Steyn, Barone, And Barnes: Part IIAs promised, here is the interview between Hugh Hewitt, Mark Steyn, Michael Barone, and Fred Barnes. And tonight we offer a special treat. Normally only one of us would be injecting our thoughts. Not tonight. Tonight, we match three minds with three minds. Transcript courtesy of Generalissimo Duanehttp://www.radioblogger.com/#001259Gentlemen, thanks for joining us as we look ahead to a very pivotal year. I'll start with the overarching question, which cards would you rather be holding right now? The Republican hand or the Democratic hand, Fred Barnes, and why?FB: Well, I think I'd rather be holding the Democratic hand, but not for anything that they've done, but strictly because of history, and because the Republicans, after the 2004 election, may be a little bit overextended in the Senate and the House and in governorships. They've done so well since 1994, over that ten years, while politics in America was being realigned in their favor, that it's probably in order that there'll be a little fallback by Republicans. But my prediction would be that while Democrats pick up a few House seats, they will not get control of the House, thus no impeachment effort on President Bush. And while they may pick up a Senate seat or two, they will not control the Senate. And while they may pick up a governorship or two, they will not have any sizable lead among governorships. So small gain that means very little.I will field this one. I must concur with Mr. Barnes, but any little gain that the Democrats make will undoubtedly be trumpted as some sort of "mandate." I expect to see the MSM playing that same tune for days after the election, possibly even weeks. The Democrats will attempt to spin their victory. However, there are four key races to watch. Frist is out; he is retiring. Snowe, DeWine, and Chafee are the toss ups, and either they will be taken by a Democrats (doubtful) or a Republican (far more liekly, but only if they can unseat them in a primary). HH: Michael Barone, do you agree with that?MB: Overall, I do agree with that, Hugh. I mean, the Republicans were successful in picking up Senate seats, governorships in the 2002, 2004 election in the South, and other parts of the country that leaned towards them. There's not a lot of that low-hanging fruit left. There's only four Democratic Senators from the old eleven states of the old confederacy. So there's not...and only one of them is up this year, Bill Nelson of Florida. So consequently, the gains aren't as easy for the Republicans, and they're going to fall back in some governorships. Certainly, they're in particular trouble in Hugh, your home state of Ohio, where they've been in power in the legislature and the governorship for sixteen years. That's longer than any party's been in power in Ohio since before the Civil War. And they've raised taxes and done other unrepublican things like that, and have gotten themselves in trouble on some scandals. So yeah, I think the stage is set for minor Democratic gains. I think for them to achieve major gains, they've got to change the contours of voting preference around the country that have prevailed, pretty much, since '95-'96. I don't see signs yet that that's happening.Ladies first, and all that. I agree that some states, especially those in the northern US may experience gains by the Democrats, but I doubt it will be significant. Mr. Barone was correct to bring up Ohio. It will be a battleground, and Mike DeWine--between his inclusion to the Gang of 14 deal, and his participation in the Patriot Act filibuster--could very well spell the end of his career as a US Senator. Mr. Barone also brought up another of McCain's cronies in Bill Nelson. Nelson is facing an uphill battle in Florida, and again, his inclusion to the extra-Constitutional wrangling of the Gang of 14 deal could assist him right out of office, as well.HH: Mark Steyn, are you in agreement with Fred Barnes and Michael Barone?MS: Yes, I'd say Michael's analysis is pretty accurate there. I think the long-term problem for Democrats is that they're stuck with issues that are all the 40% issues, and indeed falling. And we mentioned impeachment earlier. I don't believe even Karl Rove could get lucky enough to persuade the Democrats to impeach the president because he's spying on people who have telephone contact with terrorist cells. That would just be...that's a classic example of what I think the Democrats are doing wrong, which is that they're in this conversation with themselves over very technical, legalistic issues, that are just perceived, in political terms, completely differently in the country at large.The Democrats are going to make a key mistake in 2006: They're to campaign against the administration, and take swipes at the president. If this is their sole message, they'll have problems. The president isn't running for their seats. He has his job until 2008. He's sealed. But, if they campaign on these perceived wrongdoings, it'll go nowhere fast. Even the Times is trying to disavow the new Bush polling data from Rasmussen. America is behind the president on the NSA program. They're behind him on the steps he's taking to protect the nation. They're not behind the Democrat obstructionism, and in fact, 51% of Democrats polled by Rasmussen agreed that the president is doing fine, they agree with his surveillance programs, and see nothing wrong with them. For the Democrats, the war is a bad issue to pick up. It's going to backfire on them.HH: Let me stick with you for a second, Mark Steyn. George Bush led the ticket in 2000, 2002, 2004, campaigned vigorously, and won in each of those elections, although in 2000, he lost ground in the Senate. Is