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Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Wednesday, September 26, 2007; 11:15 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 Jonathan Weisman was online Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 11:15 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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washingtonpost.com: Chris Cillizza is in New Hampshire today and won't be able to participate in the discussion. Congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman will be filling in.

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Jonathan Weisman: Hello everyone (and Media Matters), welcome to a belated, out of order, Jonathan Weisman chat. Let's all breathe deeply and remember, a sense of humor does wonders for longevity!

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Alexandria, Va.: Did any House Republicans facing tough races next year vote against the SCHIP bill yesterday?

Jonathan Weisman: An excellent question. I noticed that Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) voted against it before he noticed all his colleagues voting for it. He then switched his vote. Jim Saxton, another Jersey Republican under Democratic attack, did vote against the bill, as did Thelma Drake of Virginia. But 45 Republicans voting for it is a real sign of how tough an issue this is.

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New York: Just a comment, because I've found yet another reason to be fed up with the U.S. Government ... and it took a 3-foot-tall nobody from a small Middle Eastern nation to show me why: American diplomats used to have the gumption to spar face to face with dreaded foreign leaders. Now they go on cable TV and whine about what a "travesty" it would have been to visit a site that properly should belong to the world. Hundreds of foreign nationals died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 (maybe even some Iranians!) yet we have to systematically repress that -- as if our national ego would crack like fine crystal if we were forced to acknowledge the mingling of American blood with that of mere foreigners. Why (oh, why) can't our leaders just act like adults ... if not like actual statesmen?

Jonathan Weisman: Mahmoud's visit sure has stirred up a hornet's nest. I think it's probably overall been a good thing. I can't remember so much debate over Iran, nuclear ambitions, Holocaust denial and the state sponsorship of terrorism (not to mention the existence of homosexuality). And I'm sure Ahmadinejad never has seen anything quite like it.

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Rockville, Md.: Good morning! Does it make a difference that Iran says their nuclear program is only for energy? We don't seem to care one way or the other -- and I would expect reporters to clear this up for us.

Jonathan Weisman: Iran hid its nuclear program for more than a decade. When it was revealed, the Iranians said "not to worry, it's only for energy -- oh, and never mind the huge quantities of oil and natural gas our country already has for energy." No, I don't think what they say matters too terribly much.

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Washington: So The Post anoints Hilary as the inevitable Democratic nominee, and a major union walks away from Edwards: Cause and effect?

Jonathan Weisman: You are making the cardinal mistake we reporters tend to make: You're giving the press way way too much power.

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San Diego: What do you think of the "$9.11 for Rudy" fundraising scheme? Will it work? Can you name one person in America who made more money than Rudy Giuliani simply because of the Sept. 11 tragedy? I heard this fellow has donated little of his "war profits" to real causes in New York. Where is the outrage from the press?

washingtonpost.com: The Trail: Giuliani Is Chided for 9/11 Fundraiser (Post, Sept. 26)

Jonathan Weisman: Rudy has been using 9/11 as virtually his sole reason for running. Why should he stop now? And it will take a lot of $9.11 contributions to make a much of a difference.

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Montreal: Is there any chance at all that Hans van Spakovsky will actually be confirmed by the Senate?

washingtonpost.com: Hearing on FEC Pick Could Add Fuel to Debate Over Justice Dept. (Post, June 8)

Jonathan Weisman: Umm, no.

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La Vale, Md.: Good morning and thanks for chatting. Assuming that the Iowa caucus moves up to very early January because of other states moving up, we have about three months before the first votes are cast (or the first standing in the corner or whatever it is they do in Iowa). What can Obama or Edwards do in those three months to break Hillary's aura of inevitability? What about the rest of the pack (Dodd, Biden, Richardson, Kucinich and Gravel)? Anything they can do to break into the top three? Do they have enough money to compete in Iowa and New Hampshire at least? I assume that Kucinich and Gravel still will be sucking up time at tonight's debate.

Jonathan Weisman: I got this question last time and made a rather intemperate remark about what Obama could do, so I'll be more careful. Obama and Edwards need to focus like a laser beam on Iowa, it seems to me. A win there would really break the Clinton aura. It's pretty clear they can't count on her to stumble.

