Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Louisiana Governor ’07: Jindal Readying Another Run

Already looking past the 2006 midterm elections? Well, if you are, you don’t need to look all the way to 2008 to find a race that’s already starting to take shape.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco (D) announced recently that she will seek reelection in 2007. But Blanco’s prospects are uncertain at best, both because of her performance after Hurricane Katrina and because the state’s new demographic make-up could make statewide races more difficult for any Democrat following the destruction of much of New Orleans.

Blanco might not be the only well-known Democrat in the race, since Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, brother of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and son of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, might also consider a run. One thing is certain, Republican U.S. Representative Bobby Jindal is readying for another run for governor.

Jindal won’t say so publicly, but Republican insiders close to the Congressman say that he has his sights set on 2007 and will again try for the office that he lost narrowly in 2003.

Jindal easily won the election to fill David Vitter’s open House seat in 2004 when Vitter ran for the Senate.

UPDATE: Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D) is expected to challenge New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) in the April 22 mayoral primary. A May 20 runoff is scheduled, if necessary.

By Stuart Rothenberg

This piece first appeared on Town Hall on January 26, 2006.

Romney's Abortion Code Needs Updating

When Mitt Romney spoke to a roomful of reporters at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday, he said the right thing about his current position on abortion, but he said it in the wrong way. President George W. Bush, the master of speaking to evangelicals and socially conservative Republicans, would never have made the same mistake.

In responding to a question by political analyst Charlie Cook, of The Cook Political Report, Romney acknowledged that he only recently decided to accept the pro-life label. That’s certainly a problem for the Massachusetts governor, but an even bigger problem may be that he began his response by referring to “my history on choice.”

Pro-life activists never refer to the issue of abortion as “choice.” That’s a word – a construction – that comes from the abortion rights movement. Opponents of legal abortion refer to the issue as “abortion.” Using “choice” as he did will likely only add to the skepticism among abortion opponents of Romney’s recent conversion, making it more difficult to put the issue to rest in a party that is not likely to nominate a pro-choice candidate in 2008.

By Stuart Rothenberg

This piece first appeared on Town Hall on January 26, 2006.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Romney’s Bid for the White House Looks Decidedly Uphill

By Stuart Rothenberg

The Republicans begin the marathon toward the 2008 presidential election without a prohibitive favorite for their nomination. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani lead in early polling, but their initial strength comes from their celebrity status, not their inherent appeal to primary voters and caucus attendees.

Enter Mitt Romney, the outgoing governor of Massachusetts.

After serving but a single term as governor of the Bay State, Romney passed up a bid for re-election to run for the White House in 2008. No, he hasn’t announced his plans yet, but formal announcements aren’t what they used to be. All signs point to Romney running for the GOP presidential nomination, and that’s much more important than a formal announcement.

Romney — the former president of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics — holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Generally regarded as good-looking, personable and even charismatic, Romney would seem to fit in the top tier of likely GOP presidential hopefuls. After all, any Republican who can overcome a huge partisan disadvantage to win in Massachusetts must have considerable appeal (even granting that he’s now considerably less popular at home than he once was).

Still, three huge question marks hang over Romney’s White House prospects.

First, can Romney convince conservatives — the single most important constituency within the GOP — that he is conservative enough to meet their test?

Second, can he demonstrate to both Republicans and Democrats that he is sufficiently well versed in foreign policy to sit in the Oval Office at a time of international terrorism and national security threats?

Third, and arguably most important, can he ease or erase evangelicals’ concerns about his Mormon beliefs?

Ideological positioning is a consideration in any political race, and one hot-button issue, abortion, could give Romney considerable trouble in a race for the Republican presidential nomination.

In his 1994 Senate race against Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Romney proclaimed, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.” Eight years later, when running for governor of the Bay State, he said that while he did not favor abortion personally, as governor he would “protect the right of a woman to choose under the law of the country and the laws of the Commonwealth.”

More recently, as he’s moved toward a GOP presidential primary bid, Romney has described himself as pro-life.

The Republican Party has not nominated a supporter of abortion rights for the White House since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, and it is not likely to do so in 2008. It’s up to Romney to convince voters either that he has changed his views, or that his earlier statements somehow didn’t reflect his fundamental beliefs.

In foreign policy, Romney’s experience is minimal. At other times, that deficiency might not be terribly damaging. But now, given the international and national security challenges facing the United States, that weakness could be politically fatal.