he a plus or a minus for the Republicans, heading into 2006?MS: Well, you know, I think he's a problematic figure. I think basically now, people have their view of George W. Bush. Nobody after six years is going to say hey, you know, I listened to a Bush speech last night, and I've got to say, I haven't liked him for six years, but he's persuaded me this time. I think he clearly is, essentially, a 50/50 president, that people who haven't warmed to him aren't going to warm to him now. But at the same time, I think for the Republican base, if he's not more of a plus, he's certainly less of a minus than the Republican Congress, and particularly, the Republican Senate at the moment. So I think he will be out there, and he won't be a drag on the ticket. At least when it comes to charging up the base.I have to agree with Mark. The president will not garner the momentum he did in 2002, or in 2004. He will give the candidate he campaigns for a slight boost, and that might be enough in tightly contested races like Santorum's, Kyl's, and Frist's vacant seat. The GOP, in my opinion, has a better chance of retaining more seats int he Senate than the Democrats. They he two retiring (Dayton and Sabanes), and Corzine still has to announce his replacement. Dayton in Ohio will heat up that battleground. If I were the president, I'd campaign for the GOP candidate in Ohio, provided it isn't DeWine. Dayton's seat will be challenged by the GOP, and it could fall to them.HH: And Michael Barone, you coined the term 48/48 America, rather than 50/50. And you thought after 2004, it might have shifted to 51/48. Can George Bush add more to that number as he heads into` the 2006 campaign?MB: Can he add more? I think he can add marginally more. I don't think he's added marginally more as we sit here. But we've noticed over the last six weeks, since Bush started pushing back on the Iraq issue, starting with the November 11th speech, in response to the Congressman Murtha's call for us to withdraw, that Bush has made headway in the public opinion polls. He has moved opinion in his direction. He has restored the support of the Republican base, which is unprecedentedly strong. And he has changed some opinions. So what he's got to do is keep up the assault. The mainstream media is going to be keeping up an assault on Bush, non-stop, as they've been doing for five years. That's their mission in life, is to try to destroy his presidency, and he's finally woken up to the fact in November that he's got to make his own case, because they're certainly not going to provide any information on which people can make it for him.Michael makes an interesting point. Yes, the president can make significant headway. The Democrats have 14 seats up for grabs. The Republicans have 15. Our prediction is that Sarbanes' seat is going to Michael Steele, and Dayton's will go to a GOP candidate. The GOP will win--as it stands right now--11 seats. The Democrats should onyl win 9. That gives the GOP the edge by two seats in this election. But it does take this form of pushing back, not only by the administration, but by those up for reelection, as well. The agenda must be set, and the agenda is sound--first uttered by Hugh Hewitt--and parroted here. Win the war, cut the taxes, control the spending, confirm the judges; it's as simple as that. Maintain that course, and the GOP can't lose, and remain steadfastly on the offensive. Thomas was correct earlier tonight in emphasizing that strategy. The media's not going to let up, and neither are the liberals. You don't fight on your heels, and neither should the GOP.HH: Fred Barnes, you've written this portrait, Rebel in Chief, of George Bush, on how he confounded every expectation. Will he do so again in 2006, by reversing what ought to be a historical trend against his political coattails?FB: I think he will, and remember, Hugh, he doesn't have to be a president with a 65% job approval rating. He'll never get there. Bush recognizes, or he finally does this year, he drifted away from his essential political analysis that actually comes from Karl Rove, and that's we are a polarized nation. He didn't create it, but it's there. There aren't many Democrats for him to get, even soft Democrats. And the best he can do is pull together his coalition, a right of center coalition, which gets him to 51 or 52%. And he can't get any better than that. He just has to pull it together again. I think he's on his way to doing that. And remember, 51 or 52% may not be great, but it's a majority.I think he's going to make the Left look stupid again. We've seen that Karl Rove is a good advisor, but final term politics differ. The same thing happened to Reagan. The Left knew he was on his way out, so they used every dirty trick, took every dirty little swipe, and obstructed him the best they could. Bush is going to be savaged over the next couple of years. Get in their and get your hands dirty. However, what will irritate the base is the support of moderate/RINO Republicans that have participated in nearly as much obstructionism as the Democrats did. If he opts not to back a Chaffee, a DeWine, or a Snowe, I think the public will think better of him in those states. (Well, maybe not in Maine, but the other two, yes.)HH: Before we get in the tall grass of particular races in the House, the Senate, and the governorship, and I do want to go there, I've got a specific question for each of you. Fred Barnes, how's the money shaking out in 2006? We had the Soros bankrolling of the fever swamp in 2004. Is he still there? Does the Mehlman machine have what it takes? Or has Senator Dole lost the energy that the National Republican Senatorial Committee used to have in raising dough?
