ENPR: Week of August 22, 2007

August 22, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 17b

To: Our Readers


  1. The credit crunch threatening to seriously undermine the economy could transform the political climate — adding an economic downturn to multiple woes afflicting Republicans going into the 2008 election. As usual, the Bush Administration is behind the curve, still viewing the broad problem as largely limited to sub-prime mortgages. Financial institutions look to the Federal Reserve to stem the bleeding.
  2. The call by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) for a change of regime in Baghdad seems like outrageous congressional micro-managing. In fact, it signals that Democratic war critics are backing away from impractical demands for unequivocal, immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq.
  3. Important supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for President are laying the groundwork for a campaign against Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for Vice President on grounds that he adds nothing to the ticket. Prominent names offered as alternatives: Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

Breaking News

Hastert Early Resignation: An Illinois Republican source tells us former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) plans to resign November 6 this year instead of finishing out his term. This would create a vacancy and trigger a special election in the 14th District.

  1. Under Illinois statute, the governor, Rod Blagojevich (D), would get to pick the date of both of the special general election and the special primary election (with separate ballots for each party). The general election would have to be within 120 days of the vacancy (meaning by early March, if the November 6 resignation date holds). February 5 is the date for Illinois’s presidential and congressional primaries, and slating the special election — either the primaries or the general — on that date would save state money.

  2. The effect of the placing either the special primary or the special general on the same day as the presidential primary is impossible to determine at this point. If one party is seeing a more competitive presidential primary by that date, it could benefit from boosted turnout. The presence of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on the primary ballot could help Democrats.

  3. In any event, a special election would entail a much briefer campaign, which would favor the more well-funded candidates. That would be businessmen Jim Oberweis (R) and Bill Foster (D).

  4. On net, Hastert’s early resignation, by stirring the pot, gives Democrats a slightly better chance in this Republican district.

Republicans 2008

Republicans: Lest anyone was ready to count the fight for the Republican presidential nomination as a two-man battle between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), the field is growing more crowded now thanks to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.). Of course, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), while down, is not out.

  1. Huckabee’s second-place finish in the Iowa Straw poll has worked wonders for him. He’s handled well the flood of new media attention, much of which has bordered on the fawning. He still has plenty of work to do before he can really enter into the top tier, and we have yet to see a post-Ames poll. His best Hawkeye State showing before the straw poll was 8 percent and a fourth-place tie with McCain. His fundraising has benefited, but how much is still unclear.

  2. If there was any doubt, it’s gone now: Fred Thompson will announce his candidacy after Labor Day, with his coming out party his participation in the September 27 GOP debate in Maryland.

  3. Romney’s lead in the Iowa polls continues to steadily grow. His New Hampshire poll figures hold steady around 30%, while Giuliani fluctuates around 20 percent. In national polls and South Carolina polls, however, Romney still lags.

  4. Giuliani benefits from the crowded primary calendar. His general popularity and near-universal name recognition give him an advantage in the larger states where retail politics do not matter as much.

House 2008

Open Seats: Last week, two Republicans announced their retirement, and one Democrat, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), rescinded his retirement announcement. This brings the current tally to seven open House seats for the 2008 election. Five of those are held by Republicans, and two held by Democrats. Most of the seats should stay in their current partisan hands — and easily so. The one exception: the Columbus, Ohio, seat of Rep. Deborah Pryce (R). Democrats +1.

California-52: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R), unlike his fellow House colleagues running for President, has already declined to run for re-election in 2008. The retiring congressman hopes to replace himself with his son, Duncan D. Hunter (R).

The younger Hunter starts off with the advantages of the incumbent’s endorsement, an experienced political team (including campaign manager Dave Gilliard, who recently helped Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) win a special election), and sitting congressmen raising money for him. On the negative side, Hunter, a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps reserve, is currently on a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan, during which time he is prohibited from campaigning. His campaign team and his wife are picking up the slack.

Santee City Councilman Brian Jones (R) is also running. This district lies outside San Diego and is a real Republican stronghold, giving Bush 61% of its vote in 2004 and Hunter 65% in 2006. Likely Republican Retention.

Colorado-2: Rep. Mark Udall (D) is vacating his seat in this district that includes Boulder, the Northwest suburbs of Denver, and many ski areas. It’s a left-leaning district that has always liked liberal Udall, re-electing him with 68 percent of the vote last time. Bush received only 41 percent in this district in 2004.

