Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Expectations Game

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the subject of my post yesterday. And he's continuing to get press attention today.

David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register tells readers today that Huckabee's success is being fueled by a "Reagan-like spirit" at precisely the time when the Republicans are looking for someone like Ronald Reagan to lead their party.

Huckabee has been the talk of Iowa since finishing a strong second to Mitt Romney in a straw poll in August. Now, almost exactly two months before Iowans hold their caucuses, the talk centers on whether he can win the GOP caucus in early January.

Romney has a huge edge in financial support, but he can't match Huckabee when it comes to sounding like a populist Republican. In fact, none of the other Republicans can.

Huckabee has drawn criticism for implementing a tax increase as governor. That tax increase was supported by the voters. In his defense, Huckabee says, "You always ought to be governing by your basic principles, but you also have to understand that government has to work."

It's that kind of understanding of how government works that has helped governors be uniquely suited for the task of being president. Voters keep electing them, at least. Since 1976, five men have been elected president and four were either former or sitting governors (Carter, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush). The exception, George H.W. Bush, had executive experience as the sitting vice president.

Yet Romney hasn't demonstrated the governor's kind of understanding of how government operates. And that may spell disaster for Romney when the Iowa caucuses are held.

And yet ...

Conservatives aren't altogether willing to embrace Huckabee just yet. In fact, the Washington Times says conservatives are wondering if Huckabee can keep evangelicals in the GOP tent instead of bolting to form a third party.

I find it interesting that the conservative Washington Times quotes none other than Phyllis Schlafly as saying that many of the evangelical Christians who "sold" voters on George W. Bush eight years ago are trying to do the same thing with Huckabee now.

In that same article, tax-cut advocate Grover Norquist is quoted as saying Huckabee is "the only Republican in Arkansas who can beat a Democrat for the Senate."

If I read that correctly, Norquist is suggesting that Huckabee should withdraw from the presidential race and run for the Senate next year. The problem with that is, the Senate seat that is up for election in Arkansas in 2008 belongs to Mark Pryor, the son of popular former Gov. and former Sen. David Pryor, who was a fixture in state politics for four decades.

Pryor defeated the last Republican incumbent senator from Arkansas, and I doubt he would have any trouble dispatching Huckabee in a Senate race. Suggesting that Huckabee return to Arkansas and run for the Senate is like suggesting political suicide. At least in 2008.

Roger Simon of The Politico says Huckabee just isn't conservative enough to suit some people.

I'm not sure if he's right about that. But Simon might be on to something when he says that Huckabee's real problem with some fiscal conservatives may be that he's "anti-greed," which is an unusual position for a Republican.

Simon cites another good Huckabee quote in making the point. “I am not interested in being the candidate of Wall Street but of Main Street. CEOs get paid 500 times what the average worker does, but they are not necessarily 500 times smarter or harder-working, and that is wrong.”

Expectations for Huckabee continue to evolve. It will be interesting to see where the expectations stand around Christmas, which will be about a week before the Iowa voters hold their caucuses.

Monday, October 29, 2007

My Arkansas Roots

I grew up in Arkansas.

But I haven't lived there since 1988. And, while it might be hard to remember those days, I'll try to refresh your memory.

Nineteen years ago, Ronald Reagan was in his last full year in the White House. The Republicans were about to nominate George H.W. Bush to succeed him, and Bush was about to introduce us all to Dan Quayle. Michael Dukakis had just gotten the Democrats' presidential nomination at the convention that introduced America to Ann Richards.

In your movie theaters, Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon were starring in "Bull Durham," and animation mixed with live action in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

In Arkansas, Bill Clinton had been governor longer than anyone since Orval Faubus, but he wasn't well known outside his home state. When I was about to move to Texas that summer, Clinton had just been panned for his lengthy speech nominating Dukakis for the presidency.

He became the butt of so many jokes that he wound up being invited to appear on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson -- an invitation he readily accepted.

Four years later, when Clinton sought the nomination, his disastrous speech at the '88 convention never came up -- even though many of the political pundits of the day had predicted that the speech spelled the end of his national hopes.

