Monday, December 19, 2005

For Republicans, Internal Changes Are in the Air

By Stuart Rothenberg

It was only a little more than one year ago thatRepublicans were united — united behind President Bush, united in their support for tax cuts and united in their fervor to defeat Democrats at the polls.

As 2005 draws to a close, Republicans are fighting among themselves over spending and domestic programs. One sitting Senator and one House incumbent already face potentially well-funded primary challengers. The party is splintering.

But if you are expecting just another “doom and gloom”column about how bad things are for Bush and his party, you’re mistaken. I’m more interested in changes inside the party (some of which certainly could add to the party’s near-term woes).

Moderate Republicans, including Rep. Mike Castle(Del.) and Sherwood Boehlert (N.Y.), long ago labeled as an endangered species within their more conservative party, have reasserted themselves by torpedoing a spending measure that would have made major cuts in domestic spending, and by standing firm against opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

But even more interesting is the apparent resuscitation of a breed that was once called the party’s “deficit hawks.”

At least since the advent of supply-side economics in the late 1970s, most establishment conservative Republicans — Bush and Sen. George Allen (Va.) among them — have been more concerned with economic growth and cutting taxes than with balanced budgets orcutting spending.

But the birth of the self-described “Fiscal WatchTeam” in the Senate, which includes conservative GOP Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), JimDeMint (S.C.), John Ensign (Nev.) and Lindsey Graham(S.C.), as well as slightly more moderate Sens. such as John McCain (Ariz.) and John Sununu (N.H.), resurrects what was once an influential constituency within the Republican Party.

These Senate Republicans, as well as some in the House, are sounding themes reminiscent of the deficit hawks of old — that group of GOP legislators (including former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole) who put a higher priority on fiscal restraint than on tax cuts.

In the House, the anti-deficit hawks include Republican Study Committee conservatives such as Reps. Mike Pence (Ind.), Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and TomFeeney (Fla.). True, these Republicans seem more interested in cutting liberal-instituted programs than in slashing spending in general, but their focus on spending is noteworthy given the party’s tendency to throw money at constituents in recent years.

In the near term, these two GOP groups are likely tobe at odds. Any domestic spending proposal greeted warmly by one side is likely to receive the cold shoulder from the other.

These groups could well grow more significant, not less, after next November’s elections. If Democrats make significant House and Senate gains but fail to win majorities in either chamber, GOP leaders will need to find a way to bring moderate Republicans and deficit hawks together to pass major pieces oflegislation.

While narrow GOP majorities in Congress would enhance the positioning of party moderates, it also would create a problem for them. Since these Republicans represent states and Congressional districts that are less conservative (and less likely to support Bush’s policies), they are likely to be more vulnerable in next year’s election.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened in 1982, former President Ronald Reagan’s first midterm election. GOP moderates such as Reps. Larry DeNardis (Conn.), Harold Hollenbeck (N.J.), Arlen Erdahl (Minn.), Charles Dougherty (Pa.) and Margaret Heckler (Mass.) went down to defeat, largely because of the president’s unpopularity.

For Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.), as well as GOP House Members such as Charles Bass (N.H.), Jeb Bradley (N.H.), Rob Simmons (Conn.), Jim Walsh (N.Y.) and Nancy Johnson (Conn.), 1982 must be an uncomfortable memory.

GOP Congressional losses next year and the further emergence of the anti-spending wing of the party could also impact the Republican presidential race in 2007 and early 2008.

While Republican presidential candidates will always talk about lower taxes, the emergence of deficit hawks on Capitol Hill suggests that some presidential hopefuls might gain traction emphasizing spending restraint, including cuts in the pork that Republican legislators have been stuffing into legislation, rather than dramatic cuts in taxes.

For someone like McCain, who has supported thepresident’s Iraq policy but often has been at oddswith his party on spending and taxes, a Republicanpresidential primary electorate that is more concernedabout fiscal responsibility and cutting pork thanabout taxes wouldn’t be a bad thing. And it’s anotherreason to keep an eye on trends within the GOP and onthe Arizona Republican.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 15, 2005. Copyright 2005 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, December 16, 2005

New Print Edition: CA50 Special

The new December 16, 2005 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.) Here is a sample from the current issue.