But it’s Romney’s religious beliefs that may constitute his biggest hurdle in his bid for the GOP nomination.

While religious tolerance is a fundamental American principle, Mormonism remains a controversial religion to at least one crucial electoral constituency in the Republican Party: evangelical Christians.

Amy Sullivan’s article, “Mitt Romney’s Evangelical Problem” in The Washington Monthly and Nina Easton’s article in the Aug. 30, 2005, Boston Globe argue, accurately, that the Massachusetts governor’s religion will hurt him seriously among evangelicals, who regard Mormons as a non-Christian cult.

While members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as LDS) insist that they are merely one of many Christian denominations, most influential evangelicals disagree. They argue that LDS views are fundamentally at odds with Christian theology.

Richard Cizik, the vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, leaves no doubt where his group stands.

“The NAE will say that Mormons are not Christians. They don’t pass the test of orthodoxy,” Cizik says. He goes on to suggest that the “whole issue of the [LDS] church’s theology could become an issue” for Romney when the Massachusetts governor throws his hat into the ’08 race.

Evangelicals’ problems with a Mormon candidate will be no small issue for Romney. Evangelicals accounted for one in five Republican primary voters in New Hampshire in 2000 — a considerable chunk, considering that the state is not known as home to a large evangelical population and that the state allows Independents to participate in partisan primaries.

In 2000, 34 percent of South Carolina Republican primary voters told exit pollsters that they were members of the “religious right,” a demographic group that presumably is considerably smaller than are “evangelicals.” In the Iowa caucuses, 37 percent of GOP attended embraced the religious right label.

Evangelicals aren’t likely to tell pollsters that Romney is unacceptable because of his religion, but his LDS membership is certain to raise questions (and concerns) that will give many Republican caucus attendees and primary voters a reason not to support the governor. That would be a considerable handicap for a politician who begins with other liabilities.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 26, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Good Democratic Year Is Building

By Stuart Rothenberg

With a little over nine months to go until Election Day, Democrats are headed for gains in the United States House of Representatives. The only question is exactly how big those gains will be.

Democrats need a net gain of fifteen seats to get to the magic number of 218 seats and control of the chamber. That would make Representative Nancy Pelosi Speaker, install Democrats as chairs of House committees, and fundamentally change the political environment on Capitol Hill and nationally for President George W. Bush's final two years.

I recently raised my projections of likely Democratic gains to five to eight seats based on the continued deepening of the Abramoff scandal and continued voter sentiment for change. While it is still difficult to "count" eight certain Democratic House takeovers, the combination of macropolitical factors and credible Democratic opportunities add up to likely Democratic gains in the mid-single digits.

But, like the Federal Reserve, which often signals future interest rate shifts by noting that it has a "bias" to higher or lower rates, I like to indicate whether my projected range is likely to move one way or the other. And my current view is that projections of Democratic gains are more likely to grow than to shrink.

While Republicans could benefit from improved news from Iraq, perceived progress in the war on terror, an ethics/reform agenda, or future circumstances that no one can now anticipate, I think it far more likely that the political landscape, which currently tilts to the Democrats, could tilt even more toward Democratic House candidates later this year.

While a 15-seat Democratic gain remains difficult, I no longer think it impossible. Yes, Republicans do have a structural advantage in the House, and Democrats don't have as many top tier challengers at DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel would have you believe he does. But the electorate's mood allows for Democratic prospects to improve further over the next nine months. Stay tuned.

This piece first appeared on Political Wire on January 25, 2006.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

New Print Edition: Illinois 6 & Ohio Senate

The new January 27, 2006 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

Illinois 6: Fighting Chance
By Nathan L. Gonzales

At first glance, you might think Illinois’ 6th Congressional District is the only race in the country. It’s received more media coverage recently than the other 434 Congressional districts combined.

That’s partially because Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (IL) and national party leaders have worked quickly and tirelessly on behalf of Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth (D) in an effort to catapult her bid for Congress.

Long-time Cong. Henry Hyde (R) announced he would not seek reelection, setting up an expensive open seat race in the 6th District. State Sen. Pete Roskam (R) has cleared the Republican field and is off to a strong fundraising start. But the excitement surrounding Duckworth’s candidacy coupled with a national political landscape than tilts toward Democrats, should place Roskam in a very competitive race.

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Ohio Senate: Buckeye Battle

Ohio is as close to a political disaster area for Republicans than any state in the country. Out-going Gov. Bob Taft (R) pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor charges for accepting gifts for political favors, and his job approval ratings crack 20% on a good day.