FB: Well, she's lost it there, on the Senate side. The Republican Campaign Committee on the House side is raising money like crazy, and so is the RNC. And you know, it wound up toward the end of the campaign that the Republican-oriented independent expenditures were as much as Soros and Peter Lewis, and other limosine liberals were financing on the Democratic side. And if you remember...what was the name of that girl, who had met President Bush, and he hugged her after her mother died in 9/11 in New York? Remember?HH: Oh, yes. Ashley.FB: That ad, the Ashley ad, turned out to be the biggest one of the campaign. Now the people remember it the most...obviously one of the reasons was it came toward the end of the campaign. So I think the Republicans, except on the Senate side, are in good shape financially. And they ought to be ahead of Democrats, and they are. The Senate side is having a problem because of literally multitudes of brainfarts that Republicans have had over the course of the last year, or so. The Gang of 14 deal led by our POS senator, John McCain, George Voinovich crying on the floor of the Senate, McCain's redundant torture legislation, the pork barrel spending, etc., etc. The GOP shot themselves in the foot in the Senate, and America sees it. Those people are the ground-pounders in 2006; they will go out and get the message out to the rest of the voters.HH: Michael Barone, my specific for you. Not money, but demographics. You spent a lot of looking at Catholic voting patters in 2004. Has that shift endured? Is it still something that we look for at this level, Senate and House races, governor races?MB: Well, I haven't seen a major change in it. I mean, Bush won a majority of regular Church attender Catholics, and ran essentially even with John Kerry among the Catholic vote, even in the state of Massachusetts. Last time we had a Catholic on a major party ticket in 1960, John F. Kennedy, I think, carried more than 80% of Catholics in Massachusetts. John Kerry couldn't get 50%. So yeah, that's a change. I think it's enduring. Key question here, Hugh, both for the Catholics, Evangelical Christians, strong religious belief people, who's going to turn out? I think that in the period of September and October, when Bush's job ratings were lagging, when he wasn't making the case for himself, there was a real danger that if those numbers persisted, you weren't going to get the turnout from the Republican base that you need in order to win, and that you might get turnout from the Democratic side, the crackpot left that we hear so much from. I think that danger is less now that Bush's job rating is better, that he's making the arguments for himself, that he's rallying his troops. But '06, like '04 and '02, is going to be a battle of turnout. That's the thing that's hardest for pollsters to predict. Michael couldn't be more correct. Something major has to occur to get people out to vote. This has become a serious problem over the last few years, and much of this is due to the liberals; they have literally dragged politics down into the gutter. They've alienated the voters to believing their vote doesn't count. And we can point back to 2000 and state that every vote counts, but memories are short. Backed up fact, informing the voters, focusing on the Democrats--what they have said, what they have done--will be the game breaker. "If you're ticked about this, then vote," should be the mantra of the volunteers. A point that Thomas and I disagree on is the right of voting. I believe that if you don't vote, you have nothing to complain about, so shut up. He won't stand up and tell them to shut up. He believes they have a right to speak, even from a point of ignorance.HH: And Mark Steyn, the effects, if it happens, and we pray it doesn't between now and the election, of another attack on America?MS: Well, you know, I think that really is the wild card. Bush has this...can make the case that on the one hand, there has been no attack on U.S. soil since September 11th, which is certainly not what anybody expected that week. They thought that something would come along in a few weeks, and all the rest of it, and nothing has happened. On the other hand, the longer that goes on, the less the war is an issue. I think, insofar as the whole War On Terror factors into 2006, Iraq is basically waning as a domestic issue, because the Democrat case has not been accepted by sufficient numbers of the American people. I hate to disagree with Mark, but we still have enemies. The War will not end in the next few years. It will hang over us for awhile. Granted, 2008 is a ways off, and by that time we may end up with a Hillary or a Kerry in the Oval Office pulling a Murtha, and running from all of it. More than liekly with an apology and offer for reparations. But for right now, the revelation of the NSA program could prove to be beneficial to the campaign; one of the reasons why we haven't been hit again. However, to focus on Hugh's main question, it's tough to say what the effects another attack may have on America before the election. More than likely, the sheeple-moonbats will parade to the polls in their tin-foil hats to follow the footsteps of Spain. I hope that doesn't happen, but only God knows what this country would do in a situation like that.
HH: Mark, when we went to break, you were saying the American people have not bought the Democratic critique of the war in Iraq. In fact, John Murtha might get flowers every month from the White House for a long time to come. But if the United States gets hit again, domestically, as London has been, as Spain, as Bali, all of these places have been, does that indict Bush's leadership? Or does it energize the American people to the war's diligent prosecution again?MS: I think on balance, that would work for the president and for the Republican Party, because basically, the Democrats have become over-invested in defeatism and quagmire and everything going to pieces in the War On Terror, and indeed in the idea that there is no War On Terror. It's just some myth cooked up by the Bush White House to boost Halliburton's profits, or whatever the thing is. And that is simply not something that resonates with enough people. So I think that if America was hit again, major city, major bombs, big numbers of people dead, I think on the whole, that would not work to the Democrats' advantage.This is the primary argument against Thomas' tin-foil idea that we would turtle and hide from the terrorists. If we get hit again, it will not be pleasent for those that committed the act. If al-Qaeda thought we were mad after 9/11, then all I have to say is try it again; you do not understand the meaning of the word "pissed." America is not rolling over for these fanatical losers.
HH: It would be a terrible tragedy, but it would focus us on the long war again. Michael Barone, let's turn to the House now, and talk very inside baseball. How many competitive seats are there really in the House of Representatives?
MB: Well, the answer is that we don't know that for sure. If the contours of the vote that have basically been in existence since the 1995-1996 showdown between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich are still in play, the answer is that there's only about 25 or 30 seats in the House that are in play. The Democrats are hoping that the Republicans are going to be significantly weaker in some parts of the country, with some demographic, with some group, that will enable them to make breakthroughs in districts that under the hitherto prevailing contours have not been available to them. And they're trying to run candidates in a lot of districts that seem improbable, in the hopes that those trends are changing. I haven't seen the indication from the polling data, and the stuff that I've seen so far, that those trends are changing substantially. And so I think the Democrats are still in a position of trying to draw to an inside straight.
Out of the 25-30 seats that Michael sees, I predict the GOP will lose about 5-7 of those seats. It's still not enough to tip the balance of the House. The House is far more structured, in terms of parties sticking together, and I doubt the GOP will be fractured by the few that might have zipped off the reservation for that stray piece of publicity. There is no John McCain or Lincoln Chafee in the House, at least not in the respect of those two. The introduction of new candidates into districts maintained by the GOP for awhile might prove to be a defeat, especially if the prospective Democrats take a "hard left" from time to time throughout their campaign, or make asinine statements like those from John Kerry in the 2004 election, or Howard Dean since his election to head up the DNC.
HH: Fred Barnes, they are trying to replay the Jim Wright era by indicting Delay, with Ronnie Earl's made-up charges in Texas. But they also have real ammunition in the disgraceful bribery of Duke Cunningham, and in the spreading scandal of Jack Abramoff. And where that goes, who knows. Does that have the possibility of a realigning moment, as Newt Gingrich used right to realign the House, along with the Contract With America?
