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Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com political blogger Chris Cillizza

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Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Political Blogger
Wednesday, November 15, 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.

washingtonpost.com political blogger Chris Cillizza was online Wednesday, Nov. 15, 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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Chris Cillizza: Good morning. Has it really only been eight days since the 2006 election?

In that time we've seen Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain all form presidential exploratory committees while Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D) took himself out of consideration for national office.

And, just this morning Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott completed his political comeback by defeating Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander by a single vote to become the party's minority whip.

What a week.

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Alexandria, Va.: In yesterday's blog item, you credited Rahm Emmanuel and Charles Schumer for the Dem successes.

Do you feel that Howard Dean's 50-state strategy played a significant role in the outcome of the election?

If so, what were the unique contributions of each?

Chris Cillizza: Lots of questions about my decision to leave Gov. Dean off the "winners" list on The Fix yesterday.

There is little question that Dean deserves some credit for his 50-state strategy -- in essence dispatching staff and money every state in hoping to build political success from the grassroots up.

In some states -- Wyoming and Idaho jump to mind -- Democrats ran surprisingly competitive races for the House; those tight margins had much to do with the weakness of the Republican candidates but also with a commitment from the national party to devote time and resources to these alleged GOP strongholds.

That said, it seemed to me that the two men most closely involved in winning the House and Senate majorities -- Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel -- deserved the lion share of the credit for their party's gains. Both raised historically high amounts of money, recruited top tier candidates and put in place a national strategy centered on President Bush and the war in Iraq that proved effective.

That's not to say that last Tuesday was not a good day for Dean and the DNC. Just that it was an even better day for Schumer and Emanuel.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Hello Chris, what do you think the most surprising result was of election 2006?

Chris Cillizza: I'll give you two.

First was Iowa Rep. Jim Leach's (R) loss to Dave Loebsack in the 2nd district. Leach had held the Democratic-leaning seat for 30 years and had successfully fought off a number of serious Democratic challenges in that time. Loebsack got NO attention from the national party and wasn't on anyone's radar screen. Now, he's in Congress.

My other major surprise was in Kentucky's 3rd district where Rep. Anne Northup (R) lost to John Yarmuth. Given the Democratic lean of this Louisville-area seat, we expected this race to be somewhat close but I NEVER thought Northup would lose. Since winning the seat in 1996, she had beaten any and every Democratic challenger and seemed to have cemented her hold on the seat. When Northup lost, I went to my editors and told them there was no way Republicans were holding their majority. It was the real bellwether race of 2006 for me.

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Iowa: Local news reports suggest defeated IA Rep. Congressman Jim Leach is a candidate for the U.N. Ambassador, assuming John Bolten does not achieve confirmation. Leach does have a lot of foreign policy experience, but would the administration ever appoint a moderate Republican to that sensitive post?

Chris Cillizza: I have read those same reports and saw that the Leach boomlet was being pushed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.).

I think it is far too early to get into speculation about Leach's next move but he clearly was not expecting to be out of a job in Congress and may well be looking for a way to stay in the public debate.

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New York, N.Y.: Chris, who started that baseless rumor that the empty suit, Mr. Michael Steele, was in line for chair of the RNC?

Chris Cillizza: Yikes.

I have drawn some criticism from commenters for posting an item on The Fix last week that said Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) was interested in becoming RNC Chairman.

Even after Steele himself admitted his interest on C-Span on Sunday, many people on The Fix accused me of somehow agitating for a Steele candidacy.

To be clear: Reporting on someone's interest in a job IS NOT the same as advocating for him or her to get said job. Michael Steele WAS interested in being RNC Chair. The fact that the Bush Administration selected Florida Sen. Mel Martinez in NO WAY contradicts what had been reported on The Fix.

Glad I got that off my -- congested -- chest.

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Rochester, N.Y.: What's your take on Mel Martinez as RNC chair? Is this a direct response the low percentage of the Latino vote the Republicans got last Tuesday? What do you make of all the criticism of it so far? Just noise or some sign of real discontent? More importantly, how do you think he'll do?

Chris Cillizza: Martinez is a longtime loyalist in Bush world so it's not terribly surprising that he was tapped for this job in the runup to the crucial 2008 election.

As I said on The Fix recently, Martinez brings two major selling points to the post: he is Cuban-American and he hails from the fundraising-rich state of Florida.