It is in this environment that Sen. Mike DeWine (R) and other Republicans must run for reelection. DeWine is not easily demonized by his opponents, but he is also not loved by conservative members of his own party.

Democrats certainly have an opportunity to unseat the incumbent, if they don’t eat themselves first. Cleveland-area Cong. Sherrod Brown and Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett of Cincinnati are both running for the Democratic nomination.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rothenberg’s 2006 Dangerous Dozen Open House Seats

By Stuart Rothenberg

For the past few election cycles, I have followed the most vulnerable House open seats as a way of monitoring the two parties’ overall prospects for November. This cycle, there are relatively few inherently competitive open seats. But some open seats that would normally be reliably Republican could well see strong competition if the national landscape continues to tilt toward the Democrats.

Of the 12 seats in this initial open-seat list of 2006, only the first four are strong takeover possibilities, with Democrats having three pickup opportunities to the GOP’s one.

Iowa’s 1st. Rep. Jim Nussle (R) has held this northeastern Iowa seat since 1990. But Nussle’s gubernatorial bid gives Democrats a golden opportunity for a takeover. The district, which went for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by 7 points in the 2004 presidential race and for Al Gore in 2000, is competitive but Democratic-leaning. Both parties are likely to have strong candidates. The Democrats will nominate either former Iowa Trial Lawyers Association President Bruce Braley or Rick Dickinson, director of the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation, while the GOP field includes former state party chairman Brian Kennedy, state Rep. Bill Dix and businessman Mike Whalen. This is probably the best open-seat opportunity in the country for either party.

Colorado’s 7th. The gubernatorial bid by Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) gives Democrats another takeover opportunity. They have two excellent candidates, former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter and former state Rep. Peggy Lamm, the ex-sister-in-law of former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm (D). Rick O’Donnell, executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 2002 and is the frontrunner for the nod this year. He too is a strong candidate. This district went narrowly for Kerry and Gore, and it is evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. The race is a toss-up, but with a national breeze, the Democrats have a terrific chance for a pickup.

Ohio’s 6th. The gubernatorial bid of Rep. Ted Strickland (D) gives the GOP a chance for a pickup in a state where the GOP is beset by problems. State Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) will try to hold the district, while Ohio Speaker Pro-Tem Chuck Blasdel is likely to get the GOP nod. President Bush won the district narrowly in both 2000 and 2004, and Democrats hope that Wilson’s conservative views on abortion and guns will neutralize issues that Republicans have used to appeal to swing voters and Democrats in southeast Ohio. Rate it a tossup.

Arizona’s 8th. The retirement of Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) gives the Democrats an opportunity in this district, which includes Tucson and southeast Arizona. Bush won it by only 2 points in 2000 and 7 points in 2004. Both parties expect primaries, so the outlook remains uncertain. But expect a competitive race.

Vermont At-Large. Could a Republican succeed Rep. Bernie Sanders (I)? Possibly. Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Martha Rainville faces a primary but begins as the favorite. The Democratic nominee will be state Senate President Peter Welch. GOP chances would improve if the state’s left-of-center Progressive Party runs a candidate. Progressive state Rep. David Zuckerman is weighing a bid, but Sanders wants him to stay out.

Illinois’ 6th. Democrats have a shot at the seat of retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R), but they must endure a primary and overcome a district in which Bush drew 53 percent in each of his presidential races. Unsuccessful ’04 nominee Christine Cegelis starts as the Democratic frontrunner, but many party insiders and the state AFL-CIO are backing Illinois Army National Guard Maj. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran. The GOP nominee will be state Sen. Peter Roskam, a politically savvy and personable former Capitol Hill aide. Roskam starts out as the favorite, but it could be competitive.

Minnesota’s 6th. United Methodist minister and ex-state Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg gives Democrats their strongest possible candidate in this district being vacated by Rep. Mark Kennedy (R), who’s running for Senate. Bush won a comfortable 57 percent victory in 2004. A potentially crowded GOP primary, scheduled for mid-September, has Democrats thinking upset.

California’s 50th. Democrats hope a pending special election and a focus on ethics — the seat was held by former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R), who pleaded guilty in a bribery scandal — will make Francine Busby an upset winner. Busby drew less than 40 percent in 2004 against Cunningham. Granted, he was then an entrenched incumbent, but the Democrat will need quite a surge in this strong GOP district.