FB: Well, it has the potential of causing some problems for Republicans, but it doesn't have any chance of being a realigning moment, or creating one for the simple reason that all the other factors, open seats of moderate Democrats, and so on, that were available in 1994, when Republicans picked up 52 seats. I mean, those opportunities are just not there. The Duke Cunningham case really stands alone. I mean, there's nothing new, or anything fresh about it. It's just old-fashioned corruption. A guy selling his vote. I don't think that indicts the Republican Party. The Delay stuff will be over by then. Those charges in Texas are clearly not going to get anywhere, and it's designed just to hurt Delay, and make sure he doesn't come back as majority leader, which he may not. The Abramoff stuff, we don't know where that's going to go. You know, we've heard about scandals many times. It would blossom in the past, and they really let to nothing. Remember the one about that bank...I really can't even remember the name of it. About ten years ago, it was supposed to be the mother of all scandals, or twelve years ago, and it turned out it wasn't at all. So we have to wait on Abramoff. But look, when you think of the House of Representatives, Hugh, you have to realize, as Michael just said, 25-30 seats may be competitive. And Democrats aren't going to win all of those. Some of those seats are Democratic seats. I live in a state like Virginia, where there are 11 House seats, none competitive. You live in a state with even more, California, with what? 52 or 54 seats? None competitive.
And if the Democrats decide to hang their hats on the supposed scandals of the GOP, they're going to get burned. Yes, DeLay's will be over by then. He may or may not return as Majority Leader. Personally, I think he needs to. He didn't need a whip for the party. He was the whip and the leader holding it. Abramoff, indeed, must be waited on. As yet, nothing serious has popped out, not like the Cunningham scandal. That was bad--really bad. It was definitely nothing that was expected, but hey, a crook's a crook. Selling one's vote is a serious charge, and Cunningham got nailed dead to rights. He resigned. Smart man. Now, let the prosecutors do their job, and move on. But to harp on the scandals isn't going to give the Democrats any traction.
HH: None competitive.
FB: Illinois' the same way. So many states are that way. They're just not competitive. They're gerrymandered, either by one party or by both parties getting together. You know, two guys in a room deciding which seats go to which party. So that makes it very hard for Democrats to get enough seats. I think they need to net fifteen, in order to take the House. I think there's almost no chance of that, regardless of what issues they may want to manipulate.
I agree (as I have Sabrina nodding her head in regard to Illinois). The redistricting across the nation balanced both sides out. The only reason Democrats are complaining is that their power was finished when it occurred. Couple that with the '94 mudstomping handed to them, and you have a party that has a snowball's chance in Hell of reclaiming the House. The only way they're going to is to find a message, stick to it, and sell it. The problem with that is that their message right now flies about as well as a lead balloon to the majority of America.
HH: Michael Barone, I think I heard you say something at that point.
MB: 53 seats in California, Fred.
HH: Mark Steyn, what about the attempt by Democrats to turn the president's ordering of surveillance of al Qaeda communicating with their American agents into the Nixon plumbers, part 2?
MS: Well, I think this is a good example of how even if they were right in a very narrow, legalistic sense, they're just wrong on the basic politics of it. I think Rasmussen had a poll a day or two ago showing that 2/3rd of Americans believed that this National Security Agency should be allowed to intercept phone conversations between terrorist cells in other countries and people living in the United States. And the idea that the Democrats can go to the country and say oh, it's outrageous that this Achmed in Hamburg was calling a number in Virginia and New Jersey, and the government was listening in on the conversations. That is simply not going to play. I don't believe even...the president has essentially become like one of these sort of creatures in a horror movie where the Democrats pump evermore ineffectual bullets into him, over Katrina, over Abu Ghraib, and now over this thing. And none of them resonate with the broader public.
And this goes back to the scandal point. No matter what they try to hang the GOP on is going to have little effect on the president, or the candidates. America doesn't buy trash, and this is undeniably the strategy. There would be no large amount of blustering over the NSA program were it otherwise. We're heading into the weekend of New Years, and the liberals in Congress and the media are going to beat on the president over this. It doesn't matter what the public says, including telling them to shut up because they're flat wrong, they're going to keep firing away. Hopefully, they'll blow both feet off.
MB: Can I just add onto that, Hugh?
MB: You know, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the mainstream media that's been pumping this story, has an obvious subtext in all their stories, which is that the American people are going to be horrified when they hear that this is obviously a terrible abuse. Mark is right, and I've the Rasmussen Report figures right in front of me as I'm speaking to you. 64% of Americans believe that National Security Agency should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorist suspects in other countries and people living in the U.S. Only 23% disagree.
And this is a key point to the whole argument. America--64% of America--understands that the president is doing this to protect the nation, and that this program applies to foreign agents in our nation intent on killing us. No one cares that you call your aunt in Hoboken, and their not listening in on that killer business deal. They're listening to the people trying to kill us, who are planning their next move. WE understand this. WE know that it's legal. WE know that the president has this authority. It's the Left that doesn't, and that is detrimental to their side. It shows they aren't willing to take the steps necessary to protect this nation. At least, they say it's an egregious crime. And if it was such a bad, bad crime, then why didn't anyone bring this up about Clinton? Why wasn't he impeached for it? They can't have it both ways. It can't be good for them, and bad for us.
HH: That's remarkable.
MB: I'd like going into an election with a 64-23 issue on my side, and 68% say they're following the story closely. So that opinion's likely to be pretty solid. When Rasmussen asked them is President Bush the first one to authorize this, 48% said no, 26% said yes. So the NYT can hyperventilate all it wants. But this is a loser for the Democratic Party.