The Democratic primary could be a three-way race, with State Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald (D) leading the pack. Fitz-Gerald is an elder stateswoman of Colorado Democrats, a powerful parliamentarian and old-fashioned Democrat. She has behind her the infrastructure of her party, which has recently gained the governorship along with both chambers of the legislature. She is the establishment candidate.

Jared Polis (D) might be her toughest competition. He is a wealthy businessman, philanthropist and former member of the state board of education. Polis is willing to pour his sizable bank account into this race (he spent $1 million on a school board race) and will be able to outspend his rivals. State Conservation Trust Director Will Shafroth (D) is also a serious contender.

No Republican candidates have filed to run yet. Former Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone (R) may win the nomination uncontested, but this is a rather safe Democratic seat. Likely Democratic Retention.

Illinois-14: The retirement of Rep. Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House in history, has drawn a handful of candidates to run in this district that extends from the Chicago exurbs almost to the Mississippi River. Complicating the matters, Illinois sources tell us Hastert will vacate his seat early, probably resigning in November, just after the filing deadline for candidates for the congressional contest — thus spurring a special election.

The field in a special election would likely be the same as the field in the regular November 2008 election.

After three consecutive losses in statewide campaigns, Republican millionaire Jim Oberweis will make a fourth run for a GOP nomination. Oberweis finished second in the Senate primaries in 2002 and 2004, and was also the runner-up in the ’06 primary for governor. He still has plenty of money to spend, and by now he has good name recognition and a ready-made political infrastructure.

State Sen. Chris Lauzen (R) wasted no time in entering the race, and he has already reached out for endorsements and contributions. In the state senate, Lauzen currently represents about 60 percent of the 18th District. He is independent of the state’s Republican establishment and will run as the outsider coming in to fix up an ailing party.

The moderate in the GOP race is Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns (R), whose day job has been as a professional fundraiser — a definite boon for him. Burns’s best chance is if Lauzen and Oberweis split the conservative vote. With this is mind, Oberweis might try to paint Lauzen as a liberal. However, Oberweis’s cash advantage might make him the clear frontrunner, in which case he would have no need to go negative.

The three Democrats in the race are businessman Bill Foster, attorney Jotham Stein and 2006 Democratic nominee John Laesch. The Democrats’ best hope is a statewide party surge. The Democratic presidential nominee will most likely carry Illinois easily, Barack Obama could possibly be on the White House ticket, Sen. Dick Durbin (D) will win re-election easily and the state GOP is suffering. This rising Democratic tide, combined with self-funding Democratic candidates in Foster and Stein, could make this Republican district (55% for Bush in 2004) competitive. Likely Republican Retention.

Illinois-18: Rep. Ray LaHood (R), after years of wanting to climb the ladder — planning Senate or governor runs and seeking leadership roles in the House — has decided to leave elected politics for now. His central Illinois district, anchored in Peoria and including some of Springfield, is Republican, but it can certainly be competitive.

Early on, the most exciting figure in the race is probably 26-year-old State Rep. Aaron Schock (R). Schock won his first election while a college student, when he defeated the school board president on a write-in campaign. In 2005, Schock knocked off an incumbent state representative, and now he has announced he is running for the open seat. Prominent Peoria businessman Jim McConoughey (R) could certainly be a serious contender here. Former Peoria City Councilman John Morris (R) has also thrown his hat in the ring. Darin LaHood (R), the congressman’s son, has been rumored as a potential candidate, but because he hasn’t entered yet, it seems unlikely he will.

No Democrats have officially announced, but 2006 attorney general candidate Stu Umholtz (D) and former State Rep. Bill Edley (D) are rumored to be considering a run.

Bush won this district by 5.5 points in 2004, and LaHood typically won easily. With a good Democratic year in Illinois likely, the right Democratic nominee here could become the favorite. Leaning Republican Retention.

Maine-1: Former State Senator Chellie Pingree (D) is the front-runner in the race to succeed Rep. Tom Allen (D), who is giving up his House seat to challenge Sen. Susan Collins (R).

Pingree, who challenged Collins in 2002, had already raised nearly $250,000 before she reeled in the endorsement this month of the deep-pocketed pro-choice EMILY’s List. She trumps the other candidates in name recognition, as well.

