Post Politics Hour
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; 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, May 3, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.
The transcript follows.
Read The Fix:
Chris Cillizza: Good morning all. I am thrilled at the chance to chat this morning since we had a bunch of great races yesterday in Ohio yesterday. We've got a full rundown on The Fix right now and I'll be offering my thoughts on Rep. Bob Ney's electoral prospects tomorrow morning.
There's no question that House Democrats had a good day yesterday as state Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) won a write-in campaign for the open 6th district and attorney Betty Sutton won the Democratic nomination in the open 13th, a win that makes it more difficult for Republicans to target the Democratic-tilting seat this fall. Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer -- the early favorite of national Democrats -- lost to attorney Zack Space in the 18th district Democratic primary but, as long as Ney remains on the ballot, the contest will be a referendum on the incumbent.
Enough about my favorite topic. Let's see what you guys want to talk about.
Baghdad, Iraq (really): How would you react to the assertion regarding Stephen Colbert's performance that the Washington press corps witnessed one of the most significant acts of political activism during the Bush presidency and it went completely over their heads?
Chris Cillizza: Well, I have been following this debate on the blogs somewhat closely over the last few days and have to say it surprises me.
Plenty of things fly over my head on a daily basis (including projectiles thrown by those who want to "fix" The Fix) but I was in the audience on Saturday night and I didn't think I was witnessing a "significant act of political activism."
Colbert, of whom I am a big fan, was funny in spots (I loved the "gut vs. head" bit) but not uproariously funny at any point. Maybe the point you are making is that he wasn't trying to be funny but rather offer a sweeping conviction of the Bush administration with the president just a few feet away. I didn't get that sense but I would again refer you to my early statement that I miss plenty of subtlety on a daily basis.
This was the first correspondents dinner I attended so I don't have a point of reference. I welcome any thoughts you might have on it.
Nebraska: Chris, back at Roll Call you had some great articles on the '04 Nebraska elections. Please, I need a fix! Who's going to win the governor's primary next week? Who does party-switching favor? And any thoughts on the race to replace Osborne?
Chris Cillizza: What a race! When Rep. Tom Osborne announced he would run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination I was among the many political observers who thought that Gov. Dave Heineman (R) was committing political suicide by staying in the race. During his time as the head football coach at Nebraska, Osborne became an icon in the state and his essentially unopposed runs for Congress attested to his legendary status.
Turns out Heineman knew better. The race has closed considerably in the past months and right now it's a pure tossup.
Osborne just dropped $250,000 of his own money into the race -- a sign he may well be worried that the race is slipping from him. We've got six more days to wait and watch.
For me on the Heineman-Osborne check out a post I recently wrote on The Fix. Can we link to it?
washingtonpost.com: Nebraska Gov: Will a Titan Be Rebuffed?
New York, N.Y.: Chris,
Love the Fix. Saw Chuck Todd on Hardball last night (sorry if that's disloyal of me), and I thought he made a good point: that there is always one "surprise" Senate seat that turns depending on the national wave. The seat is usually on the radar, but still a bit of a shock.
A few examples came to mind: Cantwell in WA or Stabenow in MI in 2000, Coleman in MN in 2002, or Thune in SD in 2004 (I guess the latter wasn't a complete shock, but I was still stunned the people of SD voted out the sitting Minority Leader).
Do you believe there will be a surprise seat in 2006? If so, which one? Given the Democratic trend, Arizona or Tennessee could turn. My guess would be Arizona or maybe Nevada -- Ensign's been rather lackluster, the demographics of the state are constantly changing, and a large Hispanic population could make a difference.
Chris Cillizza: Chuck (of National Journal's Hotline) is one of the most smartest and astute observers of election politics in the country -- a group that in my mind also includes Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook -- and also a friend.
So, no hard feelings.
I think Chuck's exactly right about there being a surprise Senate race every cycle. In 2004, I would say it was actually not the South Dakota Senate race, which every political junkie knew was going to be a nip and tuck affair as soon as John Thune decided to run, but rather the Kentucky Senate race where state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo (D) came from nowhere to nearly oust Sen. Jim Bunning (R).
I am not sure a win by Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) in the Tennessee open seat would be a total shock but it would certainly be surprising given Democrats struggles in the South of late. Ford is running a terrific campaign and has raised more money than any one thought he could while republicans are headed for a divisive August primary.
