Six months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush's approval ratings remain up in the clouds, at 82 percent in the latest ABCNEWS Washington Post poll, and at 80 percent in the new Gallup survey.
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In the time since September 11, Democrats have gone from lockstep support for the president on the war to cautious questioning of his handling of it (prompting immediate Republican pummeling and frenzied cable news coverage), with a slight drop-off in public support for the war being a possible weak spot for the otherwise high-flying Commander in Chief.
With the president's popularity tied so closely to support for the war, Polling Director Gary Langer notes that "there has been an 18-point drop since the fall of the Taliban in views that the fighting in Afghanistan is going 'very' well for the United States — perhaps reflecting recent casualties. And 'strong' support for Bush and the war, while still healthy, are down from their early-October highs."
"There's also increasing public concern about views in the Muslim world, marked by a 21-point increase in the number of Americans who say the United States is not doing all it can to win support there. And support for attacking Iraq falls sharply if U.S. allies don't line up behind the idea."
The weekend revelation about the administration's posture toward the use of nuclear weapons is sure to continue to kick up international dust this week, along with the Cheney and Zinni missions, with possible domestic blowback.
On more traditional domestic issues, in the last six months, Democrats have gone from zero back to 60 in terms of partisanship over the economy, taxes, Social Security, Enron, and energy (prompting less frenzied news coverage and little perceptible erosion of Bush's standing in the polls). And Bush has returned to the political circuit, making a day-trip habit of pairing fundraisers with substantive events.
Six months after the attacks, and just shy of seven months out from election day 2002 — and with the papers and morning shows running over with observances, and little big-time political news out there — today is as good a day as any to mull over the possibility that Bush's numbers might just stay at or near these high levels through early November, buoying the hopes of GOP candidates on the ballot.
That would amount to the second half of the bottom falling out for Democrats, who have plotted and proceeded all these months hoping and assuming that by election time, the economy still would be staggering and Bush's popularity would sink back down to its pre-September 11 levels, giving them an opening to take advantage of the normal pattern in which the president's party loses seats in midterm elections.
The oats-feeling President was kidding (right?) when he said this at Saturday's Gridiron dinner, per the Washington Post : "'I sat here tonight and listened to Senator Daschle make joke after joke at my expense. I can't believe I once hugged that man,' he said."
"'Karl Rove tells me that you're thinking about running. What are you going to run on, Tom? Patients' Bill of Rights? I'm for it. Enron? I'm against it. Campaign reform? I'll sign it. Child care? Tom, I'm gonna expand child care to those who don't even have children.'"
A must-read New York Times story for those of you working on or covering the 2002 campaign, all about Democratic struggles to come up with SOMETHING on which to run the elections to their advantage. With the recession apparently ending (or, it turns out, a mini-mirage), Democrats are toying with prescription drugs, retirement security, and some sort of Enron/"the people versus the powerful" thematic. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/11/politics/11ECON.html )
For previews of Bush's speech this morning at the White House, see USA Today and yesterday's New York Times curtain-raiser. ( http://www.usatoday.com/hlead.htm )and
( http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/10/international/10PREX.html )
Both FPOTUS and FFLOTUS step out today: Senator Clinton will speak at Harvard's Kennedy School this afternoon, and tonight in New York, former President Clinton will headline a $1 million fundraiser for the Democratic House campaign committee (DCCC). The fundraiser will take place at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers at 7:30 p.m., and is billed as an "evening of jazz" with the Lionel Hampton orchestra.
House Minority Leader Gephardt, DCCC chair Nita Lowey, Rep. Charlie Rangel, and House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi will co-star. The event is one of a trio — along with one last week on Boston and another scheduled for tomorrow night in Washington — expected to bring in about $3 million.
House Republicans raised $7.5 million last week at a dinner featuring Rudy Giuliani. Like that event, this one tonight with Clinton will be closed. Traditionally, both House campaign committees have closed their big fundraisers. But even so, it's yet another reminder that the national political press corps has too little leverage and expends too little effort to complain hard enough to get these fundraisers open in the public interest.
On Tuesday, President Bush will meet with the Russian Defense Minister and the president of Uzbekistan. He also will make a quick trip to Philadelphia to give a speech about volunteer service.
Tuesday also brings the Texas primary, with the marquis contests being the Democratic contests for governor and Senate. The party is certain to nominate a Hispanic candidate for governor, given their all-Hispanic field. A hallmark of the gubernatorial primary has been candidate Tony Sanchez's massive spending. By primary day, Sanchez is expected to just about match or possibly even exceed the $21 million spent by then-Gov. George W. Bush (R) on his ENTIRE re-election campaign in 1998.