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Princeton, N.J.: Good morning Jonathan ... and thanks for taking my question. What is the latest on Larry Craig? I haven't heard anything lately. Is there a date when we can expect a court decision? Also, is he currently in Washington -- and if so, is he being received by any of his colleagues, or is he pretty much isolated? Any predictions on the outcome of all this? Does he have a chance of regaining any political momentum? For example, did the recent Washington Post editorial help in any way?

washingtonpost.com: Capitol Briefing: The Narrow Stall at the Heart of Craig's Widening Legal Fight (washingtonpost.com, Sept. 26)

Jonathan Weisman: He faces a court date today, so this afternoon will decide his fate. But even if he can withdraw his guilty plea, obviously he will not be exonerated by his self-imposed deadline of Sunday. Chuck Schumer is praying and praying that Craig decides "deadline, schmeadline."

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Chicago: Thanks for taking questions. There have been a number of retirements of GOP congressmen recently (including several here in Illinois). What's the scuttlebutt on who will be next? Is a large number of retirements by GOP House members a really good sign that they don't think they can take the House back any time soon?

washingtonpost.com: The Fix: Illinois 11th Another GOP Open Seat (washingtonpost.com, Sept. 24)

Jonathan Weisman: Last question first. Yes, it is a very strong sign that Republicans have resigned themselves to minority status at least for a few more years, and life in the minority stinks.

Speculation on resignations is hottest on Ralph Regula, John Doolittle, Bill Young of Florida, and Barbara Cubin of Wyoming.

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Southwest Florida: Some organization has been running radio ads here asking listeners to call Tim Mahoney to support the SCHIP bill. The problem is that the ad, which is playing during conservative talk radio, includes a cheap shot at "Bush's Iraq war." If they kept angry partisanship out of the ad copy, they might have reached the listeners. But they just can't help themselves, can they?

Jonathan Weisman: Well, since Tim Mahoney voted for the S-CHIP bill last night, and never signaled he wouldn't, I don't get that ad all around.

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New York: I have a question about Hillary Clinton's growing lead in national polls. Isn't it true that the more Clinton increases her national lead and cements her status as the presumptive nominee, the greater the snapback will be if she loses in Iowa? After all, the higher you rise, the harder you fall (just ask Howard Dean). How are Obama and Edwards faring in Iowa? Is there a chance Hillary could lose there, and in so doing erase her national air of "inevitability"?

Jonathan Weisman: I do think the higher she flies, the harder she falls -- if she loses in Iowa. But that's a big if. And remember, John McCain crushed Bush in New Hampshire, but Bush's superior national operation quickly made that a footnote.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Iran's leader is a pompous, ignorant jerk -- but at least he did not, as far as I know, harp on the fact that the U.S. installed a dictator (the Shah) in his country and helped keep him there for many years. The U.S. was not so worried about democracy in Iran back then -- just like we did not worry so much about democracy in Cuba when a dictator close to us (Batista) was in power, but got worried when a communist dictator took over (and why Bush assumes that Cuba will be free once Castro dies, as he stated in his speech to the U.N., I do not know).

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, you're taking me back to my college days.

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Albany, N.Y.: Do you think the Democratic leadership should call the bill No Child Left Uninsured? How's that for a sense of humor?

Jonathan Weisman: Funny, but not true. Remember, the original House bill would have insured millions more kids. That bill really did expand eligibility. But it was paid for by cutting subsidies to Medicare managed care plans, and that was a political hill too high to climb in the Senate.

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Arlington, Va.: Some might call it ambush journalism, but I thought David Shuster's questioning of Rep Marcia Blackburn shined a nice light on the whacked out priorities of everyone in Washington. Has there been any interesting talk about this?

washingtonpost.com: Tucker Carlson Show Interview (YouTube, Sept. 25)

Jonathan Weisman: I hadn't seen that. Thanks for showing it to me. Frankly, I think the Senator Betray Us -- Gen. Betray Us comparison is a little silly. Rush Limbaugh was attacking an elected official, Chuck Hagel. The sensitivity of the MoveOn ad was because it was attacking a uniformed military officer.