Now, Martinez's support for the Bush-backed comprehensive immigration reform packages -- labeled by conservatives as amnesty -- has already drawn considerable criticism from the ideological right of the party, criticism likely to continue in the coming weeks.

But, to my mind, the positives for the Bush Administration in selecting Martinez do outweigh the negatives. Republican attempts to court the growing Hispanic vote backslid in 2006; selecting Martinez as the national face of the party should mitigate those losses somewhat.

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Newport News, Va.: I've always been skeptical of Giuliani as a presidential candidate because of his cultural liberalism and mega-messy personal life. (Not to mention his ties to scandal-magnet Bernie Kerik). But others say that conservative voters love him anyway because of his tough-talking ways and national-security hawkishness. Who is correct? Remember that the decision to vote for a presidential candidate is different that buying a ticket to hear a speech.

Chris Cillizza: Giuliani -- methinks -- will be a test case as to whether the traditional thinking about how to win a Republican presidential primary (emphasive your conservative bona fides especially on social issues) still holds true.

Due to his role in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Giuliani transcends traditional political models for many people. One GOP strategist not aligned with Giuliani recently told me of a gathering of southern conservatives -- not a prototypical Giuliani crowd -- who were absolutely star struck to be in the presence of Hizzonor.

Will that sort of anecdotal evidence prove true over the long haul of a national campaign? We remain skeptical. But Giuliani is a serious candidate for the nod. Why? He places first or second in every state and national poll of 2008 candidates and should have little trouble raising the $50 million plus to run a competitive bid for the nomination.

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Rockville, Md.:"empty suit, Mr. Michael Steele,"

I do not share that opinion and as a Maryland voter voted for all Democrats except for Mr. Steele. I like his style.

But I am not surprised at New York's opinion.

Chris Cillizza: More on Steele.

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Salinas, Calif.: Chris - My nomination for surprise of the day was the defeat of Republican Rep. Pombo in California. Didn't he define entrenched?

Chris Cillizza: A very good nomination. Are there others out there? Let's hear them.

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Gainesville, Va.: Chris, you recently said somewhere (forget if it was in print or on TV) that the GOP will have a whole lot more vulnerabilities in Senate races in 2008 than they had this year. I know it's two years away, but what seats are/were you talking about?

Chris Cillizza: The 2008 cycle is the best of the three for Senate Democrats.

They have only 12 incumbents up for re-election in 2008 as compared to 21 for Republicans.

And, with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer pledging to stay on for a second term as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, you can expect the party to once again be very well-funded and organized.

I plan on giving my first lay of the 2008 Senate landscape in this Friday's Senate Line so I don't want to ruin the surprise. But, make sure to check out The Fix Friday morning for the first handicapping on the cycle to come.

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Baltimore, Md.: On a horrific night for Republicans, I was surprised that Chris Shays, Heather Wilson, and Jim Gerlach survived, if only barely.

I guess the biggest Democratic surprise was Carol Shea-Porter beating Jeb Bradley in New Hampshire, as part of a statewide Democratic sweep.

Chris Cillizza: Carol Shea Porter is absolutely a worthy mention for surprise of the night. Remember that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was behind her opponent in the PRIMARY; there was NO expectation she would beat Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) in the general.

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Washington, D.C.: I, for one (admittedly a Nevada native), was surprised that Jim Gibbons won the Nevada governor's race in spite of some strange, high-profile goings-on in Las Vegas right before the election.

Chris Cillizza: Very true. Prior to the alleged groping incident outside a Las Vegas restaurant, Gibbons was shoo-in for governor. The fact that he won even as the newspapers were filled with stories about the incident shows two things: 1) he effectively defined state Sen. Dina Titus (D) as a Las Vegas liberal and 2) Nevada is fundamentally still a Republican-tilting state.

Keep your surprises coming....

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Centreville, Va.: So, why did the Senate Republicans return to Trent Lott for the whip position? I mean, 2002 wasn't all THAT long ago, a point at which he'd become kryptonite from his Thurmond comments. And it's coming on the heels of an election where they party got destroyed among moderates and independents, a group that someone with Lott's baggage isn't going to appeal to.

I also see problems for McConnell over this. I got the feeling that Lott really never got over being stripped of his position, and I can't imagine that he'll see himself as a "good lieutenant" in his new position. So much for any chance to run a tight ship in the Senate GOP conference.

Chris Cillizza: Since Lott's win happened just minutes before this chat started, I haven't had time to analyze it fully or make calls to sources to see why he won.

