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Charles Babington
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Wednesday, October 25, 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 congressional reporter Charles Babington was online Wednesday, Oct. 25, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

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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Charles Babington: Well, 13 days before the election we have the House Speaker testifying to the ethics committee, the Washington Post editorial page endorsing Md. Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), the New York Times endorsing Diane Farrell (D) over Rep. Chris Shays, the president giving a press conference, and Barack Obama managing to get us to say, The heck with Nov. 7, let's talk about 2008!

Rock on.

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Re: Harold Ford ad: The Post's insightful Shailagh Murray wrote this morning about the Harold Ford ad, which is a "pretty man" ad, complete with a blond white woman asking African American Ford to call her (quite racist, I think), and also implying Ford took money from a porno producer. Even in this day and age of slash and burn politics, it is extraordinarily nasty. My question is, are these kinds of ads the reason why Republicans win -- and if they work (Corker (R) seems to be increasing his lead), how come the Democrats don't do likewise -- don't they have the confidence to bring it off?

washingtonpost.com: A Contentious Campaign in a Battleground State ( Post, Oct. 25 )

Charles Babington: Political ads "work" when voters respond positively to them. That's true of Democratic ads, Republican ads, whatever. Sometimes extremely hard-hitting ads backfire if voters feel they are over the top and unfair. But campaign after campaign has shown that, for the most part, sharply negative ads can be effective. I'm not close enough to the Tenn. situation to know how Corker's ad is being received.

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Cheverly, Md.: The Post endorsement of Ehrlich seemed to be based moreso on not wanting to see the dominant one party back in power, and not really on Ehrlich's accomplishments. His gains as noted were primarily due to economic gains enjoyed by the entire nation. How much of this credit translates to Steele?

Charles Babington: First, a reminder: We in the newsroom have nothing whatsoever to do with the editorial page and its endorsements... That said, I can't imagine that a newspaper endorsement in a gubernatorial race could impact a Senate race. Perhaps Michael Steele can make his own case that he, as Lt. Gov., contributed to economic gains in Maryland.

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Alexandria, Va.: Anecdotal evidence on the state of Republicans: My father, a resident of Ohio and staunch Republican, is so disgusted by that state's candidates that he will not vote for any of them. His objection to Dewine is that he is a "Republican in Name Only" (same applies to Voinovich, btw) and the rest are corrupt. He only plans to vote for a local issue.

Charles Babington: Thanks for writing. I'd enjoy hearing from others re what you're hearing from friends, neighbors and relatives.

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Waterville, Maine: In the Senate, it all comes down to Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and New Jersey. The Democrats need 3 of the 4 to re-gain control. Is it your sense that this is more likely than not to happen give the national political climate? Or will the Republicans tried and true methods of shoring up their base and getting out the vote prevail?

Charles Babington: You, along with many others, are assuming that Republican incumbents will lose in Penn., R.I., Montana and Ohio. Should that happen, yes, the Dems would take control of the Senate if Menendez holds on in NJ and the Ds win two out of Mo., Tenn. and Virginia. (Or, a less likely scenario: Kean beats Menendez but Ds win all three of those other states). I've thought all along that it is a high hurdle for Democrats. Especially winning in Va. and Tenn. will be a big challenge. Who knows? I'd be not a bit surprised if we have a 50-50 Senate.

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Greenville, S.C.: Babs - I heard ya'll were requested to not comment on Tom Edsall's interview with Hugh Hewitt re liberal bias in the media, but do the same restrictions apply to the Gene Weingarten remarks?

Charles Babington: I have no idea what you are talking about.

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Mayfield, Ky.: Mr. Babington, thanks for the chat. I'm not given to predicting elections, but as a native Tennessean, I do not believe a majority of white voters in Middle and Eastern Tennessee will vote for Harold Ford, Jr. for the sole reason that he is an African American. Coker's ad showing a blonde saying "Call me, Harold." is the clincher for most white Tennesseans. Very sad, but true.

Charles Babington: I take it you think the blonde-vixen ad will be effective. I'd be curious what others think, especially if we could hear from anyone in Tennessee.

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Santa Fe, N.M.: Is this presidential press conference supposed to boost turnout for Republicans in two weeks? I don't see it happening. Regardless of what you think of Bush or the war in Iraq, everyone knows he just isn't very good at unscripted press conferences. Do they really work to raise his popularity? Is there any evidence that they've done so in the past?

Charles Babington: Well, perhaps you have proven that Karl Rove doesn't do everything based on politics.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Charles:

My relatives are die-hard Republicans representing New Hampshire. They have voted Republican in almost every single election. Yet, on a trip to see them a few weeks ago, NO ONE was talking Republican. It seems as though the family is going to swing strongly Democrat. As an African American family, we supported Iraq, security issues and family values in the last election. But, Congress and Bush's horrible response to Katrina is what turned my usually Republican stronghold family against the Republican party. Those people were not even thought of and most of my family feel that racism played a part. Most likely in the GOP. Look for a strong Democrat takeover next month!

