Evans-Novak Political Report

Week of August 16, 2006

August 16, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 17a

To: Our Readers

Outlook

  1. Republicans are hopeful that the British apprehension of the sky-bombing plotters will change the national mood significantly in their favor, though there is no hard evidence to substantiate that. The rule of thumb has been that the “War on Terror” replacing the “war in Iraq” is good news for the GOP.

  2. The disappointing outcome (from both the U.S. and Israeli standpoints) of hostilities in Southern Lebanon appears to have no domestic political significance here. Republicans and Democrats are both so tied to support of Israeli decisions that nobody wants to second-guess even Israel’s questionable decisions, as they were rubberstamped in Washington (see below).

  3. The major unknown political factor going into the mid-term election campaign is the economy. There is no sign of a precipitous decline in the next two and a half months that would seriously affect voting, but Republicans worry that people just don’t feel good about the economy — though this may be caused by non-economic factors. Tame inflation data this week are good news.

  4. Republican colleagues in private have been writing off Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) as a goner, but the latest polls show the race is competitive (see below). That means six Republican Senate seats are seriously endangered, but none is absolutely lost. Three Democratic seats are realistically vulnerable. Democrats must win a net of six seats to gain Senate control.

  5. Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has had so much trouble as majority leader that he has virtually fallen off the board as an ’08 presidential contender, but he is telling colleagues that he will make an effective run for the big prize after he is relieved of leadership duties in January.

Middle East

  1. Although the U.S. role in the month-long fighting in Southern Lebanon is subject to repeated second-guessing, the reality of politics in America saves President George W. Bush from the kind of scathing criticism he undergoes on Iraq. Hardly anybody wants to appear to be anti-Israel.

  2. The line taken by the President and echoed at the State Department is that Israel actually scored a military victory over Hezbollah. That is literally true in the sense of a U.S. military victory in Vietnam.

  3. The all-important perception throughout the Middle East, however, is that the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) suffered a severe blow to its prestige by being unable to effectively disable and disarm Hezbollah. The impact on the Arab world is likely to be profound.

  4. Hostilities in Lebanon appear to have made Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations more remote than ever, with no prodding from Washington.

Congress

Poisonous Senate: Stories about partisanship in Congress have abounded in the years since the disputed 2000 election polarized the nation along political lines. The most recent story of humiliation and revenge among senior senators is quite illustrative of the partisan snake pit that currently exists there.

  1. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Senate president pro tempore and former Appropriations chairman, thwarted Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who was seeking a $2-million earmark for the University of Chicago. It may seem ironic that Stevens, a reigning king of pork, would crack down on earmarking, but the fact is that he was avenging a public humiliation dealt him by Durbin last fall.

  2. On. Nov. 16, 2005, Durbin took the Senate floor to accuse Stevens of permitting oil company executives to lie to the Senate Commerce Committee by not putting them under oath. Two days short of his 82nd birthday, Stevens was outraged by this assault on his integrity. He roared onto the floor after Durbin’s speech and demanded an apology — which Durbin refused to give and was not forced to give under Senate rules.

  3. Stevens bided his time, and payback came only this month when the Defense appropriations bill was debated under his management as a subcommittee chairman. Durbin proposed his University of Chicago earmark to improve imaging of traumatic brain injuries for injured soldiers. Stevens derided the earmark as a pink elephant demanded by “a single senator.” He noted the lack of demand at the Pentagon for such funding.

  4. Stevens then broke the standard protocol and became unusually revealing about Durbin’s machinations to get the earmark. He noted that many medical earmarks had been requested in subcommittee, but that “we turned them all down. The senator from Illinois wouldn’t take ‘no.’” Stevens added that Durbin was using his floor access as whip to advance his earmark agenda. As a result, Durbin’s amendment lost on a mostly party-line vote 52 to 41. Stevens collected all Republican senators except Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) — both of whom face uphill battles for re-election.

  5. Stevens’s Defense bill, awaiting final action when Congress reconvenes, includes other earmarks: for example, $5 million for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission and $500,000 for a traveling exhibit on the World War II Memorial. The rejection of Durbin’s earmark did not signify the coming of reform in the Senate, but looked more like Stevens’ and other Republicans’ getting even with the Senator they like least.

