Post Politics Hour

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Dan Balz
Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Monday, May 22, 2006; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with 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.

Washington Post chief political reporter Dan Balz was online Monday, May 22, at 11 a.m. ET .

Political analysis from Post reporters and interviews with top newsmakers. Listen live on Washington Post Radio or subscribe to a podcast of the show.

The transcript follows.

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Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone on a bright and chilly Monday morning here in Washington. Lots cooking these days so we'll get right to the questions.

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Washington, D.C.: Although the President's ratings are very low, and he won't be leaving office anytime soon, what is the trickle down effect for his party?

Dan Balz: President Bush's low ratings clearly are having an impact on other Republicans. We did an article over the weekend about the growing number of House districts that now could be in play, and a big factor is what some Republicans describe as the drag on GOP lawmakers because of the president's low numbers. GOP strategists say it is between 5 and 10 percentage points depending on the congressional district, which means their own numbers tend to be lower than in the past. Republicans are worried about lack of enthusiasm among conservative voters in particular.

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Tampa, Fla.: After watching Secretary Condi on Meet the Press and Fox News Sunday, I think she really could be our next president. When do you think is the latest she could do it and still be a contender for 2008? How complicated is it for her to participate in the Iowa Caucus or the New Hampshire Primary in early 2008?

Dan Balz: Lots of Republicans think Secretary Rice would be an excellent presidential candidate in 2008 but she has been pretty consistent is ruling it out -- despite encouragement from first lady Laura Bush. She might be able to jump in later than other candidates, given how well known she is -- particularly if her candidacy came with the president's blessing. That said, it takes considerable time to build an organization to compete in Iowa. And raising money, even for someone like Rice, takes longer than some people realize.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Your thoughts on Ned Lamont's unexpectedly strong showing at the Connecticut Democratic Convention?

Dan Balz: Ned Lamont did very well over the weekend, winning about a third of the delegates at the Connecticut convention and easily clearing the bar to force a primary contest with Sen. Joseph Lieberman. There's clearly a lot of dissatisfaction among Democrats about Lieberman for supporting Bush on the war. Lamont's showing makes the primary even more interesting.

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Greenville, S.C.: Dan - any comment on the Drudge item that your buddy Howard Dean was backing the "white" candidate over the "chocolate" candidate in the New Orleans mayoral election? I probably won't see this question addressed by you, will I?

Dan Balz: The spokeswoman at the DNC, Karen Finney, said this morning the Drudge item is "outrageous" and "absolutely not true." She also said she has asked the DNC's lawyers to explore legal action.

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Waterville, Maine: Dan,

Thanks for taking my question. I happened to notice the New Yorker's latest cover story -- Al Gore, the "anti-Hillary" which suggests that, at the very least, Gore has not shut the door on an '08 run. Who do you think Republican strategists consider the tougher opponent in '08, Hillary Clinton or Al Gore?

Dan Balz: Al Gore has been fairly consistent now for a couple of years: he says he really doesn't think he will run but because he hasn't totally shut the door there are some people who think he might change his mind. I don't know what he will do although I tend to believe he likes the life he has now. As for who would be stronger, my sense is that Republicans believe Hillary Clinton would be a stronger candidate than do many Democrats. They doubt Gore could make a successful comeback.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: Any chance the Democrat candidate for 2008 will come out for strict border enforcement?

Dan Balz: I would assume that every Democratic candidate will come out for strong border enforcement. The question is what else they support and how much they talk about it.

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Groton, Conn.: I don't understand. Why does the media persist in portraying Democratic dissatisfaction with Lieberman as being solely about his support for the war? The central problem isn't that Lieberman supported and continues to support the Iraq War. It's that he supported and continues to support President Bush over his own party. It's comments like "in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril". And his aping of administration talking points on Social Security and Terri Schiavo. Etc.

Dan Balz: Thanks for the comments. Quite a lot of interest this morning in the Connecticut race.