HH: All right. Into the tall grass...
FB: And there's one other factor. One other factor I would add to it, the media insists, led by the New York Times, insists on calling this the domestic spying scandal. It's not a domestic spying scandal. It's about phone calls or e-mails overseas from some al Qaeda agent. But they call it the domestic spying scandal, but smartly, the American people aren't buying that.
As it is to be expected. America is not full of morons. The John Walker, Jr. spy case was a scandal, and it involved a domestic spy working for the Soviets. This is not spying. It is surveillance, and it is surveillance against our enemy. Are we not to fight with our eyes and ears open any longer? That is a losing strategy, and not only is it a bad move for a paper trying to retain readers, but it is bad for the Democrats for even siding with the paper on this. It is a dog issue, and one that is assured to bite the Democrats in the butt if they pursue this avenue.
HH: All right. Now into the tall grass, the United States Senate, and we're going to do inside baseball here, America, but you've got to get the lineup, if you're going to know whose going to be ahead at the end of the game. Let me start by throwing Rick Santorum's situation at you, Michael Barone. Is it over? Or does he have a fighting chance?
MB: I think that Rick Santorum's in a very negative position. He's been trailing Bob Casey, Jr., the longtime statewide official, son of the former governor. I don't think this one is quite over, Hugh, because I think that if you look at the underlying numbers, Santorum's numbers are fairly positive, despite some pretty controversial statements he's made. Casey has not had substantive exposure. People know the name, but he's been very careful not to take positions on issues, and I think it's possible that we could see some movement on his numbers, perhaps enough to re-elect Santorum, once people see Casey's position on the issues. Does he want to get stuck with Nancy Pelosi's positions? I think he probably doesn't.
Santorum's sitting pretty if he sticks to the issues, and gets Casey to stick to them. The hardest part, of course, is going to be getting Casey to stick to the debating topics. The other problem for Santorum is that his "controversial" statements are going to be used in attack ads. Santorum's got to be prepared to fire back quickly and often. I'll predict a 53-47 squeaker for Santorum, barring any serious screw-ups.
HH: Fred Barnes, let me go to you. Olympia Snowe is probably invulnerable. But Lincoln Chafee is the only time I've ever hoped for the defeat of a Republican Senator. Is he vulnerable to either the Laffey primary challenge in September of 2006, or to a Democratic challenger?
FB: I think he's more vulnerable in the primary than he is to a Democratic challenger. I mean, he's withstood them, candidates Democrats thought were very good in the past. You know, conservatives are really going to have to come out of the woodwork and get behind his challenger in the primary. So far, they haven't. He's going to have to raise some money, and really go somewhere. But my expectation is that Chafee, you know, benefitting from his father, who really was not as liberal, was a moderate Republican, and a wonderful person. He really benefits from being his father's son, and I think he'll be in the Senate for another term.
If Chafee wins, I'm going to be ticked. If Laffey is serious to challenge him, then it's time to take the gloves off. It's time America dug into it's pockets and supported Laffey, and those in Rhode Island that are conservative need to get our and pound the pavement for Laffey. Allowing Chafee to head back to the Senate is like allowing McCain to win the presidency. It's just not a good idea. He's too liberal for what needs to be done in the Senate, and has been involved in enough of his own obstructionism, including his participation with the Seditious Seven in the Gang of 14 deal. (Yes, get used to that because it's something that needs to be pointed out about every candidate involved in that deal. These people basically granted themselves extra-Constitutional powers that trump the Constitution, itself.)
HH: Yeah, I always say he should be paying the estate tax on his salary. Let's talk now about Ohio, Michael DeWine, Mark Steyn. Sort of a classic Senator: invisible most of the year until he screws up with the Gang of 14, or voting against ANWAR. The Democrats, as Michael Barone pointed out, are poised for blood in Ohio. Do you think Mike DeWine has got what it takes to be a sort of modern successful politician in a battleground state?
MS: No, I think the problem with the Senate as a whole is that it's a kind of lagging indicator. So often, you have people in position who are there, like Lincoln Chafee because of his father, or for example, New Hampshire's all Republican delegation, which doesn't quite fit the profile of that state. And it would be interesting to see how well either Judd Gregg or John Sununu would do against serious Democrat challenges. And I think Mike DeWine's in that situation, too, that suddenly, when your state comes into play, when you're in serious times, when you've got issues that it's tough to make a political call on, and actually require you to show some principle and backbone, that's when these guys are found wanting. I would...I know you're much more of a party man than I am, but I would certainly be in favor, just as a cautionary tale, Pour l'encourager les autres, if some of these people paid a price for what's happened in the last couple of years.
Here, here. However, I would prefer they lose to a real conservative instead of another RINO, or a more centrist Republican. Losing to a Democrat is not an option, and if DeWine is going to be the candidate, then he had better learn how to fight. Ohio is in full play right now, and Dayton's seat (he is retiring) is going to be key in Ohio along with DeWine's. If DeWine wins, and a conservative wins, then it is a wash; one we can live with. We will have rid ourselves of one liberal, and retained one in the same state.
HH: No, I am with Disraeli. I am a party man. But I...nevertheless, I worry about DeWine. Michael Barone, what about DeWine and Conrad Burns? Are either of them seriously vulnerable?