House 2006

Big Picture: We will explore the big picture in U.S. House races, district-by-district, next week.

In the meantime, we find that knowledgeable Republicans are very frightened about their prospects in House elections. It is extremely revealing that very few Republicans have released internal polls so far — and that some of them are sitting on polls they commissioned earlier, a sign that they do not like the results and do not want to make them public.

Right now, it is still at least challenging to construct a scenario of a 15-seat Democratic gain without positing some improbable upsets. But the great fear is that Democrats will reach critical mass in the next two months, with their challengers surging ahead of several GOP incumbents in close races. If that happens, Republicans will be forced into a more defensive posture, taking the heat off of a few Democratic incumbents.

Then Democrats will be able to put more resources into second-tier takeover targets, and then a wave begins to develop. Suddenly, Republican incumbents once thought safe could start to fall.

Republicans desperately want to avoid this scenario.

Conservative Nominees: After last Tuesday’s primaries, the media paid much attention to the defeat of incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) by liberal, anti-war insurgent Ned Lamont (D). Yet relatively little attention was paid to the defeat of moderate freshman Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.) by conservative former State Rep. Tim Walberg (R).

  1. President Bush’s closest political lieutenants were not happy about Schwarz’s loss. Bush backed him and contributed to his re-election effort with automated phone calls, even though Schwarz had opposed the President on key issues such as stem-cell research, the environment and population control. In the end, though, Schwarz was probably too liberal for the district. He won in 2004 over a crowded field full of conservatives, and it made him a target for the Club for Growth.

  2. Walberg’s victory for a House nomination, of course, should carry less weight than a Senate seat. But it is also part of a much larger trend that promises to make the GOP caucus in the House more conservative after the 2006 election, whether or not they hold on to their majority. Even before Schwarz’s downfall, several primaries had shaken out in a way that ensures that sitting and exiting congressmen will be replaced by more conservative lawmakers.

  3. The trend began with primary victories by conservatives in several key open-seat races.

In each case, a staunch conservative bomb-thrower defeated moderate primary opponents to win the nomination. Each of the above has at least a very strong chance replace an exiting incumbent who is less outspoken and at least a bit less conservative — in some cases much less conservative.

  1. In other cases, the general election outcome is far less certain, but the nominees are still more conservative and more outspoken than the members they hope to replace.

  2. Only in two cases has a more moderate candidate replaced a more conservative member. One such winner is Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), who won a special election to succeed disgraced Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) after the latter’s conviction on bribery charges. The other came in Tuesday night’s Nevada primary, won (as we predicted) by Dean Heller (R).

  3. Moreover, some of the House’s few moderate and liberal Republicans figure prominently among those most likely to lose their seats to Democrats. Moderate-liberal Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) is considered to be in grave danger, and moderate Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) in slightly less danger. Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) is facing her toughest race yet. The seat of retiring moderate Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) has a great chance of going Democratic.

  4. One lesson is that Republican voters are disappointed in the failure of Republican leadership in Washington to deliver on key domestic issues important to the right. Conservatives grumble that the administration has used so much political capital on the Iraq War that it has been powerless to advance other priorities — spending reductions, earmark reform, and social issues such as marriage protection, entitlement reform and tax reduction, to name a few examples. A more conservative Congress will be needed to deliver on ANWR drilling and a host of other issues dear to conservatives.

  5. Also significant is the number of current and former state legislators on the list of conservatives. This is the culmination of a long-term effort to build a more serious farm team of identifiable conservatives on the state level. This has been the baby of several activist groups on the right, including Americans for Tax Reform, whose “no-tax” pledge has become something like a seal of approval. All of the conservative hopefuls listed above are pledge-signers. With the clear identification of a conservative “team,” it is easy for a group like the Club for Growth to swoop in and fund a serious, conservative candidate who can actually win.

  6. This is a large phenomenon, so again, the lack of media attention is curious. One explanation recently offered is the tendency of the major news organs to engage in “Democratic strategizing” as they analyze political races. The right or wrong of this is irrelevant to us — the phenomenon is noteworthy because it is real and it actually could be affecting the political landscape. This year, full of talk about a Democratic wave, is strikingly different from 1994, when the Republican takeover of Congress caught most commentators by surprise.