I think the MoveOn thing was a stupid red herring that is diverting us all from the most important debate of our time, the war in Iraq. But by joining the fray to attack Rush Limbaugh, the left is only taking the bait.

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Renfrew, Pa.: Swell Q&A, Jonathan. I am sure you've been asked this before, and you may have a special antipathy regarding this as a journalist, but I will ask anyway ... can you imagine how tiresome the presidential race has become for those of us out here who feel doomed by it? It seems like the cable TV shows and major newspapers (hint hint) already have propped up their straw men and are (mixing metaphors here) going quixotically full tilt at the windmills, whether anyone cares or not. This seems suspiciously like how Bush got elected in 2000; a Dowd-y picture of Gore was implanted through propaganda, while Bush was portrayed as a "swell guy." We have seen ugly attempts at this already. If there isn't going to be honest discourse through the media, why should I pay any more attention to it?

Jonathan Weisman: I'm not sure how your comparison of the Bush campaign of 2000 fits in with your weary indictment of the early campaign schedule, but I share your fatigue. I was just talking to Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) about the gossip of his vice presidential candidacy. Jeez, speculation on running mates usually comes in the summer before the general election. It's not even October of the year before!

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Abingdon, Md.: You definitely spit out the answers faster than any of the others participating in these chats (make sure to bring that up during your annual review). My question -- in the event that there is another vacancy on the Supreme Court, how far out from the elections would we have to be before the Dems would essentially "wait it out" until after the elections instead of considering another Bush nomination?

Jonathan Weisman: Umm, now. Trust me. The Democratic Senate will not confirm another Bush appointee to the Supreme Court.

(And if anything, I think my performance on these chats is a detriment to my annual review.)

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Anonymous: Has Sen. Leahy received all the info he wanted from the White House re: the U.S. attorney firings? Will he hold true to his word and not confirm a new attorney general until he is satisfied the White House has complied?

Jonathan Weisman: He has not received anything like all the information he wants, but given the track record on threats, I'll bet Attorney General Mike Mukasey will be on the job long before we learn anything about Karl Rove's role in the firing of those attorneys.

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Princeton, N.J.: Iran has to import half of its refined gasoline. Also, they claim that nuclear power does not contribute to global warming.

Jonathan Weisman: Silly me, Prof. Krugman. But you don't use gasoline to generate electricity, and pardon me if I'm skeptical about the environmental bona fides of a nation that beheads its homosexuals, than denies they exist.

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Large Swing State: Look, I'm 90 percent certain to vote for the Republican nominee unless something really strange happens. So why shouldn't I register as a Democrat and vote for Obama or Edwards, given that obviously the Clinton media machine is going to be tough for any Republican to overcome?

Jonathan Weisman: Go ahead. I just don't think there are enough Machiavellians out there like you to make a difference.

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Rolla, Mo.: So Waxman is basically saying Condi Rice attempted to stifle investigations into Blackwater's operations in Iraq. Can you think of another rising star at the beginning of an administration who has fallen so far as Rice?

Jonathan Weisman: She's cooked, isn't she? But I'd still put Colin Powell higher on the fallen star pantheon. The man was idolized, and he will never be able to get from under that UN speech to get us into Iraq.

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Re: Retirements: You write: "Speculation on resignations is hottest on Ralph Regula, John Doolittle, Bill Young of Florida, and Barbara Cubin of Wyoming." Why these guys, other than Doolittle, who is obvious? Any word on Randy Kuhl in New York's 29th District?

Jonathan Weisman: Regula is getting up in years. He's a moderate fed up with the infighting and he's raised virtually no money for re-election. Ditto Bill Young. Barbara Cubin very nearly lost last year, and the GOP figures the only Republican who could lose a statewide race for the House is Barbara Cubin. Randy Kuhl is certainly in the Democratic crosshairs, but I've heard no indication he isn't running.

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Reading, Pa.: Do you know if the Dems are hoping to put war veteran Rep. Murphy up against Arlen Specter for the Senate? In your opinion is Specter vulnerable ?

