Cook Report Report: Fried WH on the Side
Real Wonkette operatives eat quiche. And then they come back from their Charlie Cook brunches and deliver the second-hand wisdom of Washington's foremost political prognosticator. Highlights:
• Of all the current scandals, Abramoff might hurt the worst, "Hanging around the Louisiana delegation, I've even known a scumbag or two in my time," but even he was taken aback by how Abramoff conducted business.Highly-compensated dish, for free, after the jump.
• How can Republicans get back on track? Cook said that he would turn the White House upside-down and shake things up. "These people are absolutely fried."
• Dems 2008: Warner, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh. As for John Edwards, his biggest problem continues to be his lack of experience. However, he is a good campaigner and his economic message has gotten even stronger and is delivered better today.
• GOP 2008 The only way that Cook felt that McCain might be the nominee is if Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton were the Democratic nominee and if Republicans felt that only McCain could stop her. Under those circumstances, he would unify the party. Otherwise, the Republicans need a "bridge candidate," like VA Senator George Allen.
This morning brought another of the National Journal's periodic Charlie Cook breakfast briefings. Either they haven't had one since September 2004 or they stopped inviting me for a while.
Cook began by noting that sometimes off-year elections are meaningful, but often are not. He didn't feel that in two to three months we'll be talking about the yesterday's races as a turning point. However, the Republicans desperately needed a win to break up the snowballing effect of recent negative news. In New Jersey, where Democrat Jon Corzine won, the Republicans have had problems for years. There was hope that charges of corruption against the Democrats might be enough to offset this weakness, but it turned out to not have an effect.
Ifill asked if this election, which got extraordinarily negative in New Jersey and Virginia, marked a new level of vitriol. Cook replied that, in reference to the consultants working on those campaigns, there was a tendency to pound on their opponents. "To a hammer, everything's a nail." Sometimes, negativity backfires. Ifill asked if perhaps Corzine might have spent too much on his campaign and Cook told the anecdote about how Joe Kennedy supposedly told his son that he wasn't going to fund a landslide. However, Cook acknowledged that New Jersey is an expensive state to run in.
might be making Virginia Republicans nervous was Bolling's narrow victory over Democrat Leslie Byrne in the race for lieutenant governor. Byrne, a liberal, got 49 percent of the vote. Either, voters didn't really know anything about her and still voted for her in those numbers or (perhaps worse) they knew how liberal she was and still voted for her.
As for next year's mid-term elections, Cook said that "the Democrats' dance card for the Senate is filled." On the House side, he thought that Ohio would be key to watch. There are five Republic incumbents and potentially seven seats in all that might be up for grabs. Ohio Governor Bob Taft is in trouble, with only a 15-17 percent approval rating. However, there is currently only one Democrat in position to run. February 16, 2006, is the filing deadline in that state.
Turning to California's special election, where Schwarzenegger's four ballot proposals were defeated (including Proposition 77, which would have given redistricting duties to a panel of retired judges), Cook said, "We desperately need redistricting reform." In California, rather than pointing out that "we have elected officials picking their voters rather than voters picking their elected officials," opponents focused on the mechanism of redistricting. The panel would have been all white older males. Perhaps some element of diversity ought to have been added.
How can Republicans get back on track? Cook said that he would turn the White House upside-down and shake things up. "These people are absolutely fried." Older veterans have been through a tough re-election and some of the newer staffers are "second-stringers that are in over their heads." As he put it, "Other than [the nomination of Supreme Court nominee John] Roberts, what has gone right?" Cook's suggestion is that Bush ought to approach some really overqualified people who don't want the jobs and personally ask them to come on board; possibly some vets from the Reagan administration. One weak spot is the White House's Congressional liaison. Cook had just had lunch with a top Republican Member of Congress who couldn't name the liaison and had to ask a staffer for the name. "The White House badly needs someone who knows Congress well."
As for the current scandals, Cook didn't feel that they would have much impact, except for the cumulative effect of all the scandals, plus Iraq, gasoline prices, and so on. The one problem he finds most serious is the Jack Abramoff situation. As Cook put it, "Hanging around the Louisiana delegation, I've even known a scumbag or two in my time," but even he was taken aback by how Abramoff conducted business. Cook referred to a bumper sticker: "Don't tell my mom I'm a lobbyist, she thinks I'm a piano player in a whorehouse." Cook pointed out that when people feel good about things, they're willing to let scandals slide.
In response to whether the Democrats need to have their own positive message, Cook noted that "wave" elections tend to be negative; for example, the elections of '74, '80 and '94 were driven by anger. In such races, the messages tend to be 75 percent negative and 25 percent positive. In other words, you deliver "a strong right, with a little positive left jab." However, it may be a problem if in six or eight months, if we still don't see a positive Democratic message.
Cook was asked to handicap the potential presidential ambitions of out-going Virginia Governor Mark Warner. Cook pointed out that the last sitting member of Congress to be elected to the Presidency was JFK and the last before him was Warren G. Harding in 1920. In other words, "We tend to focus on the Senate." However, Governors tend to be judged on a pass-fail basis and don't have a voting record that can be used against them. Nominating a governor would be a good idea for either party. When Democrats nominate a Southerner, it is seen as moderation. If they nominate a candidate from the Northeast, there is a presumption of liberalism. Potential candidates include Warner, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh. As for John Edwards, his biggest problem continues to be his lack of experience. However, he is a good campaigner and his economic message has gotten even stronger and is delivered better today.
Back to the mid-terms, Cook said that in 2006, for the Democrats, "all roads lead to Ohio." They need to "knock off" Senator Mike DeWine. The Governor's race will be "huge." In Washington, Cook feels that Senator Maria Cantwell is vulnerable. In Pennsylvania, there is a presumption that Rick Santorum "is toast." Cook acknowledges that Santorum is "out of position" with voters, but Democrat Bob Casey not a strong candidate. "Santorum is a good campaigner and a sharp guy." Democratic fundraisers are actually lowering expectations for Casey and he is being kept under wraps, not going out of the campaign trail.
In response to a question about potential Republican presidential candidates for '08, Cook said that there is "no way that [Rudy] Giuliani can get the nomination." He is pro-choice, pro gun control and pro gay rights. Where do his voters go? Perhaps to KS Senator Sam Brownback or Santorum or Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. John McCain's poll ratings go up to 40 percent, but after that, the conservatives hate him. Chuck Hagel would also be attractive.
The only way that Cook felt that McCain might be the nominee is if Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton were the Democratic nominee and if Republicans felt that only McCain could stop her. Under those circumstances, he would unify the party. Otherwise, the Republicans need a "bridge candidate," like VA Senator George Allen.
And that was the end of another informative Charlie Cook breakfast briefing. Once again, the usual fruit and quiche was served.