California 50: Special Election Pre-Test
By Nathan L. Gonzales

Democrats are longing for the opportunity to run against corruption. They will have their next opportunity in less than four months, with the special election in California’s 50th Congressional District.

Former Cong. Duke Cunningham (R) recently resigned his seat after he pleaded guilty to felony counts of accepting bribes ($2.4 million worth), as well as tax evasion and fraud charges, all involving his relationship with a defense contractor. Cunningham announced earlier in the year that he would not seek reelection, but after his indictment and guilty pleas, the Republican resigned his seat.

A crowd of Republicans have joined the race to succeed Cunningham while the Democratic field is surprisingly sparse for an open seat race. Francine Busby, the 2004 Democratic nominee, will carry her party’s mantle again, and Democrats believe she has a good opportunity to win.

Republicans will have to sift through their field of candidates before focusing on Busby, but the seat itself leans Republican. Democrats are trying to put all the message and tactical pieces together for this race as they attempt to use this Southern California district as a building block for a larger wave next fall.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has set April 11 as the date of the primary to fill the vacancy, with the special election runoff scheduled for June 6, the date of the 2006 state primary. The April election will be an open primary, with the top vote getters from each party advancing to June if no candidate breaks the 50% mark.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

It’s That Time Again: Stu Picks His Winners, Losers of 2005

By Stuart Rothenberg

The end of the year is always a time to assess politics and politicians, which is simply another way of saying it’s time for another “winners and losers” column. Don’t get too excited if your guys won this year, though. Everything could change in 2006. The same goes for those who lost. Remember, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

So let’s get started. I’ll offer a number of nominees for each category and pick my winner.

Biggest Electoral Winner
• Sen. Jon Corzine (D), elected governor of New Jersey
• Ex-Reps. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), named to other posts
• Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D), elected governor of Virginia
• Wade Boggs, former third baseman, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame

Analysis: The choice comes down to Cox/Portman and Kaine. Cox/Portman survived the House and moved out of it at just the right time. Kaine ran a solid campaign in Virginia, losing ground in the rural areas but exceeding outgoing Gov. Mark Warner’s (D) 2001 showing in the all-important suburbs. My choice: Kaine.

Biggest Bush Administration Loser
• President Bush
• Former Chief of Staff to the Vice President Scooter Libby
• Vice President Cheney
• Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
• Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown

Analysis: Nobody in the Bush administration, with the possible exception of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has had a good year, but things have been particularly rough for the White House. Sure, Libby has been indicted and Brown was fired, but the president’s job numbers have sunk dramatically and he ends the first year of his second term dramatically weaker than when he began it. That’s reason enough to select him as the “winner” of this category. My choice: Bush.

Biggest Inside-the-Beltway Loser
• Lobbyist Jack Abramoff
• Cristian Guzman, Washington Nationals shortstop
• Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas)
• Former Rep. Frank Ballance (D-N.C.)
• Public relations “expert” Michael Scanlon
• Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio)

Analysis: Wow, what a list of deserving contenders. I’m not sure I can pick just one winner. Can’t all of them share a piece of the award? Of the group, I’d guess that DeLay and Guzman are the least likely to do jail time, so I’d rule them out. The other four look like a photo finish to me. I can’t pick one. My choice: Let’s just call it a four-way tie.

Biggest Outside-the-Beltway Loser
• California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)
• Jerry Kilgore (R), nominee for governor of Virginia
• Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R)
• Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D)
• Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R)
• Actress Katie Holmes

Analysis: Nobody on this list had a good year, but Holmes and Taft stand out for being either particularly inept or noticeably delusional. But everybody in politics has piled on Taft already (as they should) so I’m picking someone who is a symbol of what is wrong with Hollywood and American popular culture. My choice: Holmes.

Flip-Flopper of the Year
• Rafael Palmeiro, Baltimore Orioles
• Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.)
• Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
• Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)

Analysis: No contest here. Brown said he wasn’t running for the Senate, so Democratic insiders wooed unsuccessful Congressional candidate Paul Hackett into the race. Suddenly, Brown changes his mind, leaving Hackett out to dry. Not good in the karma department, Sherrod. My choice: Brown.

