'98 Misstep May Have Cleared Pollster's Dance Card

By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, February 12, 2006

At House Republicans' annual retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore late last week, Republican pollster Frank Luntz was on the original schedule to make a presentation -- but he did not.

Why was he bumped? It depends on whom you ask.

Luntz said that he was not disinvited from the retreat, only that his presentation was rescheduled. "It was just a shift in time," Luntz said.

Sean Spicer, a spokesman for House Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce (Ohio), confirmed that Luntz did not appear at the retreat but will address House Republicans on Wednesday. Spicer added that after the recent House GOP leadership elections a decision was made to give lawmakers more time to make presentations, which necessarily led to the rescheduling of Luntz, as well as several other consultants.

Well, that ends that. Or does it?

According to several Republican party strategists, newly elected Majority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) made it clear to members that if Luntz was going to the retreat, he wouldn't be in attendance. Boehner's office declined to comment on the story.

Luntz was instrumental in the creation of the "Contract With America" -- the document widely credited with delivering Republicans the House majority in 1994. Boehner's relationship (or lack thereof) with the pollster goes back -- at least -- to late 1998, when Boehner was seeking to hold onto his job as House GOP Conference chairman.

After the 1998 midterms, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) resigned -- in part because Republicans failed to gain seats in a year when President Bill Clinton was battling impeachment. Days before the GOP caucus met to hold leadership elections, Boehner appeared on several Sunday talk shows making clear that he and Gingrich had often parted ways on strategy.

Luntz said at the time that Boehner made a "big mistake" by criticizing Gingrich, and he heaped praise on Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.), who was challenging Boehner for the conference chairmanship. Watts beat Boehner -- throwing the Ohioan unceremoniously out of leadership.

Eight years later, Boehner is back, and even Luntz acknowledged in an e-mail to his staff that the Ohio member "is not a fan of myself or my work," according to an account in Roll Call. "That's just the way it is."

Deconstructing the Village

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has acquired a reputation as a conservative crusader during his 11 years in the Senate. He did nothing to tarnish that image during a speech last week to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

"I happen to believe the building block of society is family," Santorum said. "The iron triangle of faith, family and community organizations has made America great."

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