Post Politics Hour

Chris Cillizza Political Columnist/Blogger
Friday, December 9, 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. political columnist/blogger Chris Cillizza was online Friday, Dec. 9, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.


Chris Cillizza: Good morning everyone. After dodging (yet) another snow storm in Washington, we're back to business as usual this Friday morning, which means lots and lots of politics.

Over at The Fix,'s political blog, we are running the "Friday Line" looking at the 10 Senate races most likely to switch parties in next year's midterm elections. Make sure to stop by and offer your thoughts.

To the questions.


Atlanta, Ga.: You left the Tennessee race off the list and Harold Ford, (D-TN) is leading the polls today.


Chris Cillizza: Let's start with a Senate question about the Friday Line over at The Fix.

The open Tennessee Senate race was ranked #10 the last time I looked at Senate contests but I felt as though several other races had moved up past it over the past month.

Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) is a strong candidate and does lead in the polling that I have seen -- albeit somewhat narrowly -- over the three potential Republicans running for the nomination.

The problem for Ford is that Tennessee is a Republican state so even though he holds a lead now, the thinking is that undecided voters tend to be GOP-leaning and will eventually line up behind the party's nominee.

I have also heard that a consultant shakeup is either in the works or has already taken place in Ford's Senate campaign, which is never good news for a campaign hoping to be gaining momentum with less than a year before the election.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Re: Casey vs. Santorum

Why isn't there more discussion by the media on Rick Santorum being a tool of the national political party and groups, than being a representative of the people in Pennsylvania? The only time anyone consistently hears from Santorum is on the abortion issue....he has ill served the citizens of the commonwealth and truly.

Also, why about his relationship with the K-Street project? His continual meeting with lobbyists, according to him, to only 'coordinate' the GOP message?

Finally, what of his $800,000 home in Leesburg? He lives there full time? He actually is the 3rd Senator from Virginia, behind Warner and Allen.

Chris Cillizza: Staying in the Senate....

I think there has been plenty of media coverage of all the issues this question bring up in regards to Santorum. I don't even think most partisan Democrats think that Santorum has been treated with kid gloves by either the state or national press corps.

In fact, many Republicans argue that state Auditor Bob Casey Jr. (D), Santorum's opponent next November, has received a pass from the media. Casey has avoided taking many controversial issue positions this year, which has a lot to do with his large lead over Santorum at the moment.

_______________________ The Fix.


Washington, D.C.: Is Casey's lead in Pennsylvania at this time significant, or is it simply too early to read anything into it?

Chris Cillizza: One more on Pennsylvania before we move on.

Yes, Casey's lead is significant simply because it shows that there is a considerable desire to unseat Santorum next November. I recently wrote on The Fix about how few Senate incumbents (of either party) win races where polls show them in the high 30s or low 40 with a year left before the election. That's the situation Santorum currently finds himself in.

Santorum is a strong campaigner and will have tens of millions of dollars to push out his positive message while also trying to soil Casey. But, history paints a bleak picture for his re-election prospects.


Arlington, Va.: What? Lieberman is not on your top ten list? How'd you miss that one?

Chris Cillizza: Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) has been at the center of a storm on his party's liberal left this week thanks to comments he made that Democrats need to show support for President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq.

Two liberals titans -- Democracy for America and -- have bashed Lieberman for his comments and have shown a willingness to support a primary challenge to him. (More on this later today on The Fix.)

Former Republican Senator and Independent Gov. Lowell Weicker has mentioned himself but seems unlikely to run.

Unseating Lieberman is a very tough task regardless off who runs. I'm withholding judgment until we see whether a serious Democrat steps forward to take a shot.


Bradenton, Fla.: As Katherine Harris continues to show ineptitude as a candidate, what are the chances that a strong Republican could challenge her? Specifically is there any talk that Jeb Bush might elbow enter the race?

Chris Cillizza: How do you solve a problem like Katherine?

