Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday's passing fancies

Today I'm keeping most of my powder dry for a Sunday print column, but, in the meantime, here are some drive-by hits (the list could grow as the day lengthens):

This morning the congressional Democrats unveiled their election agenda, backed by their '06 slogan, "New Direction for America." The planks call for more stem-cell research, lower prescription drug prices, a minimum wage hike, elimination of taxpayer subsidies for the oil and gas industries, tighter security at our ports, and a lot more money for homeland security.

Take a guess what's missing. Iraq.

It's 2002 all over again; that was the year Democrats decided to tiptoe around Iraq (while President Bush was beating the war drums) and instead try to change the subject by stressing their pet domestic issues. The November election results demonstrated the futility of that idea.

Now, in 2006, Iraq is the issue that tops voter concerns. One might reasonably ask whether the Democrats can take back the House or Senate in November by changing the subject. Meanwhile, I'll have more on the Democrats and Iraq in the Sunday print column, which will be linked here.


But the Republicans are hardly a cinch to win big by emphasizing Iraq this fall, given the majority disgust with the prosecution of the war. And some congressional Republicans clearly have concerns about that.

As I wrote here yesterday, the GOP has been pushing a pro-war House resolution that is designed to make the Democrats uncomfortable, yet the effort also put some imperiled Republican incumbents on the spot. These incumbents hail from northeastern districts where Bush and the war are very unpopular; as a result, they have felt the need to verbally distance themselves from their party's stay-the-course declaration.

Jim Gerlach, a vulnerable Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs said today, "The American people are looking to us to answer their questions on how much progress is being made, what are the Iraqis themselves willing to do to fight for their freedom, and when will our men and women come home" -- and none of those questions are addressed in the resolution.

And Rob Simmons, one of three Connecticut Republicans being threatened with defeat in a state where Bush's approval rating is below 30 percent, said on the floor: "This resolution fails to fully address a key question that most Americans are asking, 'When are our troops coming home?'"

But, in the end this morning, they fell into line and voted Yes on the Bush stance. Only three of 217 voting Republicans dissented. As practitioners of party unity, the Bush-era GOP remains unparalleled.


Looking ahead to '08, you can bet the house that all presidential candidates will paint themselves as champions of the little guy, of the average voter who works hard to make ends meet. Just don't expect any of these candidates to be people who personally experience the problem of making ends meet.

Eight of the '08 hopefuls are currently U.S. Senators. That chamber requires that its members disclose a general range of their net worth (excluding the value of their primary residences, and certain other assets). Turns out, all eight are multimillionaires.

With a thank-you nod to the CNN Political Unit, here they are:

Evan Bayh (D-Indiana): $1,954,000 to $6,360,000
Hillary Clinton (D-New York): $10,045,000 to $50,235,000
John Kerry (D-Massachusetts): $158,691,000 to at least $241,590,000
George Allen (R-Virginia) $1,828,000 to at least $3,845,000
Sam Brownback (R-Kansas): $2,313,000 to $9,095,000
Bill Frist (R-Tennessee): $12,660,000 to at least $46,715,000
Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska): $2,183,000 to $7,495,000
John McCain (R-Arizona): $13,875,000 to at least $23,085,000
Plus, John Edwards (former D-NC), whose last statement was: $12.8 million to $60 million

In other words, that's nine people who are rich enough to bankroll some or all of their own campaigns, bypassing the public financing rules that provide taxpayer money in exchange for mandatory spending ceilings. On the other hand, maybe deep pockets are overrated. The richest man on that list discovered in '04 that irresolution on Iraq trumped money on election day.


Sen. Joe Lieberman's political woes continue in Connecticut. It now seems quite possible that the three-term Democratic hawk and Bush ally on Iraq could be toppled in his August primary by antiwar challenger Ned Lamont. The polls keep narrowing, which means that Lieberman may soon have to decide whether he, as the losing candidate, would be a loyal Democrat and back Lamont in November -- or whether he would try to save his own skin at the expense of his party by filing and running as an independent. (Big pending question: would the Democrats' Senate campaign arm in DC ignore Lamont and side with Lieberman out of past loyalty?)

Clearly he's in big trouble with Democratic voters because of his pro-Bush stance on the war, and because of his other high-profile assistance to the GOP, but Lieberman seems to have a different take on all that. Just check out his new campaign ad, which was posted today. He is blaming his woes on....Lowell Weicker.

The guy that Lieberman defeated back in 1988.

What's he got to do with this?
Nothing, except for the fact that Weicker, long in retirement, now backs Lamont.

So what?
Exactly. It's rarely a good sign when an incumbent starts targeting a bystander, instead of his opponent. Imagine that you're a 30-year-old Connecticut Democratic preparing to choose between Lieberman and Lamont. That means you were 12 years old when Weicker was last in the Senate. And you were barely 19 when he left the governor's job. Yet the Lieberman campaign is trotting out Weicker as Connecticut's version of Tony Soprano, thirsting for payback against Joe (Narrator: "He's never gotten over losing his Senate race to Joe Lieberman. But instead of coming out of hibernation, he's sent his bear cub, instead. Ned Lamont").

At the end of the ad, Lieberman utters the required words, "I approved this message." He says that like it's a good thing.