Jonathan Weisman: Since Specter isn't up for re-election in 08, I've heard nothing of the sort. By 2010, the war issue will look very very different, and if a Democrat is in the White House, that cycle could be very good for the GOP. I wouldn't hold my breath (although Murphy really is a star up here).

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Chicago: I just saw that SCHIP passed the house with 8 Dems voting against it. Can you identify the eight Democrats who voted no?

Jonathan Weisman: Sure, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Betty Castor of Florida, Bobby Etheridge of North Carolina, Baron Hill of Indiana, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Jim Marshall of Georgia, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Gene Taylor of Mississippi. Boren, Hill, Taylor and Marshall are conservatives who probably didn't like the tobacco tax. The North Carolinians obviously were voting with their tobacco farmers. Castor and Kucinich felt the bill didn't go far enough, especially a provision insisted on by Senate Republicans that blocks access to SCHIP for legal immigrants.

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Houston: I just can't believe people are actually trying to draw comparisons between Ahmadinejad and George Bush. "Yes, he executes homosexuals, denies the Holocaust and all the rest, but Bush is bad too!" Good grief, people! I'm no fan of GWB, but for crying out loud!

Jonathan Weisman: Amen, Houston.

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New York: Does the fact that sites like Media Matters scans these chats have any effect on how you answer questions? I know you (and especially your pal, Shailagh) have been raked over the coals recently for possibly off-hand remarks made here. Do you think this type of media criticism is beneficial, or merely chilling? Does the added focus of the blogosphere, and the criticism that ensues, have any effect whatsoever on how you report on certain issues ... or on your reporting in general?

Jonathan Weisman: It was once chilling. Now it's annoying. Frankly, there are times that it's good to know a watchdog is looking over my shoulder. It may cut down on my more intemperate proclivities. But if they just can't take a joke, I kind of like to tweak them.

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Roseland, N.J.:"Trust me. The Democratic Senate will not confirm another Bush appointee to the Supreme Court." You do realize that's a fairly breathtaking statement. One might say, newsmaking. Do you have a source on this, or are you shooting from the hip?

Jonathan Weisman: Trust me on this. It's not newsmaking. Congress will be leaving town in a little more than a month for the year. They won't be back in business until late January. And the presidential race will be in full bloom by then.

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Crystal City, Va.: Given that both Hillary and Obama have pledged not to campaign in Michigan because it moved its primary date up, is there a chance that one of the second- or third-string candidates could surprise everyone and win the state?

Jonathan Weisman: I haven't seen any evidence of that. Have you?

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Los Angeles: Hi Jonathan! How's your daughter doing? Don't let Media Matters get you down!

Jonathan Weisman: I find it much more heartening that people are concerned about my daughter's health than depressing that some people have no sense of humor. Alissa is doing pretty well, though the steroids -- after a year and a half -- are triggering a cataract in one eye. I'm much more worried about the cure than the disease, at this point.

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Naperville, Ill.: I was really struck by one thing about Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia -- he faced a really hostile audience and answered their questions. When's the last time the current president of the United States faced a hostile audience and answered tough questions? The press corps does not count. Could you see Bush going to Columbia and answering questions that are really on the people's minds?

Jonathan Weisman: I thought about that too. Maybe Ahmadinejad's advance men aren't as good as Bush's, but our president would have never been subjected to anything like that.

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Loudoun, Va.: With many positions to fill (attorney general, FEC, secretary of Agriculture) what are the odds GWB simply waits until the Senate goes into recess and names all his picks via recess appointments? Over the summer, Reid was threatening to have one Senator stay so the Senate technically would be "in session" to avoid recess appointments, but he and GWB reportedly reached an agreement about it. Is that agreement still in effect? Will Reid keep the Senate here to avoid the problem?

Jonathan Weisman: I think Reid will probably do the same thing, especially if Mukasey has not yet been confirmed. But I think they'll get the AG confirmed pretty quickly, documents or no documents.

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Re: Schumer and Craig: Have you heard any rumors that someone out of Sen. Chuck Schumer's office is working on a "Friend of the Court" brief on behalf of Sen. Larry Craig for his court hearing today?