The Washington Post 's Balz writes from Texas: "Sanchez's advisers say that, in addition to what he will have spent by Tuesday, he may spend another $30 million or so, most of it his own, in the general election." ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1570-2002Mar9.html )
Like California, Texas is another big state with lots of media markets and little time, due to its early primary, for candidates to make much impact on the ground. Still, simply between these two gubernatorial primaries, we've seen what our early-morning, back-of-the-mouse pad calculations suggest to be about $40 million spent already this year.
Democrats' Senate primary in Texas is likely to go to an April 9 run-off because none of the three major candidates is expected to break 50 percent of the vote. Rep. Ken Bentsen, nephew of Lloyd, and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk appear to be pulling ahead, though 1996 Senate candidate Victor Morales isn't that far behind.
Between the two races, Democrats could wind up with an all-Hispanic top of the ticket, or a ticket featuring an Hispanic and an African-American (Kirk).
Also on Tuesday, Al Gore will headline a fundraiser for Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts at a steakhouse in DC, and the Democratic House campaign committee will hold the aforementioned third in their trio of fundraisers, also in DC.
On Wednesday, President Bush will take part in the shamrock ceremony at the White House, meet with leaders of Northern Ireland, and host a reception for them.
Also on Wednesday, former President Clinton will give a speech at Tufts University in Boston, and the US Chamber of Commerce will release its 2002 voting scorecard.
On Thursday, President Bush will meet with the Canadian Prime Minister, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Judge Charles Pickering. As before, it's looking like the nomination will be defeated in committee, with Senate Majority Leader Daschle still refusing to allow a floor vote.
Hobbyist/GOP strategerist Bob Novak says the Pickering fight is about abortion and not race, and claims Senate Republicans are considering tactical and strategic "nuclear" options to shut the Senate down in retaliation if the jurist does not get a floor vote. ( http://www.townhall.com/columnists/robertnovak/rn20020311.shtml )
Any Friday presidential events remain TBD.
On Saturday, former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour will star at a fundraiser for GOP Senate candidate John Cooksey in New Orleans, while in Nashville, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean will keynote a Human Rights Campaign dinner.
From the ABCNEWS London Bureau: US warplanes pounded the mountains of eastern Afghanistan on Monday, targeting any remnants of al Qaeda holdouts hiding in the region's warren of caves, while the US Army said ground fighting was slowing down. Hundreds of US soldiers have descended from the mountains after a grueling eight-day battle against al Qaeda near Gardez. They are being replaced by hundreds of Afghan troop reinforcements, who have arrived at the front line near Shahi Kot to prepare for a final assault … Vice President Cheney is meeting with British Prime Minister Blair at Downing Street this morning amid continuing speculation over possible forthcoming military action against Iraq. A spokeswoman for Cheney said the leaders would be discussing "the progress of the coalition" … Cheney will then depart for a 10-day tour of the Middle East.
ABCNEWS' Moran reports that Cheney's trip so far has been uneventful, except for the maelstrom of British media coverage questioning the next steps in the war on terrorism, and the US/British relationship regarding action against Iraq.