Wisconsin’s 8th. Rep. Mark Green (R) is running for governor, and Democrats could pull an upset. Both parties have primaries, but state Speaker John Gard (R) starts as the favorite. A Democrat held the seat from 1996 to1998.

Florida’s 13th. Rep. Katherine Harris (R) is running for Senate, taking away the Democrats’ biggest issue in this GOP district. That this race is even on the list tells you how few competitive open seats there are so far in 2006.

Florida’s 9th. Democrats think they have a shot at the seat of retiring Republican Rep. Mike Bilirakis. They could — but probably only if Republicans screw up and a Democratic tsunami develops.

Nevada’s 2nd. Bush carried this district twice with 57 percent of the vote. Rep. Jim Gibbons (R) is running for governor. If the Democrats win this district, they will take over the House.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 23, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lott's Decision Leaves Democrats Little Room

Republican Sen. Trent Lott's announcement this week that he will seek a fourth term in Mississippi leaves Democrats with little room for error if they are to have any chance of capturing the Senate in November. '

Party strategists on both sides of the aisle agreed that Democrats would have no chance of defeating Lott but would have a serious shot at winning an open seat, particularly if former state Attorney General Mike Moore (D) were to run.

With Republicans currently holding a 55-45 majority, Democrats must hold all of their vulnerable seats and pick up six Senate seats currently held by the GOP to get to 51 seats.

Republicans are mounting major efforts to takeover Democratic open seats in Minnesota and Maryland, and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D), who was recently sworn in to fill the remaining year of now-Gov. Jon Corzine's Senate seat, faces a very difficult election contest in November.

In addition to holding all of their own seats, Democrats must come close to running the table on the most competitive GOP-held seats. That would mean defeating Senators Rick Santorum (PA), Lincoln Chafee (RI) -- or his primary challenger Steve Laffey -- Mike DeWine (OH), Conrad Burns (MT), and Jim Talent (MO). Then Democrats would need to defeat either Jon Kyl (AZ) or win the open seat in Tennessee, two challenges that are considerably more difficult than knocking off Santorum or DeWine.

Overall, of the ten most competitive Senate seats in the country, Democrats must win nine of them. The feat is possible, since frequently one party seems to win all of the close contests. But the Democrats' task got a bit more difficult with Lott's decision.

By Nathan L. Gonzales

This piece first appeared on Political Wire on January 20, 2006.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Eh? Are Republicans as Tone Deaf as They Appear?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Sometimes, politics involves Machiavellian manipulation and elaborate scenarios based on risky judgments and hard-to-decipher bits of information. Other times, it’s so patently obvious what to do that it’s hard to understand why politicians choose an alternative route.

Presented with a rare opportunity to send a message about change and reform, House Republicans seem ready, instead, to send a message of continuity by selectingMissouri Rep. Roy Blunt (R) as Majority Leader.

Personally, I like Blunt. He has been around long enough to know which way is up, and he has a personable, low-key style that makes him seem both approachable and thoughtful. And his main competitor, the always engaging and interesting Ohio Rep. JohnBoehner (R), didn’t exactly fall off the turnip truck yesterday.

Boehner — a committee chairman who was once, but is not currently, in his party’s leadership — is selling himself as the outsider and reformer in the race. Boehner isn’t much of an outsider, but he is a conservative who knows when to be pragmatic, and he, too, is hard to dislike.

But if Republicans think they can turn the page on former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) by sticking with Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Blunt as Majority Leader and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as Majority Whip, they must be wearing rose-colored glasses.

I am not arguing that Republicans must shake up their leadership to hold onto the House in November, because I am not sure whether they need to do that. Their ethics package could well be enough to convince voters that they are a force for change and reform.

But if they stick with the same leadership team that they have had, minus DeLay, then they’d better be sure that they can effectively rebut Democratic arguments that“DeLay’s team” still runs the House GOP. Because it does.

As for DeLay and Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), while these two Republicans have yielded their positions of power inside the House of Representatives, that’s all they have done. DeLay has already filed for re-election and insists that he will seek a 12th term.

Ney, who just stepped down as chairman of the House Administration Committee, hasn’t addressed the question of running yet and doesn’t have to do so until Ohio’s Feb. 15 filing deadline nears. Most observers I have talked with doubt that he’ll seek a new term.

With this election cycle breaking against the Republicans, it is time for both Ney and DeLay to call it quits, following the path taken by then-Sen. BobTorricelli (D-N.J.), who dropped out of his re-election race when he finally realized, just over a month before the 2002 elections, that he would lose.