Weirdest Political Event
• Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) wins Powerball of $853,000
• Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) elected to the NFL Hall of Fame
• Indiana switches to Mountain Time Zone
• Harriett Miers’ Supreme Court nomination
• Wolf Blitzer forms his own 24-hour cable TV network

Analysis: OK, so only two of the things in this list really happened. But as the list proves, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. The Miers selection was too, too strange. My choice: Miers.

Best Bush Administration Moment
• FEMA preparations for Hurricane Rita
• Judge John Roberts selected for Supreme Court
• Judge Samuel Alito selected for Supreme Court
• Dec. 31, 11:59 p.m.

Analysis: It’s a tough call between the end of a difficult year and Roberts, but I’m going to pick the judge. Nobody thought the president could find a perfect choice who could please conservatives and de-fang Democrats, but Roberts was that guy. My choice: Roberts.

MVP of 2005
• Alex Rodriguez, third baseman, New York Yankees
• Derek Jeter, shortstop, New York Yankees
• Mariano Rivera, pitcher, New York Yankees
• Hideki Matsui, outfielder, New York Yankees
• Gary Sheffield, outfielder, New York Yankees.

Analysis: Why? Because it’s my column. If you don’t like it, write your own. My choice: Rivera.

This column first appared in Roll Call on December 12, 2005. Copyright 2005 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The 2006 Political Landscape

These are the states and races we are watching going into next year. Our state-by-state breakdown lists every 2006 race for governor and U.S. Senate, and the currently competitive House races. Subscribers to the print-edition of The Rothenberg Political Report get ratings for every race. Subscribe now.

June 6 Primary, June 27 Runoff
Governor. Bob Riley (R) elected 2002 (49.2%).

August 22 Primary
Governor. Frank Murkowski (R), elected 2002 (56%).

September 12 Primary
Governor. Janet Napolitano (D), elected 2002 (46%).
Senate. Jon Kyl (R), elected 1994 (54%), and 2000 (79%).
Arizona 1. Rick Renzi (R).
Arizona 5. J.D. Hayworth (R).
Arizona 8. Open; Jim Kolbe (R) not seeking reelection.

May 23 Primary, June 13 Runoff
Governor. Open; Mike Huckabee (R) term-limited.

June 6 Primary
Governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) elected 2003 recall election.
Senate. Dianne Feinstein (D), elected 1992 Special (54%), 1994 (47%), and 2000 (56%).
California 50. Open; Duke Cunningham (R) resigned. *June 6 Runoff. Brian Bilbray (R) vs. Francine Busby (D).

August 8 Primary
Governor. Open; Bill Owens (R), term-limited.
Colorado 4. Marilyn Musgrave (R).
Colorado 7. Open; Bob Beauprez (R) running for governor.

August 8 Primary
Governor. Jodi Rell (R), succeeded John Rowland (R) in 2004.
Senate. Joseph Lieberman (D), elected 1988 (50%), 1994 (67%) and 2000 (63%).
Connecticut 2. Rob Simmons (R).
Connecticut 4. Chris Shays (R).
Connecticut 5. Nancy Johnson (R).

September 12 Primary
Senate. Thomas Carper (D), elected 2000 (56%).

September 5 Primary
Governor. Open; Jeb Bush (R), term-limited.
Senate. Bill Nelson (D), elected 2000 (51%).
Florida 9. Open; Mike Bilirakis (R) not seeking reelection.
Florida 13. Open; Katherine Harris (R) running for Senate.
Florida 22. Clay Shaw (R).

July 18 Primary, August 8 Runoff
Governor. Sonny Perdue (R), elected 2002 (51%).
Georgia 8. Jim Marshall (D).
Georiga 12. John Barrow (D).

September 23 Primary
Governor. Linda Lingle (R), elected 2002 (52%).
Senate. Daniel Akaka (D) appointed April 1990, elected 1990 Special (54%), 1994 (72%), and 2000 (73%).

May 23 Primary
Governor. Open; Dirk Kempthorne (R), term-limited.