One other race I would watch is in Nebraska if wealthy businessman Pete Ricketts wins the Republican primary next Tuesday. Ricketts has already spent several million dollars on his primary race and given the strong Republican nature of the seat could make things interesting for Sen. Ben Nelson (D).
Bethesda, Md.: Turnout was low in Ohio, where the main attraction was a hard-fought Republican gubernatorial primary. Does this bode ill for Republicans in that state?
Both Brown and DeWine lost substantial numbers of votes in their primaries to obscure challengers. Does that mean anything?
Is Bob Ney's 68 percent a smashing victory for a guy potentially facing jail time or a disappointing showing for a longtime incumbent facing an obscure opponent?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Chris Cillizza: Here's my quick analysis.
I don't think the primary results in the Senate race where DeWine and Brown had only nominal challengers matter at all. No one was paying attention to those races and neither DeWine nor Brown spent any real money on turning out their vote. The general election is going to be extremely close and I still think it is tough sledding for Republicans in the state but I think it would be a mistake to read anything into the primary results.
As for Ney, I'll get into this more tomorrow morning on The Fix but I think there are two important things to note: first, this was the first time Ney has had a primary since winning the seat in 1994 and second, he got just more than two-thirds of Republican votes against a challenger who by all accounts was not at all serious.
Baltimore, Md.: How do you think the OH 6th is going to play out now that Charlie Wilson won the Democratic primary? Has he fully recovered from his initial gaff? Is he ready for prime time?
Chris Cillizza: Last night's win for Wilson was a HUGE hurdle cleared for both his candidacy and national Democrats.
As I said in The Fix this morning, I still have a bit of skepticism about Wilson after his ballot snafu (he failed to get 50 signatures from voters in the district and was forced to run as a write-in in the Democratic primary) but I think the convincing nature of his victory shows he is back on the right track.
The spin from both parties is heavy on this race already as each points out how much the other spent. In the end, this is going to be a competitive race. Due to the problems for Republicans in Ohio and the fact that 6th district Rep. Ted Strickland is leading the state ticket, I think Wilson has a slight edge at the moment.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Is Brad Miller in any real jeopardy in NC-13 now that Vernon Robinson has won the primary?
Chris Cillizza: No. Vernon Robinson's victory in the primary is sure to draw some national attention because he is an African-American Republican but even the most loyal GOPers see Robinson as something less than a serious candidate.
He has a penchant for controversial remarks and a devoted conservative base but the 13th district is solidly Democratic and Miller should have no reason to worry.
The more interesting race in the Tar Heel State is in the 11th district where Rep. Charlie Taylor (R) is facing former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler (D). National Democrats recruited Shuler heavily to run for the seat; so far his campaign has gotten mixed reviews.
Kansas City, Mo.: I think you had wondered on the Missouri Senate race if Talent had done anything to make him worthy of firing. Has his latest flip flop on stem cell hurt him?
Also on Colbert, I saw a blog comparing it to Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire when Carlson begged Stewart to just be funny. Considering how many people are downloading it, are Colbert's remarks going to resonate?
Chris Cillizza: The stem-cell ballot initiative in Missouri -- and Talent's newly announced opposition to it -- do have the potential to complicate his re-election.
Stem cell research is the rare issue that drives a wedge between Republicans with social conservatives adamantly opposed to it while many others in the party view it as an important development in scientific research.
Talent was trapped in a no-win situation and made a choice that is likely consistent with his own personal belief system. Coming out against the initiative ensures that Talent's base will stay with him and turn out to vote (a not insignificant factor in midterm elections) but it also could give state Auditor Claire McCaskill an opening to peel of moderate Republicans -- especially women.
It's a fascinating dynamic in what should be one of the closest races in the country.
And now for more on Colbert....
Boston, Mass.: My take on the press response to the Colbert performance was that whether he was particularly funny or particularly scathing are matters largely of opinion. However, what was significant was the press coverage of the event: glowingly focusing on Bush's routine while completely ignoring or minimizing Colbert's. The Post's story was a fine example of that -- for some reason the only Colbert barbs mentioned by the reporter were the non-Bush jokes.
Then again, it's somewhat difficult to report on Colbert's performance because it was ironic -- and reporting generally presupposes a lack of that; it's impossible to do the "dueling quotes" style of reporting with a character like that of Colbert's.
This is not to let the press off the hook -- they failed.
