. In 2006, his PAC gave $150,000 to fellow Republicans — generous for a rank-and-file member’s PAC. Also, he recently served as a chairman for a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner.
- Herger has a slightly more conservative voting record, but Camp is recognized as a Republican leader on the healthcare issue, making him a valuable asset to the GOP in a prospective Hillary Clinton Administration.
- Representatives Phil English (R-Pa.), John Linder (R-Ga.) and Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) have been mentioned as potential candidates, but English and Reynolds have indicated they won’t seek the spot, and it’s unlikely Linder could mount a successful campaign.
- Ways and Means member Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has strong support from both the conservative bloc of the party and the leadership. He’s too young now, but he could easily be the top Ways and Means Republican in the future.
- Currently, Camp looks like the most likely successor to McCrery.
Louisiana: Perhaps because she’s a woman, in part because she’s part of a political dynasty (and, according to her detractors in both parties, the weak link of her clan), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has a reputation as a political lightweight. This reputation, combined with her state’s dramatic lunge towards the Republican Party, have made her the GOP’s No. 1 Senate target in 2008.
She has two big reasons, however, to be confident: First, despite the aspersions about her political skill, she always manages to win. Second, being the most vulnerable Senate Democrat in 2008 is not so bad.
The only Republican candidate in the race right now is State Treasurer John Kennedy, a recent party switcher who ran in 2004 as a Democrat for the Senate seat won by David Vitter (R-La.). In that race, Kennedy positioned himself as the old-school populist Louisiana Democrat, as he ran to the left of the then-Rep. Chris John (D-La.). Kennedy finished third with 15 percent.
Nonetheless, Kennedy has won statewide races, and he is making the most of his current role as treasurer. Even though it lies slightly outside his job description, he is speaking out on state overspending, portraying himself as a fiscal hawk and a harsh critic of unpopular outgoing Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D). He’s also boosting his public exposure and his popularity by advertising the unclaimed tax refunds that the state still owes to its citizens.
Being a former Democrat — and a liberal one at that — could present problems for Kennedy. He does not have deep roots in the GOP and could have trouble convincing donors and rallying door-knockers (especially those who remember that in 2004, his champion was now-indicted Democratic Rep. William Jefferson). In Kennedy’s favor, with no governor or state legislative races, Kennedy will be competing for Louisiana political cash only with two strongly Republican open-seat House races.
The fact that the GOP may be in the position of nominating a Democrat makes it appear that this Republican Revolution in Louisiana had only two generals — Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal and Vitter — and its foot soldiers are not prepared to move up the ranks. There is idle chatter about other potential candidates, including Secretary of State Jay Dardenne (R), but nobody has surfaced yet.
Landrieu has shown she’s a bit worried by pushing her latest big legislative effort, the Road Home program, which would provide federal funds for refugees of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to move back to Louisiana. Republican critics on Capitol Hill call this the “Mary Landrieu’s Road to Re-election Bill,” arguing that Landrieu is trying to earmark funds to bring back black voters to her base, Orleans Parish.
Her two elections to the Senate, in 1996 and 2002, were both close-run affairs. In 1996, she beat Woody Jenkins (R) by 5,788 votes in a highly contested election that many Republicans still say was stolen. In 2002, she edged out, 52 percent to 48 percent, Suzy Haik Terrell (R), a fairly weak candidate who failed to rally the conservative base.
Both of her narrow Senate wins were in a state more friendly to Democrats than Louisiana is today. Jindal’s (R) landslide win as governor this fall highlighted the steady GOP takeover of this state. The exodus from Orleans Parish accelerates the spread into the Bayou State of the Southern realignment.
On that latter score, Landrieu has played her hand well. After amassing a liberal record in the state legislature, her U.S. Senate record, like that of her former colleague, Sen. John Breaux (D), has been thoroughly pragmatic and, when it matters most, moderate. She gets credit for helping the state during her 12 years in Washington. Her approval rating in polls is above 50 percent.
She has had success fundraising, pulling in $7 million by her last FEC report in late September, and garnering the endorsement of the pro-choice EMILY’s List. Perhaps the Democrats’ only vulnerable Senate incumbent, she should get substantial aid from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
With the advantages of incumbency, her rich family name, and the money edge she will have, the odds looked stacked in her favor. The two question marks are: What role will the state’s GOP surge have in her election? And what effect will the presidential election play?
On the statewide question, it partly depends on the role Jindal will play in the race. If he is popular and has the time, he could help drive turnout in his highly Republican district and win over to the GOP nominee the Democratic voters who backed him this year. However, Jindal sat out the runoffs this year, including the attorney general race his party lost in November. Sen. Vitter’s long-term sexual affair with a D.C. prostitute will sideline him from the race, removing one GOP weapon.
On the presidential question, the dynamic is complex. The only certainty is that the presidential election will drive up turnout statewide. Specifically, if Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is the nominee, he could drive up black turnout, helping Landrieu. If Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is the nominee, her liberalism could turn off some conservative Democrats who have always been crucial to Landrieu. However, as a two-term incumbent who is very well known, Landrieu won’t be that affected by the upticket candidates.
Before we know the impact Jindal or the presidential race will have, we have to conclude this race will end as Landrieu’s always do, with her on top. Leaning Democratic Retention.
Louisiana-1: Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal (La.) is vacating his seat along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, and likely leaving it in Republican hands. Jindal won re-election last year with 88 percent, and it would take him only a couple of appearances with the GOP nominee to secure a retention here.
Parties will hold special-election primaries on March 8, departing from the recent statewide practice of open primaries followed by a runoff. The top two finishers in each primary (assuming no candidate garners a majority) will advance to an April 5 runoff. The general election will be May 3.
The crowded GOP field includes 79-year-old former Gov. David Treen (R), who once represented this district and also lost to Jindal for this seat in 2004. Just on the strength of his name, Treen should be able to finish in the top two.
Other top Republican contenders include State Representatives Steve Scalise and Tim Burns. Slidell Mayor Ben Morris (R) and St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis (R) are also running.
University of New Orleans instructor Gilda Reed (D) is the Democratic candidate.
Ohio-5: State Rep. Bob Latta‘s (R) easy win in a district carried last year by Democratic statewide-office candidates gives Republicans hope that Democratic gains in 2006 were freak occurrences. In the special election to fill out the term of the late Rep. Paul Gillmor (R), Latta beat the well-funded Robin Weirauch (D), 57 percent to 43 percent.
Weirauch had enthusiastic support from an array of liberal and Democratic groups, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Ohio Democrats so thoroughly thrashed the GOP in 2006 that they hoped for an encore, especially considering that Democratic gubernatorial and senatorial candidates won this district in 2006.
Across the Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, Republicans have been hoping that their 2006 set-backs were aberrations and not realignments. Latta’s major win here allays the worst GOP fears.
Virginia-1: While Democrats made big gains in Northern Virginia and the Norfolk area in this year’s state legislative races, they never really had a chance in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R).
State Del. Rob Wittman (R) easily beat Iraq War veteran Philip Forgit (D) in this district that runs down the Chesapeake and Atlantic shore. While Republicans try to spin this as a counterweight to the Democratic capture of the state senate, this military district has long been GOP turf and should not make suburban Virginia Republicans breathe any easier.