March 21 Primary
Governor. Rod Blagojevich (D), elected 2002 (52%).
Illinois 6. Open; Henry Hyde (R) not seeking reelection. Peter Roskam (R) vs. Tammy Duckworth (D).
Illinois 8. Cong. Melissa Bean (D) vs. David MCSweeney (R).

May 2 Primary
Senate. Richard Lugar (R), elected 1976 (59%), 1982 (54%), 1988 (68%), 1994 (67%), and 2000 (67%).
Indiana 2. Chris Chocola (R) vs. Joe Donnelly (D).
Indiana 8. John Hostettler (R) vs. Brad Ellsworth (D).
Indiana 9. Mike Sodrel (R) vs. Baron Hill (D).

June 6 Primary
Governor. Open; Tom Vilsack (D), not seeking reelection.
Iowa 1. Open; Jim Nussle (R) running for governor.
Iowa 3. Leonard Boswell (D).

August 1 Primary
Governor. Kathleen Sebelius (D), elected 2002 (53%).

May 16 Primary
Kentucky 3. Anne Northup (R).
Kentucky 4. Geoff Davis (R).

November 7 Primary, December Runoff (if necessary)
Louisiana 3. Charlie Melancon (D).

June 13 Primary
Governor. John Baldacci (D), elected 2002 (47.1%).
Senate. Olympia Snowe (R), elected 1994 (60%), and 2000 (69%).

September 12 Primary
Governor. Bob Ehrlich (R), elected 2002 (52%).
Senate. Open; Paul Sarbanes (D) not seeking reelection.

September 19 Primary
Governor. Open; Mitt Romney (R) not seeking reelection.
Senate. Edward Kennedy (D), elected 1962 Special (55%), 1964 (74%), 1970 (62%), 1976 (69%), 1982 (61%), 1988 (65%), 1994 (58%), and 2000 (73%).

August 8 Primary
Governor. Jennifer Granholm (D), elected 2002 (51%).
Senate. Debbie Stabenow (D), elected 2000 (49.5%).

September 12 Primary
Governor. Tim Pawlenty (R), elected 2002 (44.4%).
Senate. Open; Mark Dayton (D) not seeking reelection.
Minnesota 6. Open; Mark Kennedy (R) running for Senate.

June 6 Primary
Senate. Trent Lott (R), elected 1988 (54%), 1994 (69%), and 2000 (66%).

August 8 Primary
Senate. Jim Talent (R), elected 2002 Special (49.8%).

June 6 Primary
Senate. Conrad Burns (R), elected 1988 (52%), 1994 (62%), and 2000 (51%).

May 9 Primary
Governor. Dave Heineman (R), succeeded Mike Johanns (R) January 20, 2005.
Senate. Ben Nelson (D), elected 2000 (51%).

August 15 Primary
Governor. Open; Kenny Guinn (R), term-limited.
Senate. John Ensign (R), elected 2000 (55%).
Nevada 2. Open; Jim Gibbons (R) running for governor.
Nevada 3. Jon Porter (D).

New Hampshire.
September 12 Primary
Governor. John Lynch (D) elected 2004 (51%).
New Hampshire 2. Charlie Bass (R).

New Jersey.
June 6 Primary
Senate. Bob Menendez (D), appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine (D) January 2006.
New Jersey 7. Mike Ferguson (R).

New Mexico.
June 6 Primary
Governor. Bill Richardson (D), elected 2002 (56%).
Senate. Jeff Bingaman (D), elected 1982 (54%), 1988 (63%), 1994 (54%), and 2000 (62%).
New Mexico 1. Heather Wilson (R).

New York.
September 12 Primary
Governor. Open; George Pataki (R) not seeking reelection.
Senate. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), elected 2000 (55%).
New York 20. John Sweeney (R).
New York 24. Open; Sherwood Boehlert (R) not seeking reelection.
New York 25. Jim Walsh (R).
New York 29. Randy Kuhl (R).

North Carolina.
May 2 Primary, May 30 Runoff
North Carolina 11. Charles Taylor (R).

