Capital Briefs: April 7-11

BEHIND CASEY’S BACKING OBAMA: Three weeks before the Pennsylvania primary April 22, the recent endorsement of Barack Obama by Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. is still leaving Pennsylvania Democrats and political reporters stunned. In backing his colleague from Illinois, self-styled blue-collar Democrat and outspoken abortion opponent Casey embraces someone who supports the national Democrats’ strongly pro-abortion plank in its national platform and has spoken out against a ban on partial-birth abortion ( a ban that Casey supports). One Keystone State Republican who has known Casey for years explains that the senator is making this move as a counter to Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a strong Hillary Clinton backer, and “is taking care of any problems he may have on the left” in future primaries. Could Casey possibly be doing this as a payback for the way the Clintons kept his father, late Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, from making a pro-life address to the 1996 Democratic National Convention or as a slap back at Rendell, who defeated Casey for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002? Philadelphia “superlawyer” James Baumbach, onetime campaign manager for the elder Casey and for the late Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, told Human Events: ”The only people talking about the endorsement as having anything to do with 1996, or, for that matter, past Casey-Rendell primary fights, are inside-the-Beltway types.” According to Baumbach: “Casey, Jr. and Rendell are fine. They work together, usually in tandem, on political and governing matters. And Rendell was the active leader in recruiting Casey to be the Senate candidate [in ‘06]. Baumbach conceded that Casey’s endorsement of Obama “certainly goes against his instinct for caution” and that his base in the labor movement, particularly AFSCME, is very unhappy with it and him. But I think he was genuinely moved by the enthusiasm of his four daughters to the Obama message of hope and reconciliation. Sometimes, even in politics, there’s less to these things than meet the eye.”

CONDI TO THE NFL? As Crystal Dueker, leader of a volunteer effort to draft Condoleezza Rice for Vice President, was circulating petitions at the North Dakota Republican convention last week urging a McCain-Rice ticket, the Secretary of State herself was emphatically denying any suggestions she would even consider joining the national GOP team. At a private gathering in Washington, Rice insisted that when the Bush Administration ends in January 2009, she plans to return to California to teach and write at Stanford University, where she served as provost and also take a long look back at her life in government over the last eight years. The only presidency she may consider, Rice said, is with the San Francisco 49ers. Rice is known as a rabid football fan who has long rooted for the 49ers.

THOMPSON TO HOLLYWOOD AGAIN: Two months after ending his brief run for the Republican nomination for President, Fred Thompson is returning to acting. Last week, the former Tennessee senator signed on with the high-powered William Morris Agency in the hope of securing some roles on television and in movies. After launching his presidential bid last fall, Thompson had to give up the role for which he was best-known: District Attorney Arthur Branch on TV’s long-running “Law and Order” series.

SCAIFE TO CLINTON? From the New York Times to London’s Financial Times, the reaction to the remarks of conservative billionaire Richard Melon Scaife following a meeting with Hillary Clinton has been intense. The reclusive Pennsylvanian, known as the “paymaster of the right” for his major donations to conservative causes, once gave the American Spectator $1.8 million for the “Arkansas Project,” an exposé that led to some unflattering revelations by former state troopers who had guarded the Clintons in the governor’s mansion in Little Rock. But following a 90-minute editorial meeting with Scaife and his editors at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Scaife-owned second-largest daily in Pittsburgh, the heir to the Mellon banking fortune wrote in an editorial: “I have a very different impression of Hillary Clinton today. And it’s a very favorable one indeed.” Scaife hailed his old target’s “impressive command of many of today’s most pressing domestic and international issues.” He also cited their agreement on withdrawing troops from Iraq, on the Bush Administration’s flawed New Orleans reconstruction plans after Hurricane Katrina; and on what Scaife called “the increasing instability in Pakistan and South America.” Reacting to Scaife’s positive remarks, longtime Clinton advisor Lanny Davis told the New York Times: “I never thought I would utter these words, but I would like to shake his hand for keeping his mind open despite the predisposed prejudice toward her.”

DEBBIE DUBYA? That’s what Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D.-Fla.) is becoming known as in the left-wing blogosphere. Irate that Wasserman Schultz, the co-chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red-to-Blue program, refuses to endorse opponents to Florida’s three Cuban-American Republican U.S. House members, the political blog Swing State Project has gone after her, giving her a nickname that links the lawmaker to the most hated Republican of all and charges that she is aiding and abetting the enemy. Wasserman Schultz has explained that she isn’t supporting the Democratic challengers because she doesn’t want to back-stab fellow Florida Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

MCCAIN GAINING ON DEMO TURF: As the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination grows increasingly heated, John McCain is gaining ground in states long considered secure turf for the Democrats. According to the latest Rasmussen Reports poll, McCain is in a statistical tie in New Jersey with both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, leading Obama by 46% to 45% and Clinton 45% to 42%. The figures are particularly striking because, as Rasmussen notes, Republicans have not carried New Jersey in 20 years. In Michigan, Rasmussen finds McCain leading Obama 43% to 42% and Clinton 45% to 42%. The same survey shows Obama leading McCain in Washington State by a close 48% to 43%, while the likely GOP nominee leads Clinton 46% to 43%. Rasmussen also showed McCain ahead of Obama 48% to 46% in Wisconsin and rolling up a strong lead (50% to 39%) over Clinton in the Badger State.

WICHTERMAN TO WHITE HOUSE?  With less than nine months to go before George W. Bush heads back to Texas, sources close to the administration have told Human Events that longtime conservative Capitol Hill operative Bill Wichterman will join the White House staff as its new liaison to conservative organizations.  Well-known by national cultural conservative leaders, Wichterman formerly served as top aide to stalwart conservative Rep. Joe Pitts (R.-Pa.) and as top policy advisor to former Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.).