ABC 2004: The Invisible Primary
The invisible primary (Bush vs. Daschle) dominated the Gridiron Dinner. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5408-2002Mar10.html )
Neal Travis returns from his mysterious absence to write thusly about an event that would otherwise go unchronicled: "Once and future presidential candidate Al Gore was in town the other night to demonstrate that he's still the Democratic front-runner for 2004. Gore, with daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, was feted by some of New York's heaviest financial hitters. Jonathan Tisch threw him a private dinner after a cocktail party at Fred's (the restaurant in Barneys). The Gore organization seems to be in place: his N.Y. campaign manager Robert Zimmerman, a prominent member of the DNC and keeper of the Gore flame, was present." ( http://www.nypost.com/gossip/travis.htm
Roll Call writes up Gephardt's long-established, "far-flung" political operation — "perhaps the most sophisticated standing political operation of any Democrat" — as giving him a big head start over everyone else. While most of the attributed quotes in the story come from two obviously supportive House members, some come from the political chief at the AFL-CIO. ( http://www.rollcall.com/pages/news/00/2002/03/news0311c.html )
In case you missed Senator John Edwards on Fox yesterday denying that his lead role in opposing Pickering's nomination has anything to do with raising his stature within the party for 2004, the Washington Times reviews it for you in just that way. ( http://www.washtimes.com/national/20020311-377050.htm )
Some aide or operative working for another Democratic wannabe slipped Roll Call a copy of Senator John Kerry's schedule which, while full of amusing and arguably embarrassing details like "MAJOR" meetings with journalists and, um, Richard Gere, probably looks a bit like most other wannabes' schedules these days. ( http://www.rollcall.com/pages/columns/hoh/ )
While Democrats seem to be seizing on Kerry's new line about raising questions about the war, House Minority Leader Tom DeLay told CNN's Jonathan Karl on Saturday, "The last I remember, Senator John Kerry was against the war in Vietnam, even though he served in it, and went around the country undermining the military overseas in trying to fight this war and giving aid to those that were trying to run the war from Washington, D.C." ( http://www.washtimes.com/national/inpolitics.htm )
Projecting out to what will clearly become a campaign issue, courtesy of Rush & Malloy: "It'll be a beautiful day in Batman's neighborhood tomorrow when Michael Keaton meets up with TV's lovable Fred Rogers. Both served as judges for this year's Heinz Awards, given in memory of the late Senator John Heinz (R-Pa.) by his wife, Teresa (now married to Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat). Keaton and Rogers (who is the godfather of the Heinzes' son Chris) will be in Washington to announce leaders in the arts and sciences who will split $1.25 million in prize money." ( http://www.nydailynews.com/today/News_and_Views/Daily_Dish/a-144026.asp )
While the race to replace Gephardt as either Minority Leader or possibly as Speaker is a lot louder, given that Gephardt seems to be a lot further down the road toward a presidential run, Roll Call captures some buzz about who might replace Daschle as the party's leader in the Senate should Daschle seek a higher office in 2004, or retire. Note that Senator Dodd, also considered a presidential wannabe, rules out seeking the top Senate spot. ( http://www.rollcall.com/pages/news/00/2002/03/news0311b.html )
Fred Dicker's New York Post column says that Al Sharpton is getting a Louima meeting with Governor Pataki this Friday. ( http://www.nypost.com/commentary/43169.htm
At our hell-freezes-over dinner party, we'll seat Romeo next to a Hatfield, a McCoy next to Juliet, and, apparently, someone from WMUR next to someone from the Union Leader. In the spirit of glasnost that is sweeping over the New Hampshire media (with major implications for 2004, we betcha), the Union Leader reported without fanfare on Saturday that the state's two media giants are going to team up for candidate debates in the major 2002 statewide races. ( http://www.theunionleader.com/articles_show.html?article=9435 )
Southern New Hampshire University today will sponsor a 50th anniversary party for the state's first-in-the-nation primary.
Given the looming April 4 filing deadline, the race to replace retiring Senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., will gel at a pretty fast pace. Both parties are holding their breath to see whether they have contested primaries or not; for some candidates, there's an advantage to be gained by getting in early, while for others, there's a reason to wait and see.
A prime example of the former is two-time presidential candidate and former Gov. Lamar Alexander, who will announce his bid today in Nashville at 3:00 p.m. ET.
The White House and the Republican Senate campaign committee are hoping their pick will have the field to himself. Still, he may get primaried by Rep. Ed Bryant, Rep. Zach Wamp, and/or other viable candidates.
A prime example of the latter may be Democratic Rep. Harold Ford, a rising star in the party and an African-American who would stand a better chance of beating Lamar if Lamar gets distracted by a nominating contest, but who also may see his odds shrink if he faces one himself. Reps. Bob Clement and John Tanner, and former NTSB director Jim Hall also are mentioned as possible Democratic contenders.
David Rogers in the The Wall Street Journal takes a shockingly detailed look at Alexander's prospects, including the representation that "Mr. Bryant said the White House had promised 'a fair race' and won't take sides."
Time Magazine says Republicans just got back a big national poll showing that Rudy Giuliani is even more popular and coattaily than some had thought, holding great appeal for independent voters (perhaps giving the White House a more palatable independent-voter magnet than Senator McCain), and he'll be in a lot of TV ads this fall.
