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Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Political Columnist/Blogger
Wednesday, October 26, 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. 26, at 11 a.m. ET .

The transcript follows.

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Chris Cillizza: Hello all. The leak investigation is dominating chatter here in Washington but a number of other political stories are also bubbling up including Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's announcement yesterday that he would seek Maryland's open Senate seat. Let's get it started.

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Blacksburg, Va.: Will the multiple scandals with the Republican Party in Washington, D.C. have an impact on the voting in the Va. Governor's race - particularly in Northern Virginia?

Chris Cillizza: This is a very good question to start the chat. As the Post reported today, Virginia Republican nominee Jerry Kilgore has chosen not to attend a speech by President Bush this Friday in Norfolk. Although the Kilgore people are trying to paint this as standard operating procedure, it seems to show their tentativeness to appear with the President given his current approval ratings.

Democratic nominee Tim Kaine, on the other hand, brought in former President Bill Clinton for fundraisers last week -- a move that would have been considered a major no-no for a Democratic candidate in a Republican-leaning state just a few years ago.

It seems clear that Kilgore is being hampered by the current political climate, which is far from favorable to the president or his party. The question is how much of a drag is the environment having on Kilgore? If he wins, the point is moot. But, if he loses, watch for the blame game to begin.

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washingtonpost.com: Skipping Bush's Va. Speech Isn't a Snub, Kilgore Says.

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McLean, Va.: The names Rove and Libby were in the air in connection to the Valerie Plame outing almost two years ago...and the President vowed to "get to the bottom" of the issue. Yet, Rove managed the re-election campaign of Bush and The Washington Post did not pursue the Plame story during the election. Does The Post feel that it failed to inform voters of an issue that could have significantly affected the outcome of that election?

Chris Cillizza: I have to disagree with the idea that the Post "failed to inform voters" about the leak investigation before the 2004 election. A quick search through our archives shows that no fewer than a half dozen stories were written between Sept. 1, 2004 and Election Day that focused on the leak of Valerie Plame's name to the news media. In fact, just two weeks before the election, Sue Schmidt wrote a story detailing how Karl Rove had testified before the grand jury about the leak.

I would put our coverage of the leak investigation up against any other newspaper in the country in terms of its depth, accuracy and fairness.

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Rockville, Md.: The Post says the grand jury is meeting today. What are the chances of indictments coming down today in the Plame case? Like many Democrats, I'm on pins as well as needles.

Chris Cillizza: Well, the grand jury's term is set to expire on Friday, which has led to speculation that any indictments that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald plans to hand out will come between now and then.

And, it's not just Democrats on pins and needles. Republicans are too. Everyone in Washington is waiting to see whether indictments come down and if they do whether Karl rove or Scooter Libby are on the receiving end. We should know sooner rather than later.

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Washington, D.C.: Chris,

I really enjoy your daily blog and your analysis of the '06 races. Many of the tight ones seem to give the Dems a glimmer of hope. What do you think the overall chance of Dems at least taking back the Senate?

Chris Cillizza: Let me use this question to unapologetically plug "The Fix", the Washingtonpost.com's daily column on politics. You can find it at http://blogs.washingtonpost.com/thefix/

Now, onto the question about the state of play in the Senate. Republicans currently hold 55 seats in the Senate; Democrats' 44. Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) caucuses with Democrats.

Given those numbers, Democrats taking back control still seems to be a long shot. In order to do so, Democrats would need to knock off a handful of Republican incumbents.

At the top of that list is Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R), who is trailing his Democratic opponent by double digits. Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) is also extremely vulnerable.

But, to really make inroads in the Republican Senate majority Democrats will need to defeat less obviously vulnerable GOP incumbents like Sens. Jim Talent (Mo.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Conrad Burns (Mont.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio).

Senate Democrats -- led by New York Sen Chuck Schumer -- have done a good job of recruiting solid candidates in each of these seats. But, toppling incumbents is a difficult task.

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Fairfax, Va.: Since 2005, John Kerry has been a humble leader for the Democrats. Frankly, with so much chaos on the Republican side, I think Democrats should close ranks behind Kerry as the party's standard bearer for 2008. That would be nomination by fiat accompli, but the DNC seems so disorganized that it's unlikely. What are you hearing about Kerry's chances in 2008? A lot of people I have spoken with were initially extremely skeptical, but now want him to make another run. My Republican friends wish they voted for him last year and want another chance.

Chris Cillizza: Senator Kerry, is that you?

There is no question that Kerry still sees himself as a major figure in the party and is working to make sure the rest of the party poobahs see him that way too. As evidence, I am headed to Georgetown University after I finish this chat to cover a Kerry speech on national security.

As for whether Democrats will line up behind Kerry for 2008, that remains to be seen. There certainly won't be a coronation of the Massachusetts Senator -- especially with a titan like New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton mulling a bid.

The question for Kerry is what is the driving force behind another bid? For former Vice President Al Gore, who ultimately decided not to run in 2004, the motive was that he won the popular vote against President Bush in 2000. Kerry has no such justification.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: On Hilary Clinton and seeking the White House, how much do you think polls currently matter? I was chatting with my non-political junkie friends and many of them initially supported her, because they liked that she was smart and knew who she was, however when they heard about her feelings about the Iraq was, a few had second thoughts. Also, I showed them speeches by a couple of other candidates, and they wanted to know more. A few were really impressed by Mark Warner and Russ Feingold. They'd heard the name associated with campaign finance, but they didn't know much about him.