Remember that in politics -- as in sports -- there is always room for a second (or third) act. Lott's dismissal in late 2002 was seen in hindsight by many of his colleagues as unfair. That buyer's remorse was further solidified by the struggles of Lott's replacement -- Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist (R).

Lott has always been a master of the inside game so even when Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) declared victory a few days ago, no one ruled out Lott's chances.

I'll be taking a more in-depth look at what Lott's win means for the Senate and the 2008 race later today on The Fix.

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Santa Barbara, Calif.: And people say that the MSM is soft on liberals: Look how they are crucifying Congressman Murtha!

Chris Cillizza: One of the biggest misnomers in this leadership fight between Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is that it is a choice between a liberal (Murtha) and a moderate (Hoyer).

Murtha aligns with liberals on the largest issue of the day -- the need for a redeployment of American troops from Iraq -- but little else. He is anti abortion right and repeatedly has voted against imposing strictures on gun rights.

Hoyer, on the other hand, supports abortion rights and backs gun control measures.

It's true that Hoyer has the support of the majority of moderate to conservative members of the Democratic caucus but he also has the backing on avowed liberals like California Rep. Maxine Waters.

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Concord, N.H.: Carol Shea-Porter's win in the 1st New Hampshire Congressional race has to be on any list of surprising results. She beat a popular incumbent - Jeb Bradley. She raised very little money. She was no closer than 8 points down in any pre-election poll. She won because she was the genuine article not a polished pol, she had a tremendous volunteer organization, and had the right message - strong opposition to the war in Iraq. But few saw it coming before election day.

Chris Cillizza: Another vote for Carol Shea Porter.

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Detroit, Mich.: Hi Chris,

Thanks for taking questions. I enjoyed your bit on the polling re: Hillary Clinton's potential presidency. Two quick questions: First of all, has she filed any papers for an exploratory committee or does she not even need to explore? Second: It seems going into this already the public opinion is fairly split and there are many negative beliefs about her personality though many people I've read/spoken to find her quite warm and charming in person. Is it possible to turn this view of her around within the election cycle? Will these views be her biggest challenge?

Chris Cillizza: Thanks. (In case people don't know what this questions refers to, make sure to check out the "Parsing the Polls" feature currently on The Fix.)

Sen. Clinton -- thanks to her universal name recognition and fundraising capacity -- need not play by the same rules as the other Democrats considering a run for president in 2008.

While other lesser-known candidates (Vilsack, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh) are likely to be up and running by the end of the year, Clinton can wait. There is no need for her to rush into this race since she will face an unprecedented level of scrutiny as soon as she makes her campaign official.

So, she will likely spend the rest of the year putting her political house in order and ensuring that all the i's have been dotted and t's crossed in expectation of a huge rollout in spring 2007.

This is entirely speculative on my part, I might add, as Clinton loyalists continue to be tight-lipped on a national bid.

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Alexandria, Va.: Another surprise has to be Kirsten Gillibrand from New York's 20th. As someone who used to live in that district, I thought that would be solidly Republican until the end of time.

Chris Cillizza: Gillibrand was something of a surprise although her win had more to do with the utterly disastrous campaign run by Rep. John Sweeney (R) than anything else.

That said, winning in a district with 100,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats is no small feat and Gillibrand deserves credit.

Expect her to be a top target for House Republicans in 2008.

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New York, N.Y.: The upset of Nancy Johnson in Connecticut seems one of the bigger earthquakes. Her opponent was young and inexperienced, but she lost big.

Chris Cillizza: State Sen. Chris Murphy ran one of the most effective campaigns in the country against Johnson. Rather than apologize or hide his youth and relative inexperience in public office, he used it to his benefit -- arguing that Johnson was part of the problem, not the solution.

And, in case you missed it, it appears as though former state Rep. Joe Courtney (D) has defeated Rep. Rob Simmons (R) in Connecticut's 2nd district -- meaning that only Rep. Chris Shays (R) survived the Democratic tide in the Constitution State.

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New York, N.Y.: No wonder you have a bad cold. Take care of yourself!

Chris Cillizza: I am indeed under the weather at the moment and am going to cut short the chat by a few minutes as a result.

I promise to answer a few of the questions I couldn't get to on The Fix either later today or tomorrow morning so please check back then.

And, thanks for all of your kind words about The Fix and the Post/Post.com's political coverage in election 2006. As someone who lives and breathes politics, it means so much to know that our work is appreciated.

All best,

Chris

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