North Dakota.
June 13 Primary
Senate. Kent Conrad (D), elected 1986 (50%), 1992 Special (63%), 1994 (58%), and 2000 (62%).

May 2 Primary
Governor. Open; Bob Taft (R), term-limited.
Senate. Mike DeWine (R), elected 1994 (53%), and 2000 (60%), vs. Sherrod Brown (D).
Ohio 1. Steve Chabot (R) vs. John Cranley (D).
Ohio 6. Open; Ted Strickland (D) running for governor. Charlie Wilson (D) vs. Chuck Blasdel (R).
Ohio 13. Open; Sherrod Brown (D) running for Senate. Betty Sutton (D) vs. Craig Foltin (R).
Ohio 15. Deborah Pryce (R) vs. Mary Jo Kilroy (D).
Ohio 18. Bob Ney (R) vs. Zack Space (D).

July 25 Primary, August 22 Runoff
Governor. Brad Henry (D), elected 2002 (43%).

May 16 Primary
Governor. Ted Kulongoski (D), elected 2002 (49%).

May 16 Primary
Governor. Ed Rendell (D), elected 2002 (54%).
Senate. Rick Santorum (R), elected 1994 (49%), and 2000 (52%).
Pennsylvania 6. Jim Gerlach (R).
Pennsylvania 7. Curt Weldon (R).
Pennsylvania 8. Mike Fitzpatrick (R).

Rhode Island.
September 12 Primary
Governor. Don Carcieri (R), elected 2002 (55%).
Senate. Lincoln Chafee (R), appointed November 1999, elected 2000 (57%).

South Carolina.
June 13 Primary, June 27 Runoff
Governor. Mark Sanford (R), elected 2002 (53%).
South Carolina 5. John Spratt (D).

South Dakota.
June 6 Primary
Governor. Mike Rounds (R), elected 2002 (57%).

August 3 Primary
Governor. Phil Bredesen (D), elected 2002 (51%).
Senate. Open; Bill Frist (R) not seeking reelection.

March 7 Primary, April 11 Runoff
Governor. Rick Perry (R), succeeded George W. Bush December 21, 2000, elected 2002 (58%).
Senate. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), elected June 1993 Special Runoff (67%), 1994 (61%), and 2000 (65%).
Texas 17. Chet Edwards (D) vs. Van Taylor (R).
Texas 22. Tom DeLay (R)** vs. Nick Lampson (D).

June 27 Primary
Senate. Orrin Hatch (R), elected 1976 (54%), 1982 (58%), 1988 (67%), 1994 (69%), and 2000 (66%).

September 12 Primary
Governor. Jim Douglas (R) elected 2002 (45%) by the state Legislature, and 2004 (58%).
Senate. Open; James Jeffords (I) not seeking reelection. Elected 1988 (68%), 1994 (50%), and 2000 (66%).
Vermont At-Large. Open; Bernie Sanders (I) running for Senate.

June 13 Primary
Senate. George Allen (R), elected 2000 (52%).
Virginia 2. Thelma Drake (R).

September 19 Primary
Senate. Maria Cantwell (D), elected 2000 (48.7%).
Washington 2. Rick Larsen (D).
Washington 8. Dave Reichert (R).

West Virginia.
May 9 Primary
Senate. Robert Byrd (D), elected 1958 (59%), 1964 (68%), 1970 (78%), 1976 (100%), 1982 (69%), 1988 (65%), 1994 (69%), and 2000 (79%).
West Virginia 1. Alan Mollohan (D).

September 12 Primary
Governor. Jim Doyle (D), elected 2002 (45%).
Senate. Herb Kohl (D), elected 1988 (52%), 1994 (58%), and 2000 (62%).
Wisconsin 8. Open; Mark Green (R) running for governor.

August 22 Primary
Governor. Dave Freudenthal (D), elected 2002 (50%).
Senate. Craig Thomas (R), elected 1994 (59%) and 2000 (74%).

Monday, December 12, 2005

For Bush, Iraq Isn’t the Vietnam War All Over Again

By Stuart Rothenberg

The analogy of Vietnam is trying to creep into the analysis of why President Bush may have to start pulling troops out of Iraq sooner rather than later, but the two wars differ dramatically in key ways that enhance the president’s options.