Instead of causing himself the added pain and embarrassment of a political defeat — and leaving his party with the added setback of losing a Senate seat —Torricelli wisely decided to drop out of his Senate race and allow state Democrats to pick his replacementon the ballot. Then-retired Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) cruised to an easy 10-point victory.

Ney has not yet been indicted, and DeLay has not yet had his day in court. As we all know, both are innocent unless and until a jury has found them guilty. But the two Republicans ought to announce their retirements now, because they are likely headed for defeat if they run again.

Both Republicans represent GOP-leaning districts, and that allows them to fool themselves into thinking that they can win another term. Ney was re-elected easily two years ago against a Democrat who raised no money and offered no serious opposition. But Ney’s ethics problems are not likely to evaporate over the next few months. He isn’t going to be absolved of guilt, since the House ethics committee would spend months doing its own probe even if federal prosecutors end theirs soon.

Early polling in DeLay’s district shows that voters are unhappy with him and are willing to look for an alternative. Would voters in Texas’ 22nd district (andOhio’s 18th district) prefer to send Republicans to Congress? Sure. But that’s a far cry from saying that they will send any Republican to Washington, D.C. Ney and DeLay have picked up so much baggage that each one’s chances of surviving in November is less than50-50.

The two Republicans are probably concerned that if they resign or announce that they won’t seek re-election, people will see that as an admission ofguilt. But all they have to do is say that they need to devote too much of their time to their own defense, then reiterate their innocence. And they can say that they are leaving Congress for the good of their party.

Ethics has become a major threat to the Republicans’ control of Capitol Hill. Neither a change in the GOP House leadership nor the exits of DeLay and Ney will stop the Democrats from continuing with their “culture of corruption” message. But those changes, along with an ethics package, would make it easier for Republicans to reposition themselves on the issue of reform and to move on from their current status quo orientation.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 19, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why Kaine Should Refuse Democratic Response

By Nathan L. Gonzales

National Democratic leaders are looking to newly-elected Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia to deliver their party's response to President Bush's State of the Union speech at the end of the month. But if Kaine wants to help himself, he should take this tremendous opportunity...and decline the invitation.

Democrats believe that on the heels of his victory in November in a Red state, Kaine is the perfect messenger for their themes of change, while pointing out the downfalls of the Bush Administration and the Republican leadership in Congress. (Read more in Roll Call and the Washington Post)

But, Kaine wasn't elected governor of Virginia by demonizing President Bush. And in his swearing in ceremony just last weekend, he said his administration would "be a non-partisan, Virginia agenda that includes all."

Becoming the point-person for the Democratic Party in a nationally-televised speech doesn't match the definition of non-partisan, even though he may deliver a softer, less partisan speech than other responses in the past. And by becoming a face of the national party, it hurts his ability to stress his own background and values that helped him get elected.

While the opportunity to address the nation is tempting to any politician with a pulse, Kaine may have more to lose than he has to gain.

The response to speeches like the State of the Union is already a dubious task for the out-party. The President will have all the trappings and applause of addressing the entire Congress, while Kaine will likely have a lonely bookshelf and a half-dozen American flags in the background.

Even though people on Capitol Hill and political junkies know who Tim Kaine is, (helped by Virginia's proximity to Washington, D.C.) the average American will have no idea who he is. And while Kaine has obvious appeal to citizens of his own state, his ability to credibly respond to the President on national security issues will be a major question mark.

Kaine may embarrass his party's leadership in the short term by declining the opportunity, but the truth is, he doesn't need them. He just got elected and he can't even run for reelection in 2009 because of the state's laws. And if he has higher aspirations, there is plenty of time to smooth over any ruffled feathers.

Kaine could take this opportunity to show his independence from a national Democratic Party that is more liberal than he is, send a signal to Republicans in Virginia that he is serious about working across the aisle, and potentially increase his star power even more.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

New Print Edition: House Outlook for 2006

The new January 17, 2006 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

House Outlook For 2006

While President George W. Bush’s poll numbers have inched up recently and voters seem more upbeat about the economy, the overall national landscape still benefits Democrats.

Voters remain dissatisfied with the direction of the country (and therefore likely to respond favorably to arguments about change and new leadership), and Republicans are vulnerable on ethics, an issue that is unlikely to disappear over the next few months.

While Republicans insist that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff is a problem for both parties, the reality is somewhat different. Unless and until Democratic members of Congress receive the same media attention for alleged illegalities and unethical behavior, Abramoff remains an albatross about the GOP’s neck...