This helps create a vague image problem for Republicans, but it is not all bad for them. A side effect of the media echo-chamber is that many Republican incumbents, scared by all the talk, are running for their lives instead of taking re-election for granted.

  Illinois-6: National Republicans are anxious about State Sen. Peter Roskam‘s (R) campaign to replace retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R). This district is clearly a GOP-heavy district. President Bush took 53 percent here in 2004, despite the fact that neither he nor any statewide GOP candidate ran a serious campaign in Illinois (recall that Alan Keyes was the GOP Senate nominee).

For this reason, the closeness of Roskam’s race against double-amputee Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth (D) has led to the campaign’s hiring of Jason Roe, chief of staff to Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who ran former Rep. Jim Rogan‘s (R-Calif.) uphill (and unsuccessful) re-election campaign in 2000. Leaning Republican Retention.

Minnesota-1: The fear is that Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R) may fail to make the ballot based on a technicality involving the time during which he gathered petition signatures. The State Supreme Court will decide the issue. Gutknecht’s opponent in the primary, Greg Mickleson, has run in the past as a Green Party candidate, raising suspicions of chicanery.

If Gutknecht loses his lawsuit and is excluded from the September 12 primary, we are told by knowledgeable sources that there is nothing to stop him from running in the primary as a write-in candidate. And if he cannot win as a write-in in such a short period of time, he can also run in the general election as a write-in, since he will not have been on the ballot. Even if voters find it difficult to spell his name correctly, state election law requires election judges to consider the intent of voters.

The primary election falls on September 12, the last big primary day this year.

Nevada-2: As we expected, this Republican primary was a barn-burner between conservative State Rep. Sharron Angle (R) and Secretary of State Dean Heller (R). Liberal Republican Dawn Gibbons (R), the wife of the exiting incumbent, had fallen off and did not factor into the final result. As we expected, Heller barely squeaked it out in the wee hours of this morning.

This seat will stay Republican in November. Likely Republican Retention.

Senate 2006

Michigan: Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard (R) polls 44 to 48 against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in a new independent poll. The results come a week after the primary election in which Bouchard easily defeated his opponent and after a few ads that boosted his name identification.

This result, coming so early, means a rough road ahead for Stabenow. It confirms our belief that this race, given little attention by most, will be one of the closest and one of the GOP’s best pickup chances for 2006. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Montana: A huge advertising blitz appears to have helped Sen. Conrad Burns (R) make up the deficit he had against State Sen. Jon Tester (D). Also helpful to Burns is the fading of the Jack Abramoff scandal from the headlines.
A new Rasmussen poll shows Burns even with the insurgent liberal candidate who upset State Auditor John Morrison (D) in the June 6 primary. Earlier, Burns had trailed by almost 10 points. This poll was conducted more than a week after Burns got in trouble for criticizing firefighters from out of state.

As a person, Tester is a more attractive candidate than Morrison would have been. Still, the farmer-legislator with the unfashionable buzz haircut is not a conventional politician, and that hurts him to some degree. It is going to take much more work by him and the Democratic Party to win in a state that tends Republican in national elections. At the end of June, Burns was sitting on a four-to-one cash advantage (more than $2 million to Tester’s $512,000), and Burns has the same “unconventional,” folksy charm as Tester.

Burns has some momentum, but he is still in a very weak position for an incumbent, so we are not ready yet to change our outlook. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

  Pennsylvania: Sen. Santorum, widely considered the most endangered of all Senate incumbents, has narrowed the gap in two recent polls to only six points. He still trails state Treasurer Bob Casey (D).

The poll results come as a huge relief for Santorum, as there was already some talk among Washington fundraisers of money migrating away from this race because Santorum had failed to show he was closing the gap over the summer. That changes now.

Critical to this race is the entry of Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli, who gathered the required signatures with help from Santorum’s supporters. He draws five percent in the poll, a sure sign that discontent on the left with Casey’s pro-life posture threatens his campaign. But most troubling for Santorum is the fact that even as Casey suffers, his own numbers are not moving up. At around 40 percent, Santorum is in a very weak position for a two-term incumbent senator. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Sincerely,
Robert D. Novak

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