National Republican strategists spent the first half of this year trying to convince Harris not to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and the second half of the year trying to find someone to run against her in the primary.

Neither effort worked.

It now appears as though Harris will have the primary field to herself even though party operatives believe she simply cannot win a general election. That sentiment is what keeps the Florida Senate race out of the top 10 on today's Friday Line.

As for Jeb Bush, I think he has his eye on a bigger prize. I don't think (as some do) that he will run for president in 2008 but a national bid down the line (2012, or 2016) seems to make sense given his political arc.


Washington, D.C.: In Minnesota Mark Dayton (D) is leaving after a very very lackluster first and only term. Mark Kennedy (R) from the House has "rising star" status, it would seem, with the admin's money machine. I think Amy Klobuchar will probably win the race, but is it time that Minnesota's ever-reddening hue makes the shift from Dem stronghold, to what would essentially be an unpredictable swing state?

Chris Cillizza: As I wrote in today's Friday Line, President Bush is in Minnesota to raise money for Kennedy -- one of the few major recruiting successes by Senate Republicans this cycle.

I think Minnesota has already begun the transformation into a swing state both in Senate and governor's races as well as on the presidential level.

The state already has a Republican senator in Norm Coleman (granted he used to be a Democrat) and a GOP governor in Tim Pawlenty. John Kerry won it narrowly (51-48 I think) in 2004.

I tend to agree that if Klobuchar is the nominee she enters the general election as a favorite. But, Kennedy is often underrated as a candidate and could surprise.

By the way, on the Friday Line I have Minnesota as Republicans' best pickup opportunity and the fourth most likely seat to switch parties overall.


Washington, D.C.: Is there any chance that Michael Steele will actually win the Senate seat? I know he will be able to raise plenty and the race will get some national coverage because of the race issue as well because it is an open seat, but will Maryland actually send a conservative Republican to the Senate?

Chris Cillizza: The Maryland Senate race is a real point of contention between the two parties.

Democrats don't believe the state will even end up being competitive next November; some Republicans see it as their best pickup opportunity (ahead of even the open seat in Minnesota.)

I don't think we can factually portray Steele as a "conservative Republican" just yet because he remains unformed on many of the federal issues that will decide this race.

As an African-American Republican he should be a more attractive candidate to black voters than most GOP candidates but in order to win he needs to make MAJOR inroads in this community.

If, as expected, Rep. Ben Cardin is the Democratic nominee I think this is a very tough race for Steele to win.


Syracuse, N.Y.: I find the "horse race" side of politics to be one of its more depressing aspects, and yet I'm unable to tear myself away for your columns or discussions. What is the primary value, do you suppose, in this type of reporting? Does it meet a market need only, or are there more meaningful forces at work?

Chris Cillizza: I like the "Fix as car accident" metaphor here. You don't want to look but feel compelled to.

Since much of my life is devoted to following and reporting on the minutiae of politics, I have to think it matters.

I think the horse race coverage of politics gets pilloried unnecessarily. Just because I happen to cover the politics of politics doesn't mean that the policy of politics also doesn't get covered.

I know here at the Post we have legions of skilled policy and politics reporters who write deftly about the confluence of issues and raw partisan politics. Heck, I even dabble in it on the Fix.

A huge part of the policy debates in this country are informed by politics and I think it is important to understand and cover that dynamic.


Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.: I just read how there was a "truce" between lawmakers not to make ethics complaints against each other.

Is this a common practice, or did this start some time after 2002?

Now that there are all of these indictments and convictions and plea bargains, will that truce continue much longer?

Chris Cillizza: There has been an ethics truce in place for much of the last decade in the House.

It was originally instituted because politicians of both parties thought that the constant ethics war was making the process of legislating nearly impossible.

That truce has ended. Democrats see people like Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay and Ohio's Bob Ney as their ticket back to the majority and therefore are no longer willing to sit on their hands in terms of ethics complaints.