Even if you usually can't focus on the trees of the individual races that will make up this fall's mega-battle for control of the House, you'll want to at least try to read the New York Times survey of Democratic attempts to make inroads in the interior West, where urban population growth may give them an opening in some House districts that used to be relatively unfriendly territory. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/11/politics/11WEST.html )
Senate Republicans' self-imposed term limits on leadership and committee posts are about to hit, possibly resulting in a challenge to Majority Leader Lott. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5827-2002Mar10.html )
The House may be on track toward expelling Rep. Jim Traficant, "a step so severe it has been taken only once since the Civil War." ( http://www.rollcall.com/pages/news/00/2002/03/news0311d.html )
A 17-year-old Democrat is running for the Ohio House. ( http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/070/nation/Ohio_candidate_17_says_age_an_asset+.shtml )
The Los Angeles Times ' Brownstein looks ahead to November and points out that if GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon loses, "it's entirely possible the general election will validate [Karl] Rove's initial view that the California GOP needed a more centrist candidate to beat embattled Democrat Gray Davis." That said, Brownstein doesn't exonerate the White House for their non-dealings with Richard Riordan since they got him into the primary: "The White House silence was the equivalent of an officer who sends his soldiers into enemy fire and then stays safely in the trench. That timidity not only hurt Riordan but is likely to damage Bush's broader hopes of creating a more inclusive Republican Party. The next time the White House comes calling, moderate GOP candidates might be forgiven for wondering if Rove and the president are going to stick with them when the charges start flying." ( http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-000018018mar11.column?coll=la%2Dnews%2Da%5Fsection ) )
One of the first policy debates of the gubernatorial race is shaping up. Simon proposes a package of infrastructure improvements that would cost about $175 billion over 10 years. Davis's team wonders how Simon will pay for it all. ( http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/1819255p-1897371c.html )
As if Maureen Dowd's Sunday column needed any documentation, a Miami Herald write-up of the first two weeks of the Reno launch lauds her "kitsch" and "quirky appeal." Included are somewhat priceless details about Reno's brother, Mark, who lives in a hut, and her college roommate, Bettina, an alternative medicine guru from Maine. ( http://www.miami.com/mld/miami/news/politics/2827936.htm )
Reno rambled yesterday through Boca Raton and Lake Worth, LL summed up by the West Palm Beach Post's unfortunate headline: "Reno Addresses Health Issues." (Not her own, you see.) ( http://www.gopbi.com/partners/pbpost/epaper/editions/today/news_c3c895a9e593c17d00f6.html )
In addition to Sanchez's massive spending, and the fact that Democrats are guaranteed to nominate an Hispanic for governor, that primary has been marked by accusations that the other man isn't Hispanic enough — or isn't Democratic enough. Early voting shows heavy turnout among Latino voters, though neither side is quite sure how to decipher that, with some sources suggesting it's due more to hot local races than the marquis contests.
Sanchez, a businessman who has vigorously lent his Hispanic heritage — and more than $13 million of his own money — toward the goal of vote-getting, holds a commanding lead. ( http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/topstory2/1290282 )
Former state Attorney General Dan Morales spent time this weekend campaigning along the borderlands. ( http://www.borderlandnews.com/stories/borderland/20020311-181405.shtml )
In the other key race, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, Rep. Ken Bentsen (nephew of Lloyd), and 1996 Senate candidate Victor Morales are battling for the Democratic spot on the ballot to replace retiring Senator Phil Gramm. The winner will face state Attorney General John Cornyn (R) in the general election. The race is close and all three spent the weekend stumping in areas with large pockets of voters. ( http://www.austin360.com/statesman/editions/monday/news_6.html )
The Washington Post 's Balz writes, "Matthew Dowd, director of polling for the Republican National Committee, has worked in Republican and Democratic politics in Texas for many years and predicts that demographic trends eventually will make the Lone Star State a competitive swing state again. 'That is probably four to six years off,' Dowd said. 'The question this year is whether the Sanchez campaign advances that, compressing six years into six months.'" ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1570-2002Mar9.html )
Campaign Finance Legislation/Election Reform
A New York Times editorial actually claims there's "an increasingly impatient public" clamoring for Senate passage of McCain-Feingold; we wonder how they are measuring that, beyond the chatter at Westchester functions. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/11/opinion/11MON2.html )
Congressional Budget Office Director Dan Crippen and his numbers are ticking off House GOP conservatives, Roll Call reports. Crippen "has come under fire from House conservatives who claim his reports this year have benefited the anti-tax-cut Democratic agenda. In a closed-door House GOP leadership meeting a week and a half ago, Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Texas) assailed Crippen for his revenue estimates and a recent report cited by Democrats as evidence that President Bush's tax cut is contributing to a return to deficit spending while failing to provide economic growth." ( http://www.rollcall.com/pages/news/00/2002/03/news0311f.html )
Bush Administration Strategy/Personality
Attention must be paid and accounts settled, Democrats said, after the White House's favorite candidate, Dick Riordan, lost last week's California gubernatorial primary. How, they asked, could Karl Rove get off so easily?