Bush’s overall job approval numbers are now somewhere in the upper- to mid-30s, a few points higher than the public’s evaluation of how he is handling the war in Iraq. Those numbers aren’t all that different from former President Lyndon Johnson’s in March 1968, when the Democratic president’s job approval stood at 36 percent.

Bush’s poll ratings obviously are horrendous, and there is widespread criticism of the way he led the country into war and of many of the administration’s other decisions, including the size of our military force in Iraq.

But whatever the criticism (and it certainly is growing), Bush cannot feel the pressure to leave Iraq that LBJ, and later, President Richard Nixon felt. I can say that with certainty, in part because I well remember gathering around a radio with a couple of dozen other people in Waterville, Maine, the evening of Dec. 1, 1969, to listen to the first draft lottery since 1942.

For some reason, we had missed the first few dates that were drawn, so nobody was entirely sure if they had a “low number,” which meant that you could very likely be called for military service, possibly in Vietnam, or a “high” one, which probably meant that you would not be drafted.

I still remember that evening more than 36 years ago, during my senior year, because everyone knew that the lottery was likely to have such a profound impact on all our lives, one way or the other. My classmates with low numbers immediately talked about making plans — plans to enlist, plans to head for Canada or plans to get stinking drunk that evening.

Those of us who drew high numbers felt somewhat relieved (not knowing for sure exactly what number was high enough to avoid receiving a notice to report for a physical), but we also could not ignore the feelings and fate of our friends who drew low numbers.

When I eventually saw the full list of days of the year and their corresponding draft numbers, I remember noticing that all of the dates around my birthday had low draft numbers, while my 282 jumped out like a sore thumb. Had I been born 18 hours earlier, my birthday would have been a day earlier and my lottery number would have been 80. If my mother had given birth 12 hours later, on the day after I was born, my draft number would have been 46.

The draft made Vietnam very different from Iraq.

During Vietnam, young men who opposed the war or didn’t want to get shot at found themselves drafted, and they and their families took to the streets. The war had a very direct impact on them.

But without a draft, fewer Americans feel the impact of the war, and many of those who have felt the impact of the war most directly volunteered for military service.

When, in September, I asked a Marine sniper — the son of friends — who had recently returned from Iraq about troop morale, he responded that, at least in his unit, it was high. He told me he and his colleagues knew what they were getting themselves into, and that anybody who had joined the military in the previous two years was well aware that they would be headed for combat.

I realize that many National Guard troops who were called up did not expect to find themselves fighting in the Sunni Triangle, and that some parents have not been able to accept the horrendous pain of losing a son or daughter in the war. But unlike Vietnam, this war is being fought by volunteers, and that has limited the outcry against the war and given the president much greater freedom to conduct operations than Johnson and Nixon had.

Sept. 11, 2001, also makes Iraq different from Vietnam.

Almost 40 years ago, American policymakers decided that Vietnam was simply the next domino that might fall in a worldwide communist effort to squeeze the West. Regardless of whether that theory was right, we did not suffer a direct attack or feel the sense of vulnerability that most Americans do now.

You don’t have to see a connection between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq to understand that the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., have had a profound impact on the way many Americans view the world and U.S. security.

It is simply easier now for the president to portray terrorists as a more direct and immediate threat to the U.S. than it was for Johnson or Nixon to portray the North Vietnamese, or even the Chinese, that way.

I’m not suggesting that public opinion does not affect Bush, or that opposition to the war could not take a more confrontational turn. Pressure on Bush from Republican officeholders who want troop withdrawals prior to the ’06 elections surely will grow over the next few months. But the absence of a draft, and the very real terrorist threat — whether or not it has anything to do with the war — makes the war in Iraq very different politically from Vietnam.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 8, 2005. Copyright 2005 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Will Democrats Resist What Republicans Couldn’t in 1998?

By Stuart Rothenberg

So far, the Democratic establishment has wisely resisted the temptation to make personal attacks on the president or to respond to the call for President Bush’s impeachment emanating from the party’s vocal “progressive” wing.

