Post Politics Hour

Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Monday, October 16, 2006; 11:00 AM

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Washington Post congressional reporter Shailagh Murray was online Monday, Oct. 16, at 11 a.m. ET .

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The transcript follows.


Shailagh Murray: Good morning everyone. I'm running a few minutes late, so bring on the questions. And thanks to all for participating.


London, UK: I appreciate you taking questions and have no problems with your articles in general but seriously, what was with the one on good looking democrats?! I'm not saying the topic wasn't one worth discussing but I have to raise my eyebrow at any reporter who uses the term 'hotness quotient'. That's all

Shailagh Murray: Let's just say I got a lot of feedback about that story, which was published on Saturday. About half wanted to point out candidates I hadn't mentioned, and the other half attacked me personally. But no one, I noticed, questioned the actual premise of the story, which is that good-looking people have an advantage at the ballot box. What are we supposed to do, ignore it, and labor under the illusion that all people care about is Medicare and the minimum wage?


Des Moines, Iowa: In regards to the David Broder's Sunday column on "gender politics", what is your political/historic opinion of the strong support in national polls for Democrats to nominate Hillary Clinton or for Republicans to nominate Condoleezza Rice on the 2008 ticket? Do you think it is likely either or both women will be named for president? Or do you think the delegates/voters will only accept the VP post first? Is Condi Rice seen as stronger on foreign policy than Hillary Clinton? Thank you from the Midwest

Shailagh Murray: I think the climate for women is better now than it has been in the past. That said, I also believe that both of these women will be heavily scrutinized on the merits of their potential candidacies -- Hillary for her long public life and record and Condi for her role in the war and conservative social credentials -- and neither may ultimately pass muster. Two of the most interesting developments, to be determined in three weeks, is whether we end up with a female speaker of the House, and also whether Harold Ford Jr. wins his Senate race. Those would both be historic developments, and could alter the presidential playing field for candidates who aren't white males.


Rolla, Mo.: Can we now put to bed the conventional wisdom that Democrats have to come up with a plan to salvage Iraq to be successful in the mid-terms? Not only are the Democrats favored by double digits overall, but they are favored over Republicans in recent polls on Iraq and security. It seems that people understand there are no good options for Iraq, and perhaps the best option is to go with the party that won't start another unnecessary war (Iran??).

Shailagh Murray: This is an interesting question that I'm not sure we're ready to answer. I'm not sure Democrats are uniformly passing the national security test -- the generic polls are significant, but in some individual races, Republican incumbents are hitting their Dem challengers hard on just this point. I'm thinking Nancy Johnson in Connecticut and Mike Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Ms Murray,

If your premise that better looking people fare better at the ballot box (or other political contests) is correct, then we can extrapolate from that that House Speaker Dennis Hastert will be forced to resign his post in the next five or ten minutes.

Shailagh Murray: Oh, I disagree, he's so adorable, like a build-a-bear.


Washington, D.C.: Shailagh, how badly have the last couple of weeks been for the administration and the Republicans in general, in terms of drowning out the messages they'd like to see in the headlines? Seems to me they don't have "message control" and that the President is getting very frustrated at not being able to dominate the nation's political conversation. Thanks for being here for this chat!

Shailagh Murray: This is certainly the case with the economy. Gas is now under $2 per gallon in places. I noticed that Republicans are now running ads warning that Democrats are about to raise taxes -- but I've seen zero evidence that's really breaking through, with everything else that's swirling.


Toledo, Ohio: What is the general mood in Congress compared to month ago?

Shailagh Murray: Quiet. Congress is gone until after the election. But the mood among Republicans is fearful, while the Democrats are nervous and hopeful.


Deep South: OK, maybe I am a cynic. I don't see the USA electing a female for president any time soon, regardless of whether it is Hilary, Condi or someone else. If Harold Ford wins in Tennessee I will be (pleasantly) surprised. And if the Dems win Congress, do you really think Pelosi will be in the top spot? Not if the fat, white men have anything to say about it. Murtha will challenge and probably win.

Shailagh Murray: I can't imagine a scenario where Nancy Pelosi isn't Speaker, if Democrats take the House back. No matter what lots of people think about her, she will get some credit for this win. Murtha is challenging Steny Hoyer for the No. 2 job, and may or may not win -- he's not a universally beloved figure. However, if the Dems do take the House, many of the new members will be far more conservative, and they also will be expecting some credit as well as a voice at the top.


Austin, Texas: Hot Democrats. Actually I think the problem with our politicians isn't their hotness nor the publics poor participation at the voting booth. I think the problem is safe seats for 80-95 percent of each of the House and Senate seats.

Our representatives have gerrymandered safe seats for themselves. The Supreme Court says this is okay, but I think it's part of what creates the extreme partisanship and lack of accountability, we have today.

This is what you should be discussing. What do you think.