Jonathan Weisman: I'll remind them to get busy.

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Salinas, Calif.: Hi Jonathan. I haven't heard anyone in Congress posit that funding SCHIP might look a lot more doable by scaling down the millions (billions?) a month we spend on combat operations in Iraq. Have you? Seems a lot easier than trying to pry loose the third rail on Medicare.

Jonathan Weisman: The Democratic leadership is making it very clear that the funding for five years of S-CHIP is burned up in a few months in Iraq, but nobody is talking about taking money from the war to fund CHIP. They have a finance source, a 61-cent increase in the tobacco tax, and that tobacco tax hike is actually one of the bill's selling points.

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Re: Large Swing State: He raised an interesting idea -- how much attention will be paid to the relative number of votes cast in the various primaries? For example, if the Democrats have 300,000 votes in New Hampshire vs. the 100,000 Republican votes, will that be a story worth covering?

Jonathan Weisman: Absolutely, and we political reporters pay a lot of attention to such numbers, but we ascribe them to voter intensity, not shenanigans from the other side.

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Sterling, Va.: As long as Rudy is looking for symbolism in donations, I'll be donating $0.00.

Jonathan Weisman: OK

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Arlington, Va.: Is there any outrage about the executive branch telling their contractors that they can't answer congressional questions (presumably about non-classified matters) without the administration's okay? Is that legal?

Jonathan Weisman: By the White House's definition, it seems like everything is covered by executive privilege if at any point in the past, it glanced against a branch of the federal government.

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San Diego: How much longer do you think Senator Larry Craig will remain in office? And do you think his career has been irreparably damaged, or is there potential for him to salvage some thin shard of respectability?

Jonathan Weisman: Respect is something Sen. Craig does not appear to value much anymore, along with dignity. He has said if the matter is not resolved by Sept. 30, he is resigning. That is this Sunday. If he doesn't make good on that promise, I think his colleagues will make him make good. And the foot stomp won't be a nice, light graze under the stall.

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Princeton, N.J.: If you say they behead gays, therefore we can't believe a word they say, you make dialogue a little hard. How does Saudi Arabia treat gays?

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, Prof. Krugman, the Saudis probably aren't too friendly about homosexuality either, but you're changing the subject.

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Re: Ahmadinejad and George Bush: Don't you think they kind of need each other? Each uses the other as a boogeyman to distract from his own failed policies. Don't you think that's a fair comparison?

Jonathan Weisman: I certainly think Ahmadinejad (and Hugo Chavez for that matter) will certainly miss President Bush when he leaves, but I think Bush has enough problems on his hands.

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Arlington, Va.: On the Shuster thing, I was talking more about him asking Rep. Blackburn if she knew the name of the latest casualty in the war from her district (she did not know that an 18-year-old constituent of hers had been killed three days earlier). This after she had railed against the MoveOn add for its disrespect for the troops or something.

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, I didn't get that far. That's pretty tough questioning, but frankly, she should have known. A lot of members have gone to every funeral of a soldier or Marine killed from their district.

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Houston (again):"At least he took questions from a hostile audience!" He's a thug and a loon, it doesn't count. No, GWB wouldn't have done it, and he arguably should, but using this to draw some sort of parallel between the two is ridiculous! Mahmoud does not get extra credit points for facing a hostile crowd!

Jonathan Weisman: I'm not making any such comparison. Houston, do we have a problem?

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Arlington, Va.: Since Florida has decided to go ahead with their early primary date, will the Democratic candidates continue to avoid campaigning there? Is anyone concerned about backlash from independent voters who feel the Democratic Party is being unfair to Florida?

washingtonpost.com: GOP Uses Dems' Primary Fight to Recruit (AP, Sept. 24)

Jonathan Weisman: I really think the candidates will avoid direct campaigning, but they'll do plenty of fundraising in the better ZIP codes of South Florida. And there is concern about a backlash. It's a dilemma.

