Capital Briefs: Jan. 21-25

ROMNEY LEADS IN VOTES THAT COUNT: Following the January 15 Michigan primary, the hard count of delegates to the Republican National Convention to be held in Minneapolis right after Labor Day shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leading with 42 delegates, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with 32, Arizona Sen. John McCain 13, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson three, and California Rep. Duncan Hunter one delegate. The delegate selection process will soon be picking up and moving swiftly, with the Florida primary January 29 and more than 40% of the convention delegates chosen on “Super Tuesday” February 5.

THE END OF MCCAIN-FEINGOLD? That’s clearly what conservatives are hoping for now that the Supreme Court has agreed to review the constitutionality of the so-called “Millionaires’ Amendment” that permits the tripling of the present $2,300 limit on individual donations to candidates for federal office if an opponent indicates he will spend more than $350,000 of his own money on his campaign. The challenge to the law, which the high court will consider before the 2008 elections, was launched by Democrat Jack Davis, who spent more than $2.2 million of his own money in losing races against Rep. Tom Reynolds (R.-N.Y.) in 2004 and ‘06. In his suit against the controversial campaign finance measure, Davis alleges that it “rewards incumbents and others who have previously amassed large campaign warchests and is unfair to self-financed candidates.” A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals last year upheld the “Millionaires’ Amendment” on the grounds that Davis was not compelled to spend his own money on his campaigns and thus subjected himself to the law’s requirements. In taking up Davis v. FEC, the court will consider the constitutionality of the entire campaign finance law that Davis is challenging directly .

CLOUDS OVER FLORIDA FOR RUDY: Less than two weeks before the January 29 Florida primary, the decision by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to bank revival of his presidential hopes on the Sunshine State looks like it may turn out to be a major mistake. A just-completed Strategic Vision Poll shows that, among likely Republican voters, John McCain leads with 27% of the vote, followed by Mike Huckabee with 20%, Giuliani 18%, Mitt Romney 17%, Fred Thompson 10%, Texas Rep. Ron Paul 5%, and Duncan Hunter 1%. “Giuliani has fallen dramatically since our earlier polls, and this is the first time that he has trailed,” said Strategic Vision head David Johnson, “He has lost significant support to McCain and leads only in South Florida.”

PINKERTON EXPLAINS HUCK ON IMMIGRATION: A few weeks after former Reagan White House political operative Ed Rollins signed on as campaign quarterback for Mike Huckabee, another Reagan alumnus has joined the Huckabee presidential team: Jim Pinkerton, who also worked in the Reagan White House, will advise the former Arkansas governor on domestic issues. No sooner had he joined Huckabee than Pinkerton found himself explaining what some of his candidate’s words really meant. During an appearance in Rock Hill, S.C., before the presidential primary, Huckabee called for suspending immigration from countries that sponsor or harbor terrorists—one of the toughest positions propounded so far by any of the Republican hopefuls. “Let’s say, until you get your act in order, and we get our act in order, we’re not going to just let you keep coming and threaten the future and safety of America,” said Huckabee. After strong questioning, Huckabee dropped the issue in his next speech and Pinkerton explained to reporters that Huckabee really meant he wants a “thorough review” of immigration problems.

BAKER MAKES 20: In a surprise move, Rep. Richard Baker of Louisiana became the 20th Republican House member to announce he is stepping down this year. But Baker, a senior member of the House Banking Committee, said he was going a step further and announced that he would resign from Congress February 7. The 57-year-old Louisianan will become head of the Managed Funds Association, the main group representing hedge funds, but must refrain from lobbying former colleagues or their staff for one year under House ethics rules. Baker’s early exit forces the second special election for a House seat in Louisiana this year (the other is to fill the seat that had been held by newly elected Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal). The Baker seat is one that Democrats have a chance of picking up. Their candidate may be the Democrat who in 1998 came the closest to defeating Baker: lawyer Marjorie McKeithen, daughter of late Secretary of State Fox McKeithen.

WHERE’S IRAQ IN CONRESS? Almost incredibly, the Iraq War was not on House or Senate schedules as Congress returned last week for its ’08 session. In striking contrast to a year ago, when Iraq dominated debates in congressional committees of both Houses and withdrawal legislation was being offered in various forms, Democratic congressional leaders now appear reluctant to push any measure seen as undermining U.S. policy in Iraq. Noted the Capitol Hill publication Politico: “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has no Iraq hearings scheduled, while the House Foreign Affairs Committee is focusing on Pakistan. The Senate Armed Services Committee also has yet to schedule any Iraq-related hearings, although Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is tentatively scheduled to appear on February 6.” The only major committee with Iraq on the agenda is the House Armed Services Committee, where a subcommittee is scheduled to examine “Post-Surge Alternatives in Iraq.”

KYL FOR MCCAIN (SORT OF): While he has been campaigning hard for fellow Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain in the Republican primaries, Jon Kyl also made it clear he doesn’t fully agree with his colleague on everything. “I support [McCain] because he’s a friend,” Kyl, the No.2 Republican in the Senate, told the Washington Times last week. “We have worked together for over two decades.” Without elaborating on differences the two Arizona lawmakers have had, Kyl went on to emphasize that “this is one of those elections that, for a lot of us [Republicans], none of the candidates represent us 100%.” He added that he didn’t believe any in the GOP presidential field “quite satisfy what some of us have looked at—and I say that with respect to [McCain], because it’s clear I disagree with him on a lot of issues.”