Republicans believe they have plenty of ethics ammo of their own, pointing out that Louisiana Rep. Bill Jefferson (D) is currently under federal investigation.

Ethics is back with a vengeance in Congress and looks like it is here to stay.


The Hague, the Netherlands: Hi Chris...

The election buzz seems early this time! Who is in your opinion the front runner for the Democratic and Republican Prez nomination? And will the democrats be able to pick up at least a couple senatorial and governors races in '06?

Thanks in advance! Journalism student from the Netherlands

Chris Cillizza: A question about my favorite political topic from the Hague no less!

frontrunner: New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. This should come as a surprise to no one who regularly follows politics or considers themselves a junkie. HRC seems posited to coast to re-election next November and will likely stow away tens of millions of dollars in a Senate account that can be transferred to a presidential bid. She continues to insist she is entirely focused on 2006 but I would eat my hat (if I wore won) if she didn't run for president in 2008.

Republican frontrunner(s): Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and George Allen (Va.). McCain is something of a no-brainer given his national following and near-miss bid in 2000. Allen appears to be the early favorite of establishment Republicans searching for a candidate who can appeal to social and business conservatives -- a tough line to walk.


Berkeley, Calif.: I find the idea that a third Bush could become president an unlikely one. Why does Jeb Bush think that he has a chance to become president?

Chris Cillizza: Wow. Lots of response to my assertion that Jeb Bush will likely run for president at some time in his political career?

Why does Jeb think he can be president. Well, the most obvious reason is that any politician who has been elected to statewide office (and many who haven't) think they would make a great chief executive. It's the pinnacle of the profession and something nearly every politician covets.

Jeb also has an appealing profile: he has served as governor of one of the nation's largest states for the past seven years and is part of one of the longest-running political legacies in the country.

At the moment that appears to be a burden for Jeb's presidential aspirations but who knows what the Bush name will mean by 2012 or 2016. Sure, hardcore Democrats will not likely ever vote for someone with the last name of Bush but they aren't likely to support any Republican candidate for president regardless of his or her last name.

Politics is a funny business. I just wouldn't write Jeb off just yet.


New York, N.Y.: Forget the Democratic nomination. Who out there feels that HRC can actually win a national, general election? A vast swathe of the country still feels that she's the Antichrist. Wouldn't nominating her be essentially the Democrats deciding to pack up and go home?

Chris Cillizza: I'm not sure about that yet.

You're right that lots (and lots) of people dislike Sen. Clinton immensely. But, there are also lots (and lots) of folks who literally love her and would do anything to see that she is elected.

Given how divided the country currently is on partisan lines (the oft-cited red state/blue state divide), any Democratic candidate is likely to get at least 46 percent of the vote and no more than 55 percent of the vote.

With those parameters, whose to say that HRC can't win a general election? Democrats will be VERY hungry to reclaim the White House in 2008 regardless of their nominee and Clinton will be able to match the Republican candidate dollar for dollar.

I am not predicting a President Clinton but also don't believe that you can write her off as a general election candidate just yet.


Washington, D.C.: I'm a liberal Democrat and I love Hillary Clinton, but I really don't want her to be president. We already have 20 years of the presidency controlled by two families, and she would add four, possibly eight more. That's not a democracy; it's a monarchy!

Is anyone else making this argument? I can't be the only one who's thought of it...

Chris Cillizza: This line of argument will be another hurdle Sen. Clinton has to leap to win the nomination.

But, remember that her husband (aka President Clinton) is a beloved figure in the Democratic party these days. He is seen as a symbol of the good old days that lots of Democrats want to return to.

So, the idea of another Clinton on the ballot might actually help Hillary rather than hurt her -- especially in the Democratic presidential primaries.


Chris Cillizza: Sorry folks, that's all I have time for today. Make sure to check The Fix later today where I will try to answer a bunch of the questions I didn't get to in the chat.

Have a great weekend and thanks for chatting.



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