Chris Cillizza: Every poll I have seen shows HRC with a huge lead over any other potential Democrat mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.

As you rightly point out, much of Clinton's support right now is due to the fact that average voters who pay only passing attention to politics know her name. Polling done this far out from an election is generally seen as nothing more than a test of name identification.

But, Clinton's combines a huge name ID lead over her potential opponents with what is expected to be a massive fundraising edge as well. At the end of September, Clinton had nearly $14 million in her Senate account. Republicans continue to struggle to mount a serious challenge to Clinton in 2006. If that continues, she will be able to stockpile tens of millions of dollars that can be transferred directly to a presidential campaign after next November.

Despite all of these advantages, there is clearly room for someone to emerge as the anti-Clinton candidate. I traveled around Virginia with Gov. Mark Warner (D) last week and came away very impressed.

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Washington, D.C.: CNN is now reporting we're not going to hear anything today. Why all the suspense?!

Chris Cillizza: This is one of a number of questions I've gotten today asking what my prediction is for the outcome of the leak investigation, who might be indicted and when we can expect to hear.

The simple answer is: I don't know. Because the central figure in this investigation is a special prosecutor who has been tight-lipped about the proceedings, it is hard for anyone not intimately familiar with the state of the case to make an accurate prediction. This is a classic case of those who know aren't talking and those who don't know are.

As I said in response to an earlier question, the grand jury's term expires on Friday so it would seem as though we don't have too long to wait to find some answers.

Rest assured the reporters here at the Post and at every other national media outlet in the country are trying to get to the bottom of the investigation.

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Columbus, Ohio: Doesn't Ohio's current political climate of corruption combined with the Washington scandals (cronyism, incompetence, corruption, DeLay, Bush, Rove, Libby) make an outsider like Paul Hackett the perfect Senate candidate? Did Sherrod Brown enter the race because he thinks he is more electable, he thinks he'd be a better Senator, or because he is afraid Issue 4 might take away his "safe seat"?

Chris Cillizza: There is no question that Ohio will be ground zero for Democrats hoping to make gains across the board in 2006. Not only do you have the national political dynamic -- bad one for Republicans at the moment -- at work, you also have outgoing Republican Gov. Bob Taft with titanically low approval ratings.

Many independent observers believe that if there is truly a backlash against alleged GOP corruption simmering in the country, it will be felt in Ohio first.

As for the Senate race specifically, I think it remains to be seen whether Hackett or Brown is the stronger nominee against Sen. Mike DeWine. Hackett did perform surprisingly well with an outsider message in a House special election earlier this year, but Brown has been elected statewide in the past and is sitting on $2 million he can spend on the race.

It should be an exciting primary and regardless of who emerges, national Democrats continue to insist DeWine is among the most vulnerable Republican incumbents.

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Arlington, Va.: If we're talking about candidates, I'm a big fan of Obama. Any chance he'll run in '06?

Chris Cillizza: Lots of people chatting today want to know what the future holds for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D).

There is no question that Obama is one of the most recognizable figures in the Democratic Party at the moment and also one of its rising stars.

But, it seems to me that a run for president in 2008 is a bit premature. No fewer than five of his Democratic Senate colleagues are eyeing the 2008 race including Hillary Clinton, who represents a major hurdle to any other candidate who wants the party's nomination in three years time.

I do believe Obama will seek national office at some time in his political career. But, remember, he's only 44 years old. He's got plenty of time.

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Acton, Mass.: Given all of the controversy surrounding Plamegate -- whether or not indictments are issued -- will the neo-con branch of the Republican partly end up politically wounded, and if so will that bolster a McCain bid in 2008?

Chris Cillizza: Interesting question.

I do think that of all the Republicans currently pondering a 2008 race, McCain will ultimately benefit the most from the current controversies surrounding Republicans -- from President Bush to Tom DeLay to Bill Frist. McCain's image as a reform-minded Republican would seem to insulate him from criticism about Republicans generally and make him the preferred standard-bearer of disaffected GOPers looking to wipe the slate clean.

I still think McCain will have trouble convincing conservatives (the most reliable voting bloc in presidential primaries) to vote for him. But, he is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the next presidential race.

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Cambridge, Mass.: What do you feel Democrats should be doing right now about the Miers situation? I'm worried that if Dems begin to attack Miers, it will unify Republicans around her. Meanwhile, I'm inclined to think that Dems would be losing a great political opportunity if they don't speak up.

Chris Cillizza: One last question on the most-overshadowed news event in recent memory: Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court.

Democrats seem content at the moment to sit back and watch as some within the conservative movement continue to call on Miers to withdraw. Democrats see no reason to put themselves in the middle of a fight that (for once) shows the fissures of the GOP base.

But, if Miers does make it to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Democrats will need to decide exactly where they stand on her confirmation.

Thanks everyone for the great questions. Remember to check out "The Fix" at http://blogs.washingtonpost.com/thefix/.

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