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Advance, Retreat or Punt

Democrats are smiling in Wisconsin and Florida, where Sens. Herb Kohl, above left, and Bill Nelson are riding out challenges by the GOP's Robert Gerald Lorge, below left, and Katherine Harris.
Democrats are smiling in Wisconsin and Florida, where Sens. Herb Kohl, above left, and Bill Nelson are riding out challenges by the GOP's Robert Gerald Lorge, below left, and Katherine Harris. (Andy Manis - AP)

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

United Nations Ambassador John R. Bolton 's Senate confirmation seemed to be a lock after he obtained a ringing endorsement from a former skeptic, Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio).

But then the Foreign Relations Committee held off a vote until September, and Hill chatter has it that maybe confirmation of Bolton's temporary appointment isn't a done deal after all. The delay, requested by the Democrats, was automatically granted under committee rules. This puts the confirmation vote into the Senate silly season -- fall of an election year.

The buzz is that three Republicans might be wavering: Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) and John E. Sununu (N.H.). Hagel, who voted to stop a filibuster against Bolton last year, pointedly said last week that he was keeping his options open. (Probably doesn't help that Bolton allegedly once tried to have Hagel's top foreign affairs aide removed from his old State Department job.)

In addition, Chafee, if he wins renomination in the Sept. 12 primary, may be thinking he might have to move left to win in the general election and vote against confirmation. There's chatter that Sununu was miffed about some statements Bolton made regarding Israel's move into Lebanon.

But Bolton backers on Foreign Relations said the confirmation is on track and the delay won't affect it. The White House thinks all the Republicans are good to go. Then there's Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer 's declaration Sunday that another filibuster against Bolton likely wouldn't fly. (A report that New York's other senator might vote for Bolton is seen as dubious.)

Still, things can get weird up there in the fall.

Senate Contests More D Than R

Political pundits will be focusing on the "key" congressional races in the next few months, those important "bellwether" races that will determine who controls Congress.

But there are other fine races to follow, good news races that the press may likely all but ignore.

For example, there's an excellent Senate race in Wisconsin, where incumbent Herb Kohl (D) is battling Republican Robert Gerald Lorge , a farmer and lawyer, who has been sued by a woman who claimed that he molested her when she was 3 years old. Lorge called the allegations "impossible and frivolous." They're certainly not helpful.

This had promised to be an interesting race if popular former GOP governor Tommy G. Thompson , as many hoped, had jumped in. Other good prospects also backed out. One poll last month showed Kohl, not exactly a firebrand orator, getting 42 percent of the vote against Lorge -- and that's among Republicans.

Another Senate race, Florida Rep. Katherine Harris (R) against incumbent Bill Nelson (D), should have been winnable for Republicans. Now it looks as if it will be of huge interest if only to see how many more campaign managers she'll go through.

Two other races find Republicans acting like Democrats.


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