Thursday, May 04, 2006

Bits about Mitt and more

I am currently traveling in Connecticut, working on a weekend column about Senator Joe Lieberman's political woes (President Bush's favorite Democrat will be challenged in an '06 primary by a well-financed antiwar candidate), so my time this morning is limited. But there are some items in the news that cry out for comment.

1. I mentioned some weeks ago that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a likely Republican president candidate in '08, might have problems with evangelical Christian voters who are suspicious about his Mormon faith. (Many of them view Mormonism as a cult.) Now it appears that Romney is acknowledging this danger to his ambitions.

He seems to be preparing the ground for a speech patterned after the 1960 John F. Kennedy speech about his Catholicism. Romney says: "I think if I decided to go national that there will probably be a time when people will ask questions, and it will be about my faith, and I'll have the opportunity to talk about the role of religion in our society and in the leadership of our nation."

There's no indication why Romney is acknowledging this issue now, but I bet Robert Novak has something to do with it. Novak, the conservative columnist, who is often dismissed by the left as "the prince of darkness," but the guy has good conservative sources, and those sources have been sounding the alarm on Romney. Here's what Novak wrote last week:

"Prominent, respectable Evangelical Christians have told me, not for quotation, that millions of their co-religionists cannot and will not vote for Romney for president solely because he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If Romney is nominated and their abstention results in the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton, that's just too bad. The evangelicals are adamant, saying there is no way Romney can win them over. "

Romney, at the very least, understands that he needs to neutralize their hostility if he expects to survive crucial early primary tests in Iowa and South Carolina. Christian conservatives vote heavily in those two GOP contests.

2. Much attention has been paid lately (by me, as well) to the military generals who have been assailing Donald Rumsfeld and the war. But, lest we forget, they were preceded by others. Take, for instance, retired Lt. Gen. William Odom, who also ran the National Security Agency for Ronald Reagan.

Odom has a piece in the new issue of Foreign Policy magazine, entitled, "Cut and Run? You Bet." Among his arguments: "Only with a rapid withdrawal from Iraq will Washington regain diplomatic and military mobility. Tied down like Gulliver in the sands of Mesopotamia, we simply cannot attract the diplomatic and military cooperation necessary to win the real battle against terror. Getting out of Iraq is the precondition for any improvement."

Perhaps the White House can find a way to shrug off this Reaganite military man by tying him to Cindy Sheehan or the "angry left."

3. Another congressional Democrat, William Jefferson of Louisiana, is undercutting his party's attempts to link the GOP to "a culture of corruption." A business executive has pleaded guilty to charges of bribing Jefferson, starting in 2001. The New York Times contends today that the current federal probe of Jefferson "has given Republican leaders an opportunity to try to divert public attention from recent federal corruption investigations involving House and Senate Republicans and their ties to corporate lobbyists."

Can't argue with that.

On the other hand, maybe this corruption stuff is just inside baseball to most voters; in the '06 congressional election, they may be more focused on issues like Iraq and gas prices. And, concerning the latter, nonpartisan analyst Charlie Cook made an interesting point the other day. He said that high gas prices might hurt the GOP big time, because it's a matter of demographics:

"Studies show that voters in Bush-friendly red states drive significantly more miles each month than those in blue states, and it's a pretty logical assumption that gasoline usage is much greater in the predominately suburban, rural and small town congressional districts most often represented by Republicans, than in more compact, urban districts usually held by Democrats. That means the longer gasoline prices remain high, the worse it will be for GOP candidates."

4. Just a teaser for my weekend piece on Joe Lieberman: The antiwar liberals up here are mighty ticked off at the guy for his unapologetic embrace of President Bush's Iraq mission. And he's being pecked to bits by the liberal Connecticut bloggers.

I'm skeptical that they actually will drum him out of the party in the August primary -- my home state, after all, is known as The Land of Steady Habits -- and replace him on the November ticket with cable TV entrepeneur Ned Lamont (who is affluent, articulate, and outspokenly antiwar), but it's entirely possible that they will embarrass him. This is one situation that bears watching.

Did I say Connecticut is my home state? It is. I was a guest on a Hartford talk show yesterday, talking about Lieberman, and I took calls from drive-time listeners. One caller screeched: "So you come to town and you don't even call me??" It turned out to be my cousin.
As Thomas Wolfe said, You can't go home again.