MB: I think you've got to be worried about that. I mean, a year ago, all of us who analyze these races pretty much assumed that Mike DeWine was not going to have serious problems, that the Democrats were going to have trouble coming up with a candidate. It looks like they've got possibly serious challengers, this Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, who ran an unusually close race in the 2nd Congressional district, special election, and/or Congressman Sherrod Brown from Northeastern Ohio, and the problems that the Ohio Republican Party had. So that looks like a real race. DeWine is going to have to make his case that he's done things for the voters that they're currently not aware of, if he's going to win. Conrad Burns had a close race in 2000. It was really rescued at the last minute against a very attractive Democrat, Brian Schweitzer, whose now the Governor of Montana. I think that he's got a problem. He was the number one contributee from people associated...Jack Abramoff and Abramoff clients. He has now given back the money. My own view is that you should give it away to charity, rather than give it back to the presumably wrongfeasor. But he's given back the money. But he's clearly...he's going to have to hustle in Montana. The Democrats have made gains in the state government, the governor's race, and in the state legislature. And once again, I think he's got to make a positive case to voters if he's going to be re-elected.
As Marcie just pointed out, DeWine will have his hands full in Ohio, and yes, Burns will too. This isn't just parrting these guys. We're watching these develop, too. Maybe what many in the public don't realize is that the Democrats are making serious inroads at the state level. Governors, State House and Senate members, city councils, mayors, etc. They do tend to climb within state politics, and many a governor know that they will be looked at in 2008 and beyond as possible candidates for president. The people in power within the states today could set the tone for days ahead. The GOP only has a five seat lead in the Senate, and 15 will tip the balnce of the House back in favor of the Democrats. No, we can't afford to screw up here. So, our candidates that haven't faced any serious opposition are going to have to dig in and hold the line.
HH: Either of them foregone, though, Michael Barone?
MB: Not for sure, no.
MB: I think looking a year out, you've got to say that they're both quite conceivable winners. But I think they've got to supply their voters with more information than they currently have, or they're highly vulnerable.
HH: Fred Barnes, give us a minute on the open seat in Tennessee being vacated by Bill Frist, and Mississippi's Lott, who confuses and fails to inspire continually.
FB: Well, look. Republicans better hope Lott runs again. I think he probably will, but he's reconsidering it, for an obvious reason. You know, he lost half his net worth when his house was blown away in Hurricane Katrina. And he's a guy whose never made a lot of money, because he's been in Congress for years and years. I think he was first elected in '72, so as an adult, he's mainly been a member of Congress, or a staffer. He was a staffer for a southern Democrat before that. Mike Moore, the former Democratic attorney general is poised to run, if it's not Trent Lott. So Republicans need Lott to be in there.
Despite his overly retarded gaffe costing him his leadership position, Lott isn't a bad guy. However Hugh hits the nail on the head. If he runs, and he's hoping for the leadership position, he's not getting it. He fails to inspire anything other than a nap. But the GOP does need him to run again. The seat needs to held onto. I've done reading on Moore; he's not one to be taken lightly. If Lott goes in half-hearted, he could and probably would lose.
HH: How about Tennessee?
FB: Well, Tennessee is a different state. I mean, Republicans have a number of good candidates, and the young Ford from Memphis, the Congressman, a Democrat, an African-American, is making a run. Tennessee may not be quite ready for him, so I'll bet that state stays Republican.
Tennessee will stay in the GOP column. No one among the Democrats have strepped up yet to mount a serious challenge. Ford might be the closest, but this kid's wet behind the ears still. Another term in the House, and he might be ready for prime-time. I wish Frist would stay, I just want him gone as Majority Leader. He's too weak, and is consistently unable to keep the party in line when the vote matters. He proved this with the Gang of 14 deal. He proved it with the recent filibuster on ANWaR, on the Patriot Act, and the Defense Appropriations. No, he can stay and vote, but I want a strong leader in the Senate for the GOP. Frist isn't it.
HH: We went through all the Republican vulnerabilities. There are six vulverable races there. Michael Barone, let's say three of them go each way, so they're down three as we turn to the Democrats. Let's start in New Jersey, where a new appointee, Menendez, is up against a great name in that state, Tom Keane, Jr. Whose got the edge here?
MB: Well, initial polls show Menendez slightly ahead. I think this is another one of those races that hasn't played out. Menendez has a particular problem that he seems to share with the governor-elect, John Corzine, which is a personal relationship with a woman with whom he's steered a lot of government contracts. In Corzine's case, he forgave a $470,000 loan to a woman who was one of the chief negotiators for the largest public employee union in the state, somebody with whom he'll presumably be dealing with as governor. In Menendez' case, I believe it's a former staffer who has done very well. I wonder if at some point, New Jerseyans are not going to want to have such kind of soap opera.
Menendez is a dead horse right now. The burdgeoning scandal revolving around his favortism for his favorite little lady could undo his bid to take Corzine's seat. A Mitt Romney-like conservative could slip in under the radar and spoil the party for all involved. That person has yet to throw their hat int he race yet, but I'm pretty sure one will pop up.
HH: Florida, Fred Barnes, where Bill Nelson is running in a red state against a very famous name from 2000, then-Secretary of State, now Congresswoman Harris. Does she have a chance?
FB: Well, not if she doesn't raise some money. There's a lot of thought being given to the idea that she will back out. Her fundraising has been, really, almost non-existent. And someone else will jump in and run. Certainly, the Bush White House is against her running. Others in the Republican Party outside Florida are against her running, because they believe that she cannot beat Bill Nelson, who is otherwise vulnerable. You know, Bill Nelson, you want to run that picture of him, that goofy looking picture when he went in to see Fahrenheit 911, in a Washington theater, and he comes out with a goofy grin on his face. His picture was in the Washington Post with a thumb up. You know, thumbs up on Fahrenheit 911. I mean, I think he just didn't know any better. And he's vulnerable, but they need the right candidate, and it's probably not Katherine Harris.