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Arlington, Va.: As your coverage today of the mid-term elections show, it will be a battle of which party offers the best solutions for our nation. Have you polled Republican voters on the question of whether they are willing to vote for a Democrat instead of the President they voted for twice? I might be miffed at the President once in awhile, but I can't believe solid Republican voters want him to fail under the thumb of Democrats. Could Rove get the Republicans to rally one more time for Bush by November 2006 and keep the House and the Senate? Thank you for taking my question.

Dan Balz: Good questions, Arlington. The worry in Republican circles is not that Republicans will vote for Democrats but that many Republicans just won't vote. Midterm elections, more than presidential elections, sometimes swing on who turns out and in some years we've seen one side more motivated than the other. Karl Rove & Co. have been good at mobilizing Republicans around Election Day. Their task is obviously tougher this time around but they've got a few months left to motivate their base.

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Medford, Mass.: I haven't heard much recently about the Plame case and Rove's involvement. Any insight about what to expect next in the case?

Dan Balz: We're continuing to try to find out but so far have nothing of significance to report.

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Possum Kingdom Lake, Tex.: A distressing number of the 535 member Congress do pretty much what William Jefferson was caught doing. Everybody knows that - yet, it seems acceptable unless one is caught in the act.

Does that seem right to you? Why is there not some attempt to make such corrupt, lying and dishonest actions unthinkable?

Dan Balz: If true, what Jefferson is alleged to have done -- namely taken $100,000 in cash and stuffed it in his freezer -- is certainly not the norm.

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Sherman, Tex.: Good morning, Dan, you say that Republican strategists are particularly worried about a lack of enthusiasm among conservatives. What do you think the chances are that the upcoming debate on a Gay Marriage amendment to the Constitution will be a real push to get that voter block involved?

Dan Balz: My hunch is that the gay marriage amendment will have less impact this year than it did in 2004.

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Boston, Mass.: Is it Bush's ratings that is having an impact on other Republicans, or Bush's performance?

If I drive off a cliff marked on a map, it's not the topo marks on the map that kills me, but the actual fall.

Dan Balz: Thanks for the clarification.

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Rolla, Mo.: It looks like the recent discovery of a national immigration "crisis" was drummed up by some social conservatives as a distraction from all other ills in the Republican party and the administration. Getting down to specific congressional races, is this a net plus or minus for the Republicans?

Dan Balz: No question that the issue has been pushed by conservative radio talk show hosts and others on the right, but long before it burst into a big national debate, we were told by Democratic Govs. Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Bill Richardson of New Mexico that this was becoming a major issue in their states and would spread across the country.

The number of races where immigration is the dominant issue is still pretty small. It's obviously important in Arizona races and we see evidence of candidates using it elsewhere, but in many districts it is part of the overall atmosphere but not a major point in the debate. We'll see what happens once Congress finishes (or doesn't) its work on the bill.

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Hamilton, N.Y.: Hey Dan, if Gore does run, how will he play his relationship with Lieberman? Thanks!

Dan Balz: For starters, he wouldn't invite Lieberman to be his vice president.

Seriously, the two have followed divergent paths since they ran together in 2000 and that won't change.

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Atlanta, Ga.: The Wall St Journal has blamed Joe Lieberman's poor showing against Ned LaMont Friday night on the "out of state, angry-left". My understanding is that only Conn. residents were allowed to vote, right? Is this going to be the MSM's standard response when progressive candidates score an upset against D.C. insider candidates? Does the angry left have that much power? Also, what is The Post doing to honestly engage with American progressives?

Dan Balz: Yes, only Connecticut residents can vote in Connecticut race, but Lamont has received help, encouragement, etc., from out-of-staters and anti-mainstream bloggers. As for your last question, we try to report on activities of both progressives and conservatives, particularly as this affects political races and political parties.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: We're now starting to hear a lot about Bush fundraising for Republican congressional candidates. Seems odd to me. I would think candidates would want to keep their distance from him, given the national political climate. No?

