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Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Political Columnist/Blogger
Wednesday, October 12, 2005; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest buzz in politics? Start each day at wonk central: The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

washingtonpost.com Political Columnist/Blogger Chris Cillizza was online Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 11 a.m. ET .

Read Chris Cillizza's politics blog, The Fix

The transcript follows.

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Chris Cillizza: Welcome to Wednesday's edition of the "Post Politics Hour." Let's get started.

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Philadelphia, PA: As a Democrat I'm sick and tired of pundits and reporters saying that Democrats don't have a message or positive agenda. Well, Roll Call is reporting that they will unveil it soon after working on it for several months. Why can't reporters point that out? It seems like the reason they say that the party doesn't have an agenda is because they don't know it and haven't done the research to find out. What do you think?

Chris Cillizza: Well, as you point out in your question, the media is covering the Democratic agenda. Roll Call -- my alma mater -- has covered Democrats' plans to unveil a "Contract With America"-like agenda for the last several cycles.

In 2004 Democrats led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) championed a national platform of issues but it never really took off.

It seems to me they are more committed to nationalizing the election in 2006 and have more to work with -- the ethics problems surrounding Congressional Republicans, the faltering public sentiment toward the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

That could make a compelling national message but whether Democrats can get all of their incumbents and challengers to sing off the same song book remains to be seen.

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Washington, D.C.: Of the '06 Senate election next year, do you think Mo., Ariz., and Mont. are legitimate shots for the Dems? (granted a year away from election day, in politics, is close to eternity and anything can happen between now and that day).

Chris Cillizza: A good one on the Senate state of play.

I think Democrats through solid recruitment efforts in all three states have put these races in play. Let's look at each individually.

In Missouri, state auditor Claire McCaskill (D) is in the race against freshman Sen. Jim Talent (R). McCaskill is by far the Democrats' strongest candidate, having narrowly lost the governor's race in 2004. Talent won his seat in 2002 by beating appointed Sen. Jean Carnahan (D) in a race defined by whether Carnahan was fit for the job. This contest will be much more about Talent and his accomplishments.

Democrats have two candidates in Montana, with the smart money on state auditor John Morrison. State Sen. Jon Tester is a favorite among liberals but Morrison is seen as the stronger general election candidate -- as of right now.

In Arizona, Democrats have a wealthy developer named Jim Pederson as their nominee. It remains unclear how strong a candidate he will be or how truly vulnerable Sen. Jon Kyl (R) is.

If Democrats want to make a real push for taking back the Senate, it is in seats like these three that they have to make inroads.

For more on the state of recruiting, you can check a story Chuck Babington and I wrote in Monday's paper.

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washingtonpost.com: For GOP, Election Anxiety Mounts.

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Oxford, Miss.: Hi Chris,

I really enjoy your column. I'm interested in the really explosive reaction you get from some of your pieces in the COMMENTS section, particularly that piece about Howard Dean. There were so many ill-informed and knee-jerk reactions to what you reported in that piece and I'm wondering what the point is of having that all visible to the general readership.

Chris Cillizza: As some of you know, I write a daily online column for the Washingtonpost.com known as "The Fix". And, as the questioner points out, anyone and everyone is able to post comments regarding any of my posts.

Some of these comments tend to be personal and -- at times -- downright mean. But, my goal with "The Fix" is to make it genuinely interactive. If I write something someone disagrees with, I want them to have the opportunity to tell me in real time why they disagree with me and make a counter argument.

Because I think having an open -- and unedited -- comments section is so important, I choose to deal with the fact that some people will use it to post sheer vitriol directed at me. I am fine with that.

If the comments bother you, I would suggest one of two things. Post a comment of your own refuting what is being said or simply don't read them.

I hope you can check "The Fix" every day and get something out of it whether you choose to read the comments or just take a pass.

I, for one, read each and every one.

Thanks for reading.

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Falls Church, Va.: George Allen, who is normally a status quo politician, must have noticed how strongly conservative the GOP presidential primary voting pool is, because he has expressed skepticism about the minimal qualifications Harriet Miers presents as a Supreme Court nominee. Does Allen now fear the pro-lifers, Second Amendment zealots, and limited government advocates, of whom he and his wife normally steer clear?

Chris Cillizza: I just wrote post on The Fix dealing with that question. You can find it here: Miers Through the 2008 Lens

I think that the skepticism or wait-and-see attitude toward Milers voiced by most of the Republican Senators considering a 2008 presidential bid can be explained by the uncertainty surrounding her confirmation.

None of these men want to be the first to publicly cross President Bush on his own personal pick to serve on the Supreme Court for fear that the president's long memory could hurt them down the road in the 2008 presidential primary process.

At the same time, they also don't want to be seen as full-throatedly endorsing Miers while there remains significant resistance among social conservatives -- a key voting bloc in 2008.

So, they choose to be -- for lack of a better word -- political about it. Until the public sentiment on Milers settles down, it's unlikely we will see any of these Senators come out in opposition to her.