I agree with the White House. Harris is a dog in this race if she enters it. She does not have what it takes to unseat Nelson. A Jeb Bush might be able to do it, but it must be a candidate like that. Someone strong, with a strong reputation, and excellent name recognition. She has the reputation, and she has the recognition, but something about her just says to me that she is not the one. I would love it if she ran, and won, but I have a lot more doubt than faith if the race boils down to her and Nelson. Also, the president may not venture to Florida to help her because of his disapproval of her running for the Senate. I believe she is better in the House than the Senate. I am not positive she could handle the partisan politics involved in the senate. The House is like going to the local softball game, and watching your favorite team win over and over again. The Senate is the majors, and your favorite softball team is going to be hammered by the big boys.
HH: Mark Steyn, let's talk about two other goofy Senators. One is West Virginia's Byrd, and the other is Mark Dayton in Minnesota, who is quitting, and leaving an open seat for Congressman Mark Kennedy to go after a Klobuchar, or some other Democrat. What about Byrd in Virginia, and the Minnesota open seat, Mark Steyn?
MS: I think when you get up to...you know, whatever one feels about Senator Byrd, when you get up to that age, six months can make an awful lot of difference. In quite what shape he's in by the time he's actively campaigning in the summer is worth considering. And also going back to what I said earlier about the Senate generally being a lagging indicator. I don't think he is where West Virginia is, in the year 2006. And I would certainly say he's got a chance of being knocked off. I am glad to see Mark Dayton going. I'm glad to see Jim Jeffords going, and that's another tough seat, because the fellow who is most likely to get that is already an at-large Congressman, since he's a state-wide elected official anyway. That's Bernie Sanders. And I would say in those two cases, you're getting rid of kind of goofy people, goofy eccentric characters, who are actually not where their states are. and I think we talk about the 48/48 nation. No state is quite as Democrat or quite as Republican as it appears when you look at the numbers. And certainly, I think in West Virginia, Byrd is extremely vulnerable to an effective Republican campaign. Whether he gets that is another matter.
Byrd had a strong opposer not too long ago, but she dropped out of the early goings. Rumor has it that she wasn't garnering the funds she needed to make the run. But Mark's correct. The right candidate could knock off Byrd with little effort. She the old fool's senility and where he stands as opposed to the Constitution he proclaims to "love." She his opposition to the war, to judicial nominees, to national security, and he can be beaten. Dayton's seat, at this point is a gimme. The Democrats have a strong candidate who will probably take the seat. Sanders is bad. He's as liberal as they come in supporting the NAACP, the NEA, and NARAL. Sandersalso receives disfavorable reviews from the likes of the NRA, Citizens Against Government Waste, and worked avidly against the military. So, I doubt an independent like him is getting elected. Jim Jeffords going is a blessing in disguise. Unfortunately, in that neck of the woods (Vermont) we're liable to get another Jeffords.
HH: Michael Barone, Minnesota, Michigan, Washington State, Nebraska, North Dakota, maybe even New Mexico, all have Democrats sitting there that some people think vulnerable. How do you rank those races? Who do you think really is vulnerable on the Democratic side?
MB: Well, I think the best chance for Republicans in those races that you mentioned right now is Minnesota, where they've got a candidate in Mark Kennedy. Minnesota did turn out an awful lot of those left-wing crazy voters in central city Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2004. And the state was carried 51% by John Kerry. So it's a bit of an uphill race. I think they've got a strong candidate. Republicans have had less success recruiting in Michigan, where Senator Debbie Stabenow, elected with a plurality last time, is anything but a powerhouse. North Dakota, the governor declined to run against Senator Kent Conrad. Nebraska, the Republicans are looking as a self-financer against Ben Nelson, who has got about the most moderate voting record of any Senate Democrat. I think the Republicans, of these other races, the Republicans are most optimistic about a guy named Mike McGavick. He's capable of self-financing in Washington State against Senator Maria Cantwell. He's got...the Republicans were, in their view, robbed of the governorship by a messy recount process after the 2004 election. It's a state that was carried by John Kerry, but I think that that's...I'd have to rate it a long shot for Republicans right now, but I think that that is a conceivable pickup for them.
Cantwell should be easily beaten, but again, the GOPer has to be the right one. Conrad should win handily. Stabenow, on the other hand, is one who is weak right now. She's highly vulnerable against a candidate that has all his stuff wired together. If someone steps forward, she could be in real trouble. And even though Kerry took Washington and Minnesota doesn't mean squat when it comes to the Senate races. I think the GOP will take Washington and Michigan sending Cantwell and Stabenow home crying.
HH: Fred Barnes, do the state houses for us. Ken Blackwell, African-American Secretary of State in Ohio is a promising candidate. Pawlenty has got to fight off a strong challenge up in Minnesota. Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, they're all up for grabs. Pennsylvania's got Rendell and Lynne Swann. And of course, Arnold's in very iffy situation...how do you see the state houses breaking in 2006?
FB: Well, I think in most of those states you mentioned, I'd rather be the Democratic candidate than the Republican candidate, although I suspect Arnold will wind up winning. You may know about it more than I do in California, but he's a great campaigner. In fact, campaigning for himself, I think he'll be even better than campaigning for referenda, which obviously didn't pass. It's hard to believe that...I mean, the Democrats and the unions can spend quite the way they did over these referenda a few weeks ago. When you get to Ohio, look. I know Ken Blackwell. He's a great candidate. I think he's going to be running in the wrong year. It's just going to be tough for a Republican to win in Ohio, to win a governorship there, because that's where most of the scandals have been, at the state level, at the governor's level, and may not affect Mike DeWine as much as Ken Blackwell running for governor. Now what other states did you mention?