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New York: You wrote: "we ascribe them to voter intensity, not shenanigans from the other side." Is that in all cases? What happens if there actually are shenanigans (as there were all around the country during the past two elections)? I'm hoping to see more in-depth reporting of voter disenfranchisement and electronic voting this time around. Will I see it?

Jonathan Weisman: I think and hope you will.

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Bethesda, Md.: Do you find it intriguing that it is primarily Democrats pushing for the patent reform bill, when it will have such a negative impact on their traditional constituency like labor -- who have voiced their ardent opposition?

Jonathan Weisman: Since I haven't a clue about this issue, I will have to pass.

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Chicago: Hi Chris. With so many delegates up for grabs within a month (Feb. 5) of Iowa/New Hampshire, won't candidates who might otherwise have dropped out (re: poor showings in Iowa/New Hampshire) stay in the race until at least Feb. 5? Also, what percentage for each party are the "Super Delegates" who are not bound by the state's primaries/caucuses?

Jonathan Weisman: I am not Chris, and if I were, I could answer your second question with my encyclopedic knowledge of all things political. Since I am a lowly congressional reporter, I will only answer your first question. Yes. I'll bet a lot of folks linger into February who otherwise would not have made it that long.

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Fairfax, Va.: Obviously, a large chunk of Northern Virginia has been voting with the Democrats in the last couple of elections. But given his moderate stances on a lot of issues, if Rep. Tom Davis were the GOP nominee for the Senate seat, how competitive would he be in Northern Virginia against former governor Mark Warner?

Jonathan Weisman: He would be competitive, but Warner is a Northern Virginia guy too. Davis would have to clean his clock, I'd guess, because in the primary, Gilmore is going to try to make Davis look left of Ted Kennedy downstate.

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Washington: Do you think Mitt Romney and/or Rudy Giuliani can really succeed with the transformations they've made in the past year or so? Can a politician in this age of media scrutiny still win even though he basically says ignore everything I've said before 2006? These guys make Sen. Kerry look like a bedrock of consistency!

Jonathan Weisman: It'll be tough, but somebody has to get the Republican nomination, and if it is Romney or Giuliani, they would tack quickly to the center anyway. They could be in more trouble about their efforts to disavow their past than their actual past in the general election.

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Fairfax, Va.: How much danger is Sen. John Kerry in this election? His approval ratings have never recovered from his 2004 loss and I've seen a poll where a lot of Massachusetts residents would like him to step aside. He also is facing a primary challenge.

Jonathan Weisman: None.

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Lincoln, Neb.: Any scoops on what Bob Kerrey's plans are? In my opinion, if Kerrey runs for the Senate here in Nebraska, there would be a good chance for the Democrats to pick up a seat.

Jonathan Weisman: Well, Lincoln, you'd know better than I would. There's a lot of speculation that with Mike Johanns in the race, Kerrey might give it a pass after all. I would bet Johanns and the GOP will try to paint Kerrey as an effete New Yorker who long ago abandoned Nebraska for a left-wing university in Manhattan. Do you think Kerrey could beat that rap?

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Indiana, Georgia, Virginia: Hi Chris. Today's paper says that the Supreme Court will take up the Voter ID laws that Republican legislatures keep passing -- the laws that force everyone who shows up at the polling station to show a picture ID -- to determine if they are an illegal disenfranchisement of the poor and minorities or if they are an approved method to disenfranchise the poor and minorities by cutting the number of illegal, in-polling place votes from 3 to zero (nationwide number). My question: If the Supremes okay the voter ID laws, what will be the effect on the Democratic Party candidates? Which states/districts where the Dems are likely winners turn into the "in play" or likely GOP wins with the new poll tax?

Jonathan Weisman: Okay folks last question, and for the last time, I'm not Chris! (I'm getting a complex here).

I would bet Howard Dean read that decision with great trepidation. In a lot of states, like Virginia, illegal immigration is the one burning issue that works very well for Republicans. If the Supreme Court okayed voter ID, some red-but-slightly-purplish states could jump to pass ID laws, which could indeed depress minority turnout. Not good for the Dems.

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Jonathan Weisman: Okay, all. I don't think I have created any firestorms out there. See ya next time!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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