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Will Veterans Make the Best House Candidates in ’06?

By Stuart Rothenberg

For months, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, liberal Web logs and major media outlets have been trumpeting the large class of Democratic House candidates who are veterans of the military.

More than three dozen non-incumbent veterans are running for Congress this year, all but a small handful of them as Democrats.

While they have received plenty of ink, it is far from clear that any of them will win. While a few high-profile veterans, including Democrat Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, are running in open seats, most — including Democrats Tim Dunn of North Carolina, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania and Steve Filson in California — face GOP incumbents in districts that range from narrowly to reliably Republican.

There is no reason to believe that voters will automatically see veterans as appealing candidates, or that veterans of Iraq will begin with more authority to speak about U.S. foreign policy, national security or even the war itself.

The current frenzy over veterans running for Congress is reminiscent of a similar frenzy involving health care and Congressional candidates with a medical background that built during the second half of the 1990s and hung on during the 2000 and 2002 cycles.

Then, polls showed Americans identifying health care as one of the top issues of the day. Not surprisingly, both parties wooed doctors and nurses to run for office on the assumption that those candidates would have great credibility in talking about health-related issues, including a patients’ bill of rights and prescription drug coverage.

In 1998, 25 physicians ran for Congress — 17 of them challengers or candidates in open seats. Most non-incumbents lost. Physician Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) was an exception, though he had some advantages, including an unsuccessful run two years earlier and an open seat.

Over the past decade, I interviewed plenty of candidates with terrific medical credentials who promised to ride that issue to Washington, D.C., but who never got out of the barn.

Paul Perry, an orthopedic surgeon, was supposed to give Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) a tough race in 2000. He drew just 45 percent, even though his conservative views on cultural issues were supposed to neutralize those themes for Hostettler, leaving health care the key contrast in the race.

Two years later, all I heard from the DCCC early on was to watch Julie Thomas, a pediatrician running against Rep. Jim Leach in Iowa. I watched her, all right, as she drew 45.7 percent of the vote in a Democratic-leaning, recently redrawn district that included many counties Leach had never represented.

Nurses such as Lydia Spottswood (D-Wis.), then president of the Kenosha City Council, and Gerrie Shipske (D-Calif.) told me that their health care backgrounds would carry them to Congress. Both lost.

No two situations are identical, and I’m certainly not asserting that this cycle’s crop of military veterans will be as unsuccessful as were the physicians and nurses who tried to ride the supposed health care wave.

Indeed, the veterans may be better candidates. They may have better interpersonal skills and greater fundraising potential. And the anti-Iraq wave may be stronger than the health care wave. Certainly, Paul Hackett’s narrow loss in Ohio’s 2nd district in last year’s special election suggests potential.

But the Democrats’ premise about veterans — that they can speak about Iraq and foreign policy with great credibility and authority — is unproved. And recent history suggests the premise is flawed.

Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) military record was supposed to inoculate him on national security. It didn’t.

Former Sen. Max Cleland’s (D-Ga.) military record and physical condition was supposed to inoculate him on national security. It didn’t.

Marine Lt. Col. Steve Brozak, who drew 42 percent against Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) in the previous cycle, was supposed to be a strong challenger because of his military service. He wasn’t.

Filling Boston’s Fleet Center podium with high-ranking military officers to attest to Kerry’s record and preparedness for office was intended to make him (and his party) acceptable to voters. It didn’t.

A military record is a credential that voters may consider, but they often prefer to use other vote cues to pick the candidate for whom they will vote. They will surely use partisanship and incumbency. They’ll likely use issues such as taxes and abortion. They’ll see what kind of interest groups are supporting which candidates.

Being in the reserves or even on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan or at the Pentagon almost certainly isn’t enough, by itself, to get any of the veterans elected. They’ll need to talk about domestic policy, raise money, define their opponents and, most importantly, connect personally with voters. And, obviously, if the Iraq issue starts to recede by the fall, these veterans could lose any special appeal that they might now have.

If being a veteran is that important, then New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D) won’t have a chance against Rep. Heather Wilson (R), who graduated from the Air Force Academy, holds a doctorate in international relations and served on the National Security Council. But Madrid is a real threat, despite her lack of military service.

So, it’s wise to be skeptical about the success of most of these veterans. Most of them — maybe all of them — will lose. And those who do win will prevail because of their campaigns, not a line or two on their résumés.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 9, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.