Dan Balz: Republican candidates are more than happy to have the president help raise money for their campaigns, and he still has the draw to pull in big audiences and significant amounts of money. His fundraiser for Rep. Thelma Drake in Virginia on Friday picked up about $475,000, which was about $75,000 more than they were predicting a few days before the event. More interesting will be how many of these candidates want Bush to come campaign for them in October. Some will but others will ask him to stay away.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Because districts are created in a way to be majority Democrat or Republican, don't you think it's possible for voters to vote for change nationally in 2006 but not get it?

Dan Balz: Possible. One thing people will be looking at will be the margins by which incumbents win in November. But if there is a big desire for change, you'll see incumbents going down to defeat in districts long presumed to be safe.

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Atlanta, Ga.: What is the GOP aiming for in this fall's elections? Clearly, it seems like the way things are going now, there will be losses, but are they mostly aiming for keeping control of Congress, even if by one member?

Dan Balz: Their goal is not to lose control of either the House or Senate. They know they will lose seats in November, but they believe they can argue that maintaining control of both houses constitutes victory.

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Baltimore, Md.: It's a shame that the Democrats are being criticized for their pluralism. If anything, I think that should be one of the things they trumpet. Do you think that our single message culture is going to bite the Democrats yet again or can they make the electorate see that pluralism (which gives way to multiple opinions) is not only a small d "democratic value," but one to vote for?

Dan Balz: Pluralism is something Democrats promote and they believe it is an attractive attribute for their party. Confusion is a problem and that's what they have to avoid. If voters don't have a clear sense of what Democrats stand for and how they would govern in power, that's a problem.

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Richmond, Va.: Do you think the latest revelations about Rep. William Jefferson (D-La) taking money will put a crimp in the Democratic plan of painting the Republicans as part of a "Culture of Corruption"? Will this just make voters think they are all corrupt? What has been the Democratic reaction to this story? Thanks.

Dan Balz: It certainly will hurt the Democrats' effort to run strictly on the corruption issue. We're pursuing how Democratic leaders will deal with the latest revelations.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Have you been watching the situation in Pennsylvania? Long-time Republican leaders in the state house and senate were ousted by challengers who spent a fraction of what the incumbents spent. Does this reinforce your theory about voter dissatisfaction sweeping incumbents out regardless of money and gerrymandering?

Dan Balz: We wrote about this last week and suggested it was a further sign that voters are disaffected this year. Some strategists believe what happened in Pennsylvania stays in Pennsylvania, that it was a local reaction to the effort by legislators to raise their own pay. But there are other signs that people are unhappy with the status quo in politics in Washington.

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Minn.: In regard to Minneapolis' question, the fundraising will just be quieter than before. For example, Cheney was here to MN recently, did a brief appearance with some Guard troops, then went to a fundraising event at a private residence with no press, very little publicity, no appearances with Republican candidates.

Dan Balz: Thanks for posting. I should have noted that candidates sometimes don't even show up for a fundraiser when the president is there. That happened Friday in Virginia. Thelma Drake skipped the event. Her staff said she had to stay and vote on a bill involving benefits for military families, who are an important constituency in her district.

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New York, N.Y.: Sen. McCain was a conservative, yet he disagreed sometimes with fellow Republicans. He was loved by the press. Sen. McCain is now a conservative, yet he disagrees sometimes with fellow Republicans. He is loathed by the press. What gives?

Dan Balz: Sen. McCain got some very favorable coverage when he ran in 2000. He's gotten some critical coverage this spring from some of those who were favorably about him in the past. But in neither case is the coverage likely to determine whether he becomes the Republican nominee in 2008 -- if he runs.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Regarding today's story on GOP hopes during the midterm elections, isn't the story somewhat redundant? Isn't every election cycle part of both parties strategies? I've never heard either side ever say that an election cycle somehow was unimportant (at least until after the election when one side loses, then that side claims it was not important).

Dan Balz: Every election cycle is important but this one especially so for a president trying to avoid early lame-duck status. The president's advisers think that a better-than-expected showing by the Republicans in November could give him the kind of boost he can't get elsewhere.

We're out of time. Thanks to everyone for participating today.

Dan Balz

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