Chris Cillizza: Here's one view...
Re: Colbert: I think that Stephen was not only attacking the president but also the press corps allowed. No wonder neither found him funny. In fact, I also did not find it very funny. Let me rephrase that: I could not afford to laugh. After all, President's acts and the cowardice of the media to actively question them has landed us in this big mess which we otherwise call Iraq.
Chris Cillizza: More...
Winnipeg, Canada: Regarding Colbert, I think that the reason many defend his remarks at the press dinner is that he said what a lot of people would love to say to the president, and the president had to sit there and take it: no opportunity for him to slide off into one of his "we're defending freedom" red herrings.
It wasn't Colbert's comedic high point, although he had some great moments, but for a lot of people, that was beside the point.
Whether his performance has any long-term effects either on the presidency or the White House press gallery, remains to be seen.
Chris Cillizza: This is the post I think best gets at my view on the whole matter. I'll try to post a few more thoughts on this at the end of the chat.
Now back to politics.
Washington, D.C.: No serious challenger for Jean Schmidt?!
Hi, Chris. Pardon me if you've already explained this, but given Schmidt's notoriety over her attack on John Murtha, why on earth wouldn't the Democrats at least force her to spend time and money for re-election? Thanks and keep up the great work!
Chris Cillizza: The problem for Democrats is that they laid much of their hope in contesting this seat on Paul Hackett, who had run a surprisingly close race against Schmidt in the 2005 special election to replace Rep. Rob Portman (R).
Hackett spent most of 2005 running for the Senate and when he decided to get out (or was pushed out, depending on your view) most Democrats thought he would launch a rematch against Schmidt. Hackett was clearly sick of his brief foray into elective politics, however, and simply walked away, leaving Democrats without a strong second choice.
Hackett's close call in 2005 belies the strongly Republican nature of this district. yes, Schmidt has been controversial but she is a Republican incumbent in a district drawn to support GOPers. It's not as easy a task to beat her as it might seem at first.
College Park, Md.: Three African-American Republicans are running statewide: Ken Blackwell, Michael Steele, Lynn Swann. Republicans periodically claim that they are on the verge of making big inroads into the black community, usually by running black candidates, and the press dutifully reports about the political earthquake about to happen. But it never does. I can't think of a single black Republican who has performed well with African-American voters. Can you? Will this change?
Chris Cillizza: There is no example of recent history of a black Republican winning over a considerable number of African-American voters, who have traditionally been one of the most reliably Democratic voting blocs in the country.
Can history be made in 2006? Of course. Will it? I am skeptical. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has done extensive and earnest outreach into the black community since coming into his post but we've not yet seen any empirical evidence that his work is paying off.
Washington, D.C.: So where's the OH-06 gonna fall on the line now that Wilson won the primary, and with more votes than all the Republicans running combined? I don't think it belongs in the top twenty anymore.
Chris Cillizza: Congressman Emanuel, thanks for joining us.
In the latest Friday House Line (where I rank the top 20 races in the country) I had OH-06 as the second most likely to switch party control. It will likely drop a few slots after Wilson's win but there is no way it will come off the top 20.
Remember this southern Ohio district is extremely competitive between the two parties and Republicans believe Blasdel is a star in the making. As I said earlier, I think Wilson starts with a slight edge in the general election but this is a close race.
Arlington, Va.: I appreciated Milbank's piece this morning about Senator Coburn. I have to say I don't agree with him about much of anything, but I applaud him for trying to bring some fiscal sanity to the Congress. Will his crusade ever be able to gain much traction? Or is the system too entrenched for anyone to ever be able to fix it?
washingtonpost.com: Coburn Dines Alone as the Senate Buffet Piles on the Pork (Post, May 3)
Chris Cillizza: As usual, Dana hits the nail on the head with his Washington Sketch.
I am not sure that the war against pork is winnable since members believe it is one of the prime reasons they get elected and therefore are not likely to curtail it.
Coburn, himself, is a fascinating character study. I have talked to several Democratic senators of late who say they like and admire him even though they agree with almost nothing that he believes.
Unlike many senators who always have an eye out for the politics of every issue, Coburn is the truest of true believers -- following his gut on issues regardless of the political consequences.
Philadelphia, Pa.: How does 2006 affect 2008 in terms of primaries? For example, if Democrats make gains, but come short of the majorities, does it strengthen or weaken candidates? Does it hurt George Allen or help John McCain if Democrats win back either house of Congress?