Charles Babington: It's interesting that you mention Katrina. It isn't raised that often in campaigns, it seems, but I think it was an important moment in causing many Americans to question the Bush administration's competence. Once that door was opened, I think it was easier for once-loyal voters to question the administration's handling of Iraq and other matters. I wonder if historians will see it as a turning point.

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Ruckersville, Va.: In the event of a 50-50 tie in the Senate who would control the agenda?

Charles Babington: The Republicans. As president of the Senate, the vice president (Cheney) would break the tie when the Senate convenes to organize itself into majority and minority parties.

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Washington, D.C.: Under the adage that there is always an off the radar race that surprises by its closeness or result (e.g., Salazar in Colo and the Ky race in 2004), what Senate race not commonly talked about do you think that will be? 2 recent polls have AZ at 5-6% (AZ state and Survey USA). That might be it, or do you think we already know the surprises in N.J. and Va.?

Charles Babington: First, to nitpick, I don't think Salazar's win over Pete Coors was a big surprise at all... There has been talk that Michael Steele might pull it off in Md., or Debbie Stabenow could fall in Michigan. But neither seems likely from what I am hearing.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Thanks for taking questions. In your coverage of all these races, are you seeing any Democratic candidates raising the "Katrina" issue with voters to remind them of how badly the administration botched the response? It seems to me that would still resonate with voters, am I wrong?

Charles Babington: Funny you should ask, I just posted a comment on Katrina. I confess I don't follow all campaigns closely, but I'm not aware of anyone making a big deal out of Katrina. Can any of you out there in America cite examples? thanks.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Any sense of how a 50-50 Congress may be organized? As I recall, the last 50-50 Congress in 2001(?) had co-chairs for each committee and equal Dem-GOP membership on the committees?

Seems like a opportunity for bipartisanship...or extreme partisanship.

Charles Babington: No, that's not correct. The 50-50 Congress had Republican chairmen of committees, and ranking Dems, same as always. The committees had more R members than D. There was a more even distribution of resources for staff, etc., but there is no obligation for Republicans in the 110th Congress to follow that precedent.

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Birmingham, Ala.: If the Democrats win control of both houses, what do you see as their top three pieces of legislation that they will definitely move on/move on first?

Charles Babington: Minimum wage increase. Allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies on prices for the Medicare program. Hearings into how intelligence was used in the run-up to the Iraq war.

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Cache Valley, Utah: Dear Chuck, thank you so much for these illuminating chats! I am appalled at the crass, insensitive raving of Limbaugh toward the Michael Fox ad? Do you see this attack as having any merit or impact on the election the ad was geared for or is the attack just more fodder for the restless Repub's uber-wacko base?

Charles Babington: Audiences for programs such as Limbaugh's are overwhelmingly in the non-persuadable category. (Remember, they proudly call themselves Ditto-heads). They hold strongly to their beliefs, and they don't waver. For that reason, I think he has little ability to influence an election one way or the other.

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Reston, Va.: If the Republicans lose one or both Houses, what will be the fate of Karl Rove? Will he become the scapegoat for the failures of the Bush administration and the Republican party as a whole?

Charles Babington: I would guess that Mr. Rove will still be seen as one of the sharpest political minds of his generation. His successes in 2000 and 2004 will overshadow the midterm elections of 2006.

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Saint Paul, Minn.: Why does The Post regard Rush Limbaugh's accusations against actor Michael J. Fox to be newsworthy?

Limbaugh has never met Fox, nor is he an expert in Parkinson's disease. Neither fact was mentioned in David Montgomery's article.

washingtonpost.com: Rush Limbaugh On the Offensive Against Ad With Michael J. Fox ( Post, Oct. 25 )

Charles Babington: Limbaugh reaches about 10 million listeners a week, as the article noted. Do you really think it was necessary for the article to say: By the way, folks, Rush Limbaugh is not an expert on Parkinson's disease?

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San Diego, Calif.: Just a comment: my father and brother will vote Republican because of one issue: gun control. They will never, ever, vote for a Democrat, for fear of further tightening on firearm ownership.

Charles Babington: Thanks for writing.

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Flyover country: Does Rush Limbaugh really think that attacking Michael J. Fox (whose struggle with Parkinson's has been documented for a decade) is going to impress people? Or is this just ginning up the base?

Charles Babington: I don't know.

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Re: Late-Breaking Races: The most recent poll out of Arizona shows Jon Kyl just a few points ahead of Democrat Jim Pederson. The state is full of recently-arrived residents who probably didn't live there when Kyl last ran in 2000 and only now starting to tune into the election. There are a couple of moderately competitive House races (Renzi, Hayworth) that seem to be getting closer. Could Pederson pull off an upset?

Charles Babington: It's possible, I guess, but the smarty-pants folks in both parties in DC don't seem to consider it likely. Maybe Arizona will be the under-the-radar shocker on the night of Nov. 7.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why aren't we hearing from Russell Feingold and other liberal leaders in the Democratic Party? I mean there is an election campaign going on in which the Democratic Party isn't running any national ads holding Republican one-party rule accountable for anything- and even objective, balanced Washington Post reporters would agree there is a lot to be accountable for. You don't even hear the Democrats asking "are you better off than you were before?" which used to be the standard question at election time. Why are the Democrats running on cruise control?