Time magazine spends a page spanking Mr. Rove for his miscalculation, and gets some rare (for these days) on-the-record quotes from him, offering a rather bald defense of getting involved in primaries generally which, the piece points out, is something previous GOP presidents (including 41) pretty much avoided.
Rove's defense: control of the House and Senate is so tight that the White House can't afford to sit it out in places where they think they can make a difference.
The story says the president will play favorites on March 27 with a big fundraiser for Georgia Senate candidate and Rep. Saxby Chambliss, yielding up a letter of protest from supporters of state Rep. Bob Irvin, who would like a level playing field in the primary.
Roll Call reports, "With the nomination of U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering facing pending defeat, Senate Republicans are demanding that President Bush make a stronger, higher-profile pitch for controversial nominees in the future. GOP Senators and administration officials acknowledged last week that they weren't prepared for attacks on Pickering." ( http://www.rollcall.com/pages/news/00/2002/03/news0311h.html )
"The White House believes the problem with the Pickering nomination … was not a lack of effort on anyone's part but a lack of coordinated effort, according to an administration official. Republicans are now talking about creating a "war room" to handle controversial judicial nominations, linking White House officials, the Justice Department and Senate Republicans in a combined effort to push nominees. Some in the administration are eyeing the space in the Dirksen Senate Office Building that is set aside for Vice President Cheney but is rarely used."
USA Today 's Biskupic notes how Pickering's "foundering" nomination "highlights how the Bush administration came into office with a shrewd strategy for selecting nominees but failed to develop a plan to win confirmations." ( http://www.usatoday.com/news/washdc/2002/03/11/usat-pickering.htm )
Elements of Congress still remain unhappy over the amount of information they are getting from the White House on the war. Today's New York Times scorecard: Senator Graham (D-FL), happy; Senator Biden (D-DE), mostly happy; Steve Elmendorf (D-Gephardt), not happy. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/11/national/11LETT.html )
Per the New York Post : "On tomorrow's "Early Show" … Ex-President George H. Bush gives a tour of the new 'Fathers and Sons' exhibit at the George H. Bush Presidential Library & Museum."
Fresh off of her smoking Gridiron appearance, EPA Big C. T. Whitman gets loving profile treatment in the New York Times , which looks at how her pro-green stances play in the administration in which she serves at the pleasure of the president. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/11/politics/11ENVI.html )
And, Roll Call runs a retrospective of Rummy's career in the House. ( http://www.rollcall.com/pages/news/00/2002/03/news0311e.html )
That Time Magazine story on Karl Rove also mentions the brazen politics of the steel decision, as we continue to stumble across Bush loyalists who share the view of George Will and the The Wall Street Journal that Mr. Bush's protectionist move was the worst day of his presidency, and even in the midst of respect for his war leadership seems to be having a paradigm-shifting effect on the view of the president in some normally supportive quarters.
David Broder's Sunday column suggested he didn't much like the steel decision either: "If you need a favor from this administration, you'd better be from a big state that figures importantly in the president's calculus for reelection. That, at least, is the lesson that many politicians and political observers are taking from a pair of controversial decisions President Bush has announced in the past few weeks." ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A63830-2002Mar8.html )
Politicians love to visit the emblematic steel town of Weirton, WV. Now the Los Angeles Times offers a story from there on how Bush's steel decision will help the town, affect the industry, and possibly, further drive in the wedge between steelworkers and the Democratic party. ( http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/front/la- 000018001mar11.story )?coll=la%2Dheadlines )%2Dfrontpage )
Once again, a reminder that timing is everything in political scandals … Tthe The Wall Street Journal reports, "The former chief executive of Enron Corp. met with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill last spring to discuss the West Coast energy crisis as Mr. O'Neill was participating in Vice President Dick Cheney's national energy task force," and we bet this makes only the smallest of ripples today.
"The half-hour meeting took place April 5, according to documents released last week by the Treasury Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request," suggesting the possibility that as FOIA requests get filled, we might see a time-lapse second-wave release of such things in the coming weeks.
Army Secretary White has put his Washington condo on the market for $5.95 million. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5825-2002Mar10.html )