Chris Cillizza: Great question.
I have talked to a lot of Democrats in this town who believe the ideal scenario in the 2006 elections is to come up a few seats short in the House and the Senate.
It would make governing a near impossibility (neither side can pass significant legislation with tiny majorities) while also allowing the Democrats running for president in 2008 to campaign against the evils of the Republican majority.
Other strategists see that strategy as too cute by half, arguing that it's impossible to predict what the political environment will look like in 2008 and the party needs to take full advantage of the favorable climate in 2006.
I think it is tough to decipher who among the 2008 field is helped or hurt by the 2006 elections. If Sen. George Allen is forced to spend his campaign warchest, he will have a tough hill to climb against some of the better funded challengers in the '08 field. If Republicans lose the Senate, it would likely hurt Bill Frist's chances at the nomination. But, again, much of this is just speculation. Tough to know right now.
Washington, D.C.: Back to politics?
Why is the true nature of the democracy in Iraq not being covered?
Bush and his supporters have -inadvertently- fathered a burgeoning fundamentalist Islamic republic with extremely close and long standing ties to Iran which he deemed an axis of evil.
FACT: Al Dawa is a fundamentalist Islamic faction. It is not secular. It is not pro-U.S. and never has been.
Chris Cillizza: Ok.....
Again, I write about campaign politics on The Fix. Every once in a while someone posts a comment asking why I don't delve more into domestic and foreign policy on the blog.
The answer is simple. The Washington Post offers some of the best reporting on policy in the country. There are plenty of places on the site and in the paper where you can find coverage on the war in Iraq, Iran's nuclear ambitions, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina etc.
The Fix is devoted to covering raw politics and so that's what I spend my time writing and thinking about.
La Crosse, Wis.: Want to handicap any races in Wisconsin? Do you see any serious challenge to Gov. Jim Doyle from Mark Green?
Speaking of which, is there much buzz out there about allegations linking Green to convicted moneyman Jack Abramoff (specifically through his chief of staff Mark Graul)?
Chris Cillizza: In our last Friday Governors Line, I ranked Doyle as the most endangered incumbent in the country.
His administration has beset by allegations of no-bid contracts awarded to donors and other ethical questions.
Green is an extremely strong candidate and got a major boost when his Republican primary challenger -- Milwaukee County executive Scott Walker -- dropped out of the race recently.
This is absolutely a race to watch and could buck the national trend of expected Democratic gains across the board
Baltimore, Md.: Chris,
I've been reading your blogs pretty closely and there seems to be a disconnect between the national polling numbers and the ability of the Democrats to capture one of the two houses. The hill seems too great to climb. On a scale of 1 to 100, what do you think is the current likelihood of the Dems winning either the House or the Senate?
Chris Cillizza: Ah, the old 1-100 scale.
To avoid a slew of nasty calls waiting for me when I finish this chat I will avoid putting a specific number on my predictions.
I think both chambers are in play although I would say that Republicans are still favored to remain in control of both.
The Senate is somewhat straightforward. Democrats need to beat all of their main GOP targets (Santorum, Chafee, Burns, DeWine and Talent) and then find one more seat -- likely either in Arizona or Tennessee. They also can't lose any of their own seats. It is possible? Yes. Is it probable? No.
As for the House, independent analysts like Cook and Rothenberg keep adding Republican seat to their competitive race charts, which, I think, indicates that the environment is helping to expand the playing field a bit.
The problem for Democrats is not in picking up 8-10 seats, it's finding five more to put them in the majority. Sure, Connecticut Reps. Rob Simmons and Chris Shays can be beaten but can Democrats beat Connecticut Rep. Nancy Johnson?
I don't see it yet but wouldn't rule it out.
And, remember, my predictive abilities are somewhat suspect. I had my beloved Georgetown Hoyas winning this year's NCAA tournament.
washingtonpost.com: The Friday Line: Fla. Drops Off List of Top Govs. Races
Chris Cillizza: That's all for today folks. As usual, I'll try to answer some of the questions I couldn't get to in the chat later on The Fix.
In the meantime, enjoy the weather. And, if you're looking for some new music go out and buy Bruce Springsteen's new album where he covers a bunch of Pete Seeger tunes. It was my companion during this chat and is well worth a listen.
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