But the Democratic field is crowded. Former State Senators Mike Brennan (D) and Mark Lawrence (D) are running, as are State Sen. Ethan Strimling (D), former Portland Mayor Jill Duson (D) and Iraq War veteran Adam Cote (D). The Republican field is still shaking out, but it includes conservative businessman Dean Scontras (R) and former State Rep. Darlene Curley (R).

This Downeaster district is the more Democratic of Maine’s two congressional seats, but depending on the nominee, it could be in play. Likely Democratic Retention.

Mississsippi-3: Rep. Chip Pickering (R) has set off a Republican scramble for this safe Republican seat. No candidates have officially entered the race, but the list of potential contenders is pretty long, especially since Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck (R) has decided not to run.

The four leading candidates likely to run right now are Rankin County Republican Chairman Gregg Harper, State Treasurer Tate Reeves (R), former Mississippi State basketball player Whit Hughes (R) and Agriculture Department official John Rounsaville (R).

Harper is the most well-connected of the candidates, with strong name ID in Rankin County, the heart of the district. Reeves will easily win re-election as treasurer this fall, and that race will give him a head start in building name identification. Hughes has a fundraising background and deep roots within MSU, which could be a power-broker in this contest. The other potential MSU candidate is Rounsaville, a former Pickering staffer, whose job as state director of the Rural Development Agency has been to hand out federal money within the state.

Rounsaville’s predecessor, Nick Walters (R), who once ran for secretary of State, has decided not to run, according to a source close to Walters. The same is probably true for State Sen. Charlie Ross (R), who just lost a bitter primary for lieutenant governor. Likely Republican Retention.

Ohio-15: Early in the cycle, this is the Democrats’ best chance at a pickup. Rep. Deborah Pryce (R) will retire next year after her eighth term in Congress. Having been thwarted in her hopes for committee chairmanships — and then being demoted to the minority — Pryce’s decision to retire is not a surprise.

This is a barely Republican district, and it is drifting towards the Democrats. The district includes some of Columbus, all of its Western suburbs, as well as Madison and Union Counties. The suburbs, like suburbs on the East Coast, are wealthy white neighborhoods that are becoming more Democratic. The state Democratic Party is getting stronger, while the state GOP is struggling in the aftermath of Bob Taft‘s (R) governorship and in the shadow of the Bush presidency.

Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who nearly knocked off Pryce in 2006, will likely be the Democratic nominee. She is the only candidate currently announced. Her 2006 run was strong, and it gave her good name ID. Fellow Commissioner Paula Brooks (D) may also throw her hat in the ring.

The likely Republican nominee at the moment is former State Atty. Gen. James Petro (R), who lost the gubernatorial primary to Kenneth Blackwell (R) in 2006. Petro is a moderate, who is close to the party leaders and is well respected. He was won statewide races for state auditor and treasurer, carrying Madison Franklin, and Union Counties handily.

There is talk of a run by State Sen. Steve Stivers (R), but an Ohio source tells us he does not plan to run.

A Petro-Kilroy race would be tight. Bush won this district by about 1.1 points in 2004. As the most competitive open seat this early in the game, this race could attract a lot of money, and Democrats recently have been better at raising cash for targeted House seats. Ohio, too, will be a swing state in the presidential election.

There are countless variables that could swing this race, but as of now, Democrats are in a better position. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Currently Held by Republicans: 5
California-52 Duncan Hunter Running for President Likely Retention
Illinois-14* Dennis Hastert Retiring Likely Retention
Illinois-18 Ray LaHood Retiring Leaning Retention
Mississippi-3 Chip Pickering Retiring Likely Retention
Ohio-15 Deborah Pryce Retiring Leaning Takeover
Currently Held by Democrats: 2
Colorado-2 Mark Udall Running for Senate Likely Retention
Maine-1 Tom Allen Running for Senate Likely Retention

Special Election

California-37: State Assemblywoman Laura Richardson (D) easily won the runoff yesterday in the special election to fill the seat vacated by the death of Richardson’s former boss, Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D). Richardson had finished first in the 17-way multi-party June 26 primary. Under California law, the runoff featured the top vote-getters from each party. Yesterday, amid low turnout, Richardson pulled in about 67% of the vote compared to 25% for Iraq war veteran John Kanaley (R).

With this vacancy filled, Democrats now hold a 232-to-202 majority, with one vacancy: the safe Democratic seat of resigned Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.).