Shailagh Murray: This is a separate, but vital issue. And, as I pointed out in the story, whether you're trying to break through in a Republican district, or beat an established incumbent, you take every advantage you can get.


Alexandria, Va.: On the good-looking thing: to do a story like that -- ooh, look at the Democratic hotties! -- in mid-October looks a bit like electioneering (leering electioneering?). When you have a good-looking Republican, the media treat them as automatically devoid of depth. That's why this article came across as tilted.

Shailagh Murray: This year, Republicans are incumbents and Democrats are challengers. That's why I focused on Democrats. Because they're the ones pushing the boulder up the mountain. As I pointed out, Republicans did something similar in 1994, when a lot of their candidates were younger and more fresh faced, less like traditional politicians.

I realize that some people see bias in everything we all write, but sometimes the bias is in the facts.


New York, N.Y.: Has anyone done an analysis of what Congress would look like if the Democrats win the House and Senate, particularly in terms of who would chair major committees?

Shailagh Murray: Well, obviously Congress would look a lot cuter.


Yes, Congress would look a lot different. Some of the would-be Democratic committee chairmen have vastly different views on issues like taxes (Charlie Rangel v. Bill Thomas) or government oversight (Henry Waxman v. Tom Davis). Some literally look different -- on two of the most important House committees, Ways and Means and Judiciary, the ranking Democrats are black (Rangel and John Conyers). But you can count on all major news organizations to explore every conceivable hypothetical in the weeks to come.


Falls Church, Va.: "Republicans did something similar in 1994"

Well, maybe, but The Post certainly didn't.

Shailagh Murray: I was still running beauty pageants back then.


From Skepticville:: I have a hard time accepting the idea that the Ds can take control of either chamber as long as the Rs have Karl Rove on their side. The Ds misunderestimate him at their own peril.

Shailagh Murray: I can tell you are a Democrat because you still Karl Rove is a genius. Yeah, it takes a real genius to create the mess that Republicans are in right now. Democrats have the most amazing inferiority complex. If if they run the table next month, they'll start fretting that Rove has set them up for 2008. You already hear it.


Washington, D.C.: Do you expect any surprise wins or losses on Election Day?

Shailagh Murray: I am expecting to be shocked on Election Day, whatever happens. That's because, despite having traveled to many of this year's battlegrounds, talked to hundreds of voters, and performed a million gut checks, I have no idea what's going to happen. There are too many moving parts and question marks, like who's going to show up at the polls.


Arlington, Va.: You don't think it's sexist to push Man Meat for high office? As if women make all their decisions based on appearances?

Shailagh Murray: You have got to be kidding me. Have you noticed all those reality shows and fashion magazines, the obsessions that shopping and personal grooming have now become, the de facto religion of celebrity worshipping? Who do you think consumes all that? Those are voters! Why should they judge candidates any differently?


Centreville: On what do you base your idea that new House Democrats are going to be much more conservative than Pelosi: they're pro-Iraq war? Pro-tax cut? Anti-abortion? What?

Shailagh Murray: Because for Democrats to win the House next month, they have to clean up in Republican districts. Not Northern California districts, but Indiana and Virginia districts. Not surprisingly, the Democrats running in these places are more conservative. They are pretty unified on the big Democratic priorities -- energy independence, minimum wage, expanding health coverage -- but they hold more conservative views on social issues, in particular abortion -- lots of pro-life Dems running this year.


Enid, Okla.: Will Joe Lieberman end up in control of the U.S. Senate?

Shailagh Murray: I doubt it.

But he certainly has made this year interesting.

Lots of speculation that he may replace Rumsfeld. I think that's wishful thinking -- although I'm not sure on which side.


Anonymous: If the tables were turned, do you think the GOP would be using former pages in their attack ads?

Shailagh Murray: I believe the Democrats are running ads on this subject in at least a few districts.


Ames, Iowa: Bill Clinton was spectacular at the Iowa JJ Dinner. Do you think he will be a positive for Hillary or will his past catch up with him again?

Shailagh Murray: Sorry, feminists, but this may be what it all boils down to for a Hillary candidacy.


Cincinnati, Ohio: With regards to the looks...Don't any of these chatters have a sense of humor?

Call me a sexist male pig, but it is possible for me to see a hot woman and still respect her brain. Much more attractive to me that way!

Frances Townsend in the White House is one.

Shailagh Murray: Good, I'm not crazy.

A little vanity goes a long way. No matter what you look like.


Chicago, Ill.: I can't seem to find your article on good looking pols on The Post's Web site can you post a link? Democratic Faces That Could Launch Thousands of Votes (Post, Oct. 14)

Shailagh Murray: Here it is.


Washington, D.C.: Way to go girl. You gave Arlington a load of reality!

Shailagh Murray: What's better, voting for someone at least in part because of the way they look, or not voting? I'd say the latter is the bigger concern.

Thanks to all for participating, and pull up a chair for the wild month ahead. See you in a couple weeks. Cheers, Shailagh


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