Do they really believe Rove has nothing up his sleeve to turn things around?

Charles Babington: Congressional campaigns are won and lost on a state-by-state and district-by-district basis. Even if there is a strong national tide (as there appears to be this year), it is more effective to have a candidate who is on the ballot make the sweeping argument (e.g. "It's time to throw the Republicans out") than it is to have such an argument made by a party "spokesman" who is not on the ballot anywhere. In truth, how many voters outside of Wisconsin know who Russ Feingold is, let alone care what he has to say about events in Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, whatever? Once the 2008 presidential campaign gets underway, and assuming he's a candidate, that will change.

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Olney, Md.: In the equation of how many seats the Dems have to pick up in the Senate to capture control, the unknown variable is Joe Lieberman. Given that he will win reelection, and if it turns out to be a 50-50 split in the Senate, the Republicans will try hard to persuade him to switch parties, Sounds disgusting but former Senator Campbell from Colo had done it, and my hero, Senator Jeffords became an Independent and caucused with the Democrats. Any thoughts on this particular scenario?

Charles Babington: Sen. Lieberman repeatedly has said he will caucus with the Democrats.

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Hartford, Conn.: Do you think the major networks should provide equal time to Democrats, to rebut Bush's clearly political non-news conference? Or do they consider letting Bush talk to the nation so beneficial to the Democrats that they don't need time to respond?

Charles Babington: Well, first, the major networks didn't interrupt their regular programming to air the press conference, did they? (I was watching on cable). Traditionally, presidential press conferences are considered bona fide news, even if the subject matter is heavily political.

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Nashville, Tenn.: You wanted to hear from Tennessee voters. For what it is worth I tend to be turned off by really negative ads, which are pretty much all Corker has run. Some of Ford's ads have been positive and well done. While I am not thrilled about Ford being from that cesspool of corruption, Memphis, I am inclined to vote for him based on his more positive message. (He ain't a liberal btw.)

Charles Babington: Thanks for writing from Music City.

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Yardley, Pa.: The Democrats seem to be taking it for granted that Casey is going to win in Pa. They're sending in some big guns for their local candidate here in the 8th district (Patrick Murphy), Clinton, John Kerry tomorrow, but Casey is barely mentioned. And the local Republican candidate, Fitzpatrick, pretty much is going it alone, the only Republican I've seen him photographed with is Laura Bush! What a change from the last election, the Dems actually put Democrat on the signs, the Republicans don't dare.

Charles Babington: Polls consistently have shown Casey ahead of Santorum. But maybe Santorum will pull off a shocker.

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Herndon, Va.: Two questions:

If is truly is "the economy, stupid" why aren't the Republicans getting credit for the strong economy?

Why if the mood is to "throw the bums out" why doesn't it apply to Democrat incumbents? Surely, you are not saying that being in the minority party gives you a pass on having any responsibility for the state of the nation.

Charles Babington: 1. "It's the economy" does not seem to be motivating huge numbers of voters this year, to the GOP's detriment.

2. It's possible that some Dems will fall victim to anti-incumbent sentiment. But the Rs have controlled the House, Senate and White House for years, so that makes it easier for the Dems to say the Rs are the real problem.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: Hi--

Just as a correction, I watched the President's news conference and all three major networks, Fox excepted, carried it live. NBC had Joseph Biden to rebut.

Here's a Mike DeWine supporter hoping the Democratic tide has stopped, as some pundits were saying afterwards. I like it that he is willing to work with the other side.

Charles Babington: thanks for the update.

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Baffled, Md.: Ok-Ben Cardin gets Michael J. Fox to run ads for him, today I read that Cardin voted against stem cell research, what's the real deal with this?

Charles Babington: I believe Cardin voted against a GOP-crafted measure dealing only with adult stem cells. He says he supports federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

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Alexandria, Va.: While I desperately want the Dems to take control of Congress, my biggest fear if they do is, nothing will get done because the next 2 years will be spent trying to punish the administration -- endless hearings, charges and accusations, and talk of impeachment, for starters. By the time 2008 rolls around, the voters will be so disgusted by the whole thing that they'll vote Repubs back in. If the Dems do take back Congress in a few weeks, how much time will they spend on "punishment"?

Charles Babington: I have no idea, but thanks for writing.

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Lyme, Conn.: Has Lieberman ruled out accepting a job with the Bush Administration? If not, wouldn't it be appropriate for me to point out to Connecticut Democrats that if he does so, that voting for Lieberman may be like electing a Republican Senator, as our Republican Governor (who appears to be headed towards reelection) would then appoint his replacement?

Charles Babington: You are welcome to make that point. My guess: Voters in Conn., like elsewhere, will vote for the person they want to win the election that's on the ballot line. Triple-bank-shot suppositions rarely determine a voter's decision.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Who would be in line to take Bill Frist's position if the Republicans maintain control of the Senate? If the Democrats take control?

Charles Babington: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) if the Rs win, Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) if the Dems win.

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Charles Babington: Our time is up. Thanks for all the good questions and comments. There were dozens that I didn't have time to get to, and I apologize.

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