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Longhorn, Pa.: A lot of people credit Karl Rove for GOP political successes. Is there anyone of his or say Lee Atwater's level/ability who might be running the show in 2008?

Chris Cillizza: The search for the next Karl Rove began days after President Bush was re-elected to a 2nd term.

Here are a few Republican operatives you will hear more from in the coming months and years.

Dick Wad hams -- Wadhams bolstered his reputation as the best campaign manager on the GOP side when he shepherded Sen. John Thune (R) to a win over Tom Daschle (D) in 2004. George Allen scored a coup earlier this year by signing on Wadhams as his Senate chief of staff. Expect Wadhams to be central to any Allen for president campaign.

John Weaver -- Weaver is a name some of you might know as he was one of the lead strategists for Arizona Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. Weaver continues to be heavily involved in all things McCain and will be a major player should the Arizona Senator make the leap in 2008.

David Kensinger -- Kensinger is far from a household name but as one of the lead political advisers to Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, he will gain prominence as we get closer to 2008. Brownback has a rabid following among social conservatives and, I believe, will surprise some people in the early caucus and primary states.

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Arlington, Va.: Chris,

Congrats on the new job with The Post! I met you a few years ago at a DNG event when you were still with Roll Call.

How many House seats do the Democrats realistically have a chance at picking up in '06? Despite just about everything going wrong that can go wrong for the GOP, gerrymandering makes it nearly impossible for the Dems to take back the House.

Chris Cillizza: I think it is impossible to tell whether the House is in play yet. Right now, my answer would be that it isn't given the fact that we still haven't seen Democrats grow the playing field enough to regain the majority.

But, as Charlie Cook and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report point out, we won't really know how big the playing field is until filing deadlines pass in the 50 states.

Oftentimes in House races a good candidate decides to get into a race the day of filing, making a race that was seen as non-competitive immediately one to watch.

Democrats need 50 or more seats to be truly competitive in order to have a realistic shot at winning back the House.

While redistricting has certainly made the vast majority of the 435 seats in Congress safe for one party or the other, a slight breeze for Democrats could bring a whole slew of seats that lean Republican into play.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you think the governor's race in Virginia will go down?

Chris Cillizza: We are down to the home stretch in Virginia as you can tell if you look at the new ads by state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore.

Kilgore went up with new ads this week that feature two testimonials from people that had loved ones murdered. The ads question Kaine's opposition to the death penalty.

Kaine is up with a response ad claiming his personal opposition is a matter of his Roman Catholic faith but that he would uphold the laws of the state on the matter.

I have talked to a few Republicans who are jittery about the race, suggesting Kilgore's poll numbers are not moving in the right direction.

I'll have a lengthier post on the Virginia governor's race later today on The Fix.

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Des Moines, Iowa: Can you discuss the fundraising landscape for 2006 and how it compares to 2004? It seems as if last cycle, a lot of media outlets reported the Dems outspending the Republicans (via 527's). Is the same enthusiasm still there for the Democrats or will be back to Republican financial superiority?

Chris Cillizza: Fundraising is always easier during a presidential election year. By nature, people who may pay only passing attention to a midterm election, oftentimes deeply involve themselves in a presidential election.

Donors, too, feel that giving to a presidential candidate or committee is more important than funding a House or Senate candidate.

The closure of America Coming Together, the largest Democratic soft-money group operating last year, is a testament to the difficulty of raising cash without a presidential election to inspire donors.

Money will still find its way into politics but I doubt at the same level it did in 2004. But, when 2008 comes around -- and if Hillary Clinton is the next nominee -- expect more spending than has ever been seen before in an American election.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Just how ugly can we in Pa. expect things to get in the 2006 Senate race? Also, Casey's campaign manager Jay Reiff seems to have hit the ground running after being hired in late April, do you know who will be running Santorum's campaign?

Thanks.

Chris Cillizza: You can expect this race to get extremely ugly. Right now many people are writing off Sen. Rick Santorum (R) because he is trailing state treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) by double digits in most polls.

But, I wouldn't count Santorum out just yet. He has shown an ability to defy conventional wisdom throughout his political career and will certainly have the financial resources to make an argument to Pennsylvania's voters about his effectiveness.

Both Casey and Santorum will raise and spend in the double-digit millions for this race, the vast majority of which will be spent on television ads attacking their opponent.

So, in short, brace yourself.

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Washington, D.C. : Picking up where George Will left off, any thoughts on who will pick up the immigration issue from Tancredo in '08?

Chris Cillizza: I think any candidate seeking the Republican nomination will have to talk about immigration as part of his or her stump speech.

As George Will pointed out, Tancredo is too much of a bomb thrower to make a serious push for the nomination but he has knack for publicity and will continue to draw headlines on the issue.

Smart candidates will soften some of Tancredo's language but not his fundamental message to draw in Republican primary voters fired up about illegal immigration.

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Chris Cillizza: That's all folks. Thanks for all of the great questions. Stay tuned here tomorrow at 11 am for a chat with Post White House reporter Michael Fletcher. In the meantime, get your Fix at The Fix.

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