Capital Briefs: July 14-18

WHO’S NEXT AFTER STRICKLAND AND WEBB? Less than a month after Ohio Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland ruled himself out as a possible running mate for Barack Obama, another Democrat considered by many the best complement to the Illinois senator last week took himself out of consideration as well. In a statement from his office that stunned many fellow Virginia Democrats, Sen. Jim Webb said that “under no circumstances” would he consider accepting the vice presidential nomination. Webb cited his desire to keep up his momentum in the Senate, to which he was elected 18 months ago in a nationally watched upset over Republican incumbent George Allen. A former Republican who served briefly as secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, the 62-year-old Webb was widely touted in the press as someone who could bring blue-collar voters and many of his fellow veterans to the Democratic column. But some Webb-watchers suggest that the freshman senator, known for his short-tempered surliness, may have balked at the “vetting” process that would involve intensive checking into his background. His exodus from the Democratic Veepstakes has revived speculation about two fellow Virginians who could end up on the Obama team: present Gov. (and early Obama booster) Tim Kaine and former Gov. Mark Warner, currently his party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate.

DASCHLE TO THE DNC? — Less than two months before he is to be formally nominated for President, Barack Obama is set to put his personal stamp on the Democratic National Committee. The Illinoisan is expected shortly to move top campaign operative Paul Tewes over to the DNC as the campaign’s point man there. Tewes, former political director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was the architect of Obama’s dramatic win over Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses. Obama is likely also to replace Howard Dean as DNC chairman, but only after the convention. Among the high-profile politicos mentioned for the chairmanship: former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.).

GOING TO ALASKA FOR GOP: Even if John McCain refuses to change his mind about drilling for oil in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), other Republican office-seekers are making it clear they’re for it. On July 13, six Republican U.S. House candidates—among them former Rep. Mike Sodrel and Luke Puckett, running for the House in Indiana’s 9th and 2nd Districts respectively—will tour the barren site in Alaska that McCain keeps calling “pristine” and in which he opposes oil exploration or drilling.
Four days later, GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) will lead a delegation of ten Republican House members on a visit to Prudhoe Bay and ANWR. “We are always looking for new ways to highlight our ‘all of the above’ energy strategy,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told the Capitol Hill publication The Hill last week. In a related development, South Carolina’s Katon Dawson last week became the first state Republican chairman to endorse the “Drill Here Drill Now, Pay Less” campaign launched by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that would advance oil exploration off the coast of South Carolina and other states.

PUBLIC OK ON OBAMA FUNDING: A just-completed Rasmussen Poll, conducted in the days after Barack Obama announced he was opting out of public funding for the general election and relying strictly on private donations, found that only 30% of American voters favor public funding of political contests and just 16% say how a candidate finances his campaign is very important in determining their vote. The same nationwide survey showed that 74% of Americans feel that wealthy people and special interest groups will find a way to get around campaign regulations to influence politicians, while 13% disagree with that view.

SWIFT-BOATING MCCAIN: With the most fervent support for John McCain coming from his fellow veterans, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney announced last week the launching of a Union Veterans Council to mobilize veterans behind Barack Obama. The labor boss told a teleconference that state councils of veterans would be formed in pivotal states—for now, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Ohio, and West Virginia, with other states to follow. They are designed to “raise the profile of veterans’ issues and lead the way in securing an economy that works for all.” By veterans’ issues, Sweeney explained, he meant money for the Department of Veterans Affairs, health and education benefits for veterans, and job growth. Shortly after Sweeney’s announcement, the AFL-CIO launched a barrage of television spots featuring Vietnam veteran Jim Wasser denouncing McCain for being “just like Bush” by siding with the President against “increasing health benefits for veterans,” just as the ad cuts to a picture of a person who lost both legs. (In 2004, Wasser was used in ads defending John Kerry’s record in Vietnam after the critical Swift Boat ads). The AFL-CIO refuses to reveal how much money it is going to spend on the veteran ads.

JEB HENSARLING, SUPERSTAR: Along with his performance as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) is winning plaudits from colleagues for overseeing the annual fund-raising event last month for the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The President’s Dinner, as the NRCC-NRSC banquet is known, brought in $21.5 million—especially impressive, as it came at a time when polls show voters favoring Democrats running for Congress by large margins. The success of the dinner, Hensarling told reporters, “should signal to those following House races that we Republicans are helping ourselves by marshaling the resources necessary to hold Democrats accountable for $4 gas prices while they engineer the largest tax increase in American history.” Talk is now heard on Capitol Hill booming Hensarling for the chairmanship of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) or another GOP leadership post after the November elections.

AT WAR WITH PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Pro-life lawmakers took to the House floor for a full hour last week to support the bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R. Ind.) to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood. Noting that Planned Parenthood took in more than $1 billion in revenue last year, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R.-Minn.) told HUMAN EVENTS Political Editor John Gizzi that “$330 million of that was a ‘federal freebie’ and, since Planned Parenthood is a 501-C-3 [non-profit organization], it pays ‘zero’ in taxes.” Recalling her own background as a tax attorney, Bachmann pointed out that “there is nothing more nefarious than this perverted use of the tax code to financially back their brutal and bloody mission” and that Congress should withdraw tax dollars from Planned Parenthood.