Unless Tom McClintock is going to challenge him again, Arnie should win. And I hate to say that because as a politician, I dislike him. But those are ideological differences that neither us are going to change one another's minds on. Blackwell's got a serious chance if he can steer clear of the scandals, and show he has no skeletons in his closet. If he can do that, then Ohio might swing to the GOP in regard to the governorship.
HH: Pawlenty in Minnesota. I think he's pretty safe.
FB: Well, Pawlenty's a pretty impressive guy, and probably should hold on. You know, if he holds on, and Mark Kennedy wins, it can be pretty impressive. Minnesota has trended Republican for a number of years, but just hasn't quote gotten there fully. And so, I'd rather be Pawlenty than whoever runs against him as a Democrat.
Ditto that; Pawlenty's sitting pretty. He's been a solid governor since first being elected, and will continue to serve the citizens of Minnesota diligently.
HH: Mark Steyn, what message would you hit early and often, if you wanted to turn what is at best, a 50/50 year for the Republicans around, early in 2006?
MS: Well, I think that their trump card is that these are serious times, and you need a serious party. And whatever you feel about the Republican Party, and there's a lot of disillusionment at the grass roots with the performance of the Repubican Congress. Whatever you feel about them, they're still serious on the serious issues, in a way that the Democrats are not. The Democrats have had four years to get serious about the new age in which we live in. And they've persistently failed to do so. In fact, they've become more frivolous over these last...since the election. I thought a lot of that rubbish in 2004 would be over once the election was over. But they've got worse since then. And as long as that persists, they will be un-electable for a certain critical sliver of the American people.
Agreed. If the Left keeps up their garbage, they're going to go nowhere. If they increase their rhetoric, they risk losing a lot this year. My best advice to the Democrats is develop a platform America wants, and stick to it. The GOP has the ability to, as well. The difference is ours really hasn't changed. We just had some goofballs in the Congress that lost their frelling minds for a short time. They're getting back on track. But part of that is our problem; we let the kids go running off without a chaparone. Now, we're watching, and thus far they've been doing better. Granted, the knuckle-heads are still there, but I think they're getting the message. They had better, or they'll be handed their hat as quickly as the Democrats will.
HH: Michael Barone, your advice to Ken Mehlman and the president?
MB: Well, I think that Mark Steyn has hit on something important, which is that the Democratic Party is really split down the middle. It's split between the Michael Moores and the Joe Liebermans. And the Michael Moores are the ones that seem to have the ear of most Democrats, as we saw with the surge of support for the patently unqualified Howard Dean for president in 2003. Fred Barned mentioned earlier that Bill Nelson came out with a big smile and a thumbs up after the premiere of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911. At the time that movie premiered, Michael Moore had on the front page of his website, the statement that Americans are the stupidest people in the world. You know, I was a Democratic campaign consultant many years ago. I never advised any of my Democratic clients to run on the slogan that Americans are the stupidest people in the world. And that you ought to associate yourself with people who take those sentiments. So there's a large part of the Democratic Party that wants to see America lose. They want to see America defeated. Their hatred of George W. Bush is so great, they don't consider this country as an especially good or decent place. And I think that's the grave weakness for the Democratic Party, and it would be in the interest of the Republicans to point that out.
If any point needs to be driven home more, it's this one. Despite what they say, their records show a different picture. They paint a picture that is adamantly against the president, therefore they're against America. George Bush isn't making America into some fascist state. This is a moonbat screaming point. Nothing could be further from the truth in that regard. He's trying to protect the nation. Sometimes, extra measures have to be taken, and in doing so, some controversy is bound to pop up. They're beating that drum right now, and it's not flying wit the public. The poll numbers show this. For thirteen years, this party's been driven by poll numbers, and because they disagree with this one doesn't make it incorrect. Rasmussen doesn't make mistakes like these numbers.
HH: Fred Barnes, Joseph Chamberlain split the liberals and joined the conservatives at the end of the 19th Century, because the liberals were not serious about their obligations in the world. Any chance of that happening in 2006 with a Lieberman, or some other figure?
FB: No, I really don't think so. Those Democrats that were going to leave have had a chance to leave and won't. But I think...I would follow on what has been said so far, and that is for Republicans, go negative. They have to go negative. They have to scare people about what Democrats would bring. You know, Democrats would run up the white flag in Iraq. Democrats don't want to fight the War On Terror. Democrats want to raise your taxes. That's what you have to do. You have to argue, well, look. Times are pretty good. It turns out we're winning in Iraq, the War On Terror. We haven't been hit again. We're aggressive in waging that war. The Democrats would take all that away. I mean, you really have to go heavily negative.
HH: Yeah. They'll get us killed, I guess.
FB: And it's not hard to do.
HH: No, it's not. Fred Barnes, Michael Barone, Mark Steyn, thanks for a tremendous hour looking ahead at the politics of 2006. I appreciate it, as does the audience.
And there you have it. We do apologize for the lenght, but this was the important interview of the day. Everyone get used to it. We're entering an election cycle, and we need to pay attention to this one. This is the one that counts, as it will set the direction the party is on for the next few years. Will we lose more than we gain? We'll know after the elections are over. We've got a pretty bright picture here, and only time will tell.
The Bunny ;)