But it could prove to be increasingly difficult for party leaders to keep their members in line as liberal Web loggers, anti-war lefties, Bush haters and grass-roots activists — all who believe that their party has failed to show backbone on the issue — turn up the heat and demand confrontation.

Just last week, former radio talk show host Tony Trupiano was endorsed by ImpeachPAC, a new political action committee that endorses only Congressional candidates who “support the immediate and simultaneous impeachment of George Bush and [Vice President] Dick Cheney for their Iraq War lies.”

Trupiano, you may recall, was one of the Congressional challengers listed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as among its “strong candidates for change.” He is the likely Democratic nominee against Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) in a GOP-leaning district.

Democratic strategists surely haven’t forgotten 1998, when Republicans were so rabidly anti-Bill Clinton that they pushed impeachment when a majority of voters apparently wanted no part of a last-resort constitutional remedy. GOP attacks on then-President Clinton made them appear petty, partisan and more interested in hurting the president than improving the country.

Instead of picking up a handful of House seats in an off-year election when the opposing party controlled the White House, Republicans lost five seats.

The same thing could happen again, though with the roles reversed, if Democrats look to be more interested in taking their pound of flesh than in getting the country headed back in the right direction. That is why the party’s best strategy this cycle is to be respectful of the president while taking strong exception to his policies and his performance in office.

When only three self-marginalized Democratic Reps. — Georgian Cynthia McKinney, New Yorker José Serrano and Florida’s Robert Wexler — can support a resolution for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, you know that party leaders understand the need to appear measured and thoughtful when it comes to the handling of U.S. troops in the field. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) recent adoption of Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha’s “get out of Iraq now” position raises some questions about whether the Democrats will continue to show restraint.

For the DCCC, then, Trupiano’s endorsement by ImpeachPAC poses something of a conundrum.

Do you stick with a guy who is calling for the simultaneous impeachment of the president and vice president and who calls impeachment “a nonpartisan idea” and “the way to hold the government accountable”? Do you keep him on your list of strong challengers, when you know that appears to stamp him with the committee’s seal of approval?

For the DCCC, the best tactic may well be to simply ignore the flap that will likely be created when the National Republican Congressional Committee and political reporters press DCCC bigwigs about Trupiano’s endorsement by ImpeachPAC.

That’s the advice veteran Democratic operatives offered when I asked them what the DCCC might do.

“It will become an issue inside the campaign, but it isn’t an issue for the DCCC any more than any other thing that happens in another candidate’s campaign,” said one operative who called the decision to accept the ImpeachPAC’s $2,100 “a mistake by a first-time candidate,” given the district’s makeup.

Another veteran Democratic campaign professional agreed, saying, “If I were at the DCCC, I’d say let’s keep our heads down at least unless it becomes a story. Then we may have to deal with it.

“But,” added the Democrat, “if I were at the NRCC, I’d be screaming bloody murder that the candidate was an extremist.”

The DCCC is in this bind, frankly, because it is unlikely to risk angering its bloggers and activists, who would likely go ballistic if the committee started to distance itself from Trupiano or his comments on the war.

For his part, Trupiano isn’t apologetic about the endorsement and doesn’t see it as a big deal. “What’s the shame in wanting to talk about truth and transparency in government?” he told me last week in a telephone interview. But Trupiano noted that his top issue is jobs.

Trupiano is only one candidate for Congress, and he isn’t making party policy. But if he isn’t an anomaly — if other candidates (or incumbent Members of Congress) echo the ImpeachPAC line — the DCCC could be faced with a more serious problem.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 5, 2005. Copyright 2005 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, December 02, 2005

New Print Edition: 2006 Gubernatorial Outlook

The new December 2, 2005 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

2006 Gubernatorial Outlook

Republicans were dealt a symbolic blow this year, losing governors races in both Virginia and New Jersey. But Democrats already controlled both those states, leaving the GOP with a 28-22 advantage nationwide going into next year. But Republicans are defending 22 governorships in 2006, compared to 16 for Democrats, so the GOP will be hard-pressed to keep its overall majority.

To get a recap and rating on all 38 races next year, subscribe now.