I say this, not really thinking so much about Hillary as I am about Mike Huckabee. Hillary wasn't born and raised in Arkansas, she just came there with Clinton after college. But Huckabee was born and raised in Arkansas. He even comes from the same town -- Hope -- as Bill Clinton.

As an Arkansas boy, I sometimes find it hard to accept that Arkansas natives have commanded so much attention from the nation (and, in Clinton's case at least, the world) for so long.

I find it especially remarkable in Huckabee's case because Republicans were, mostly, non-existent in Arkansas when I was growing up.

For four years when I was a child, Winthrop Rockefeller was governor, but he was really the only Republican of any significance from Arkansas for many years -- and he certainly wasn't one of the breed of today's Republicans.

He was a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, who managed to appeal to many Democrats in Arkansas who didn't like the segregationist nature of Democratic nominees in that state at that time.

After Dale Bumpers came out of nowhere and defeated both Orval Faubus (in the Democratic primary) and Rockefeller (in the general election) in 1970, Republicans would go many more years before becoming truly competitive in Arkansas.

And that came about in large part because of the influence of the religious right, embodied in Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority.

So, I guess, it's appropriate that the most noteworthy Republican from Arkansas has been a Baptist preacher as well as a governor.

It's that gift of being able to speak well to an audience that is grabbing attention for Huckabee.

Today, for example, Fred Siegel of Commentary magazine calls Huckabee William Jennings Huckabee. I guess that has to be my favorite play on words in this campaign, not only because Huckabee has been gaining a reputation for a "silver tongue" (which wouldn't be hard to do in this Republican lineup) but also because William Jennings Bryan rode his reputation as an outsider to the Democratic nomination three times in four elections (1896, 1900 and 1908).

Unfortunately for Bryan, he lost all three general elections.

In the final years of his life and career, Bryan gave speeches in Chatauqua meetings and participated in the Scopes "monkey" trial. Bryan was a diehard opponent of Darwin's theory of evolution -- and he actually died five days after the trial ended (not unlike the character played by Frederic March in the film version of the story, "Inherit the Wind").

Which should provide a couple of lessons for Huckabee.

If you're going to remind people of someone from the past, it better be somebody who won.

Or, at least, somebody who didn't die in the attempt.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

More On The Senate Races

The Wall Street Journal has observed that political allegiances are shifting in New Hampshire, which may lead to the defeat of Republican Sen. John Sununu next year.

Sununu apparently will run against former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a popular Democrat, in the general election. Shaheen has been well ahead, according to polls I've seen.

New Hampshire, along with several Northeastern states, once voted reliably Republican when the party was about fiscal responsibility yet moderate on social issues. But in the last 40 years or so, since Barry Goldwater seized the 1964 nomination, the party has moved more to the right on social issues to bring in Christian conservatives as a voting bloc.

That, along with the Southwestern flavor that has ruled the party for a few decades, has made traditional Northeast Republicans uneasy. The WSJ points out some factors working against Sununu but, ultimately, acknowledges that his fiscally conservative voting record may help his party salvage the seat.

Right now, I'm inclined to believe that Shaheen will beat Sununu. Oddly enough, the Journal's own words convinced me.

Read what the Wall Street Journal said about New Hampshire, and then let me know if you think Sununu will be re-elected or if you think Shaheen is going to win the election.

More From The Polls

Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York is locked in statistical dead heats with her main Republican rivals, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, according to Rasmussen Reports.

In a matchup with Giuliani, Clinton comes out on the short end, 46% to 44%. Clinton wins her matchup with Thompson, 47% to 45%.

But both results fall within the margin of error, so the candidate who trails in a given matchup may actually be leading.

Rasmussen also reports that there seems to be a distinct gender gap involved in Clinton's candidacy. According to polls, about 18% of Republican women would vote for Clinton, but about 20% of Democratic men would vote for the Republican running against her in the general election.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Followup On The Senate Races

The Virginia Senate seat being vacated by John Warner (see Tuesday's post) lost a candidate today. Republican Rep. Thomas Davis decided not to run, apparently setting up a battle between former governors.

Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Jim Gilmore appear poised to face off next year. Mark Warner has already announced his plans to seek the seat. Gilmore reportedly will announce his intentions later this fall.

And it's interesting that, while I was speculating on Norm Coleman's race for re-election in Minnesota (see Monday's post), Ezra Klein of The American Prospect was reflecting on Paul Wellstone, Coleman's predecessor and political rival who died in an airplane crash five years ago this week.

And I amended the portion of Monday's post last night to include a mention that Bob Kerrey wasn't going to run for Chuck Hagel's seat next year. I think Kerrey, formerly of the 9-11 commission, likes the school where he is now and doesn't want to change vocations.

There could be -- in fact, probably will be -- some volatile races next year. The presidential race is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dowd On Cheney

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times says Vice President Dick Cheney has a new strategy for shaping foreign policy (borrowed from the Richard Nixon playbook).

The Senate Races in 2008, Part III

Today, we wrap up our look at the 2008 Senate races with a glance at the Democratic seats that are on the ballot.


* Mark Pryor, Arkansas: The son of a popular former governor and senator from Arkansas (David Pryor), Mark Pryor defeated incumbent Tim Hutchinson in 2002 and seems well positioned to be re-elected. Arkansas remained mostly Democratic even after other Southern states were trending Republican, and Pryor, like his father, seems to be the kind of Democrat who appeals to Arkansas voters.
* Joe Biden, Delaware: The time is fast approaching when Biden will have to decide if he wants to continue his quixotic bid for the presidency or seek another term in the Senate. Biden has been in the Senate for 36 years, and he seems likely to hold on to his seat if he chooses to seek another term.
* Richard Durbin, Illinois: Republicans don’t seem to have much appetite for taking on a big name incumbent like Durbin in a big state like Illinois -- it takes too much money and effort without much chance of success. I think Durbin will be re-elected easily. He got 60% of the vote in 2002 when Bush and the Republicans were riding 9-11 to greater power and the eventual invasion of Iraq.
* Tom Harkin, Iowa: Harkin is a popular figure in Iowa and remains so, even with his ill-advised support for Howard Dean in the 2004 caucuses. A veteran senator with an accomplished record, he still maintains the aura of the aggrieved outsider and populist, even though he was first elected to the Senate the year Ronald Reagan was re-elected president (1984). I don’t expect any upsets in Iowa.

* Mary Landrieu, Louisiana: This seems to be the one Democratic seat Republicans might have a shot at winning. In fact, in the aftermath of Bobby Jindal’s victory in the gubernatorial race last weekend, Louisiana Republicans are apparently feeling a bit cocky (Terence Jeffrey of Townhall.com says Jindal is the "future of conservatism" -- nationally, not just in Louisiana). I don’t know who the Republicans will put up against Landrieu -- many think it will be State Treasurer John Kennedy -- but I expect this race to be closely contested, whoever the Republican candidate turns out to be.
* John Kerry, Massachusetts: The 2004 Democratic nominee for president is up for re-election to the Senate in 2008. Immensely popular back home, Kerry looks like a shoo-in for another term.
* Carl Levin, Michigan: With his reputation as a straight shooter and a hard worker, Levin has increased his share of the vote every time he's sought another term in the Senate. First elected to the Senate in 1978, Levin has served five terms and will be looking for a sixth. He should have no trouble winning it.
* Max Baucus, Montana: You might call Max Baucus an "old school Democrat." He harkens back to a time when Democrats represented Montana in the Congress, but voters there have been trending Republican since Baucus was first elected to the Senate in 1978. Nevertheless, Baucus has made a real effort to maintain a presence in the state. It might be a close race -- well, closer than some of the other races facing his incumbent Democrat colleagues -- but Baucus should be re-elected.
* Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey: Asked to step in when scandal-plagued Sen. Bob Torricelli stepped down in 2002, former Sen. Lautenberg was elected to the Senate again and now faces the voters in a bid for another term. Lautenberg has been on the New Jersey state ballot many times, so the voters are familiar with his record. And I've heard no indications that he is likely to lose. New Jersey is an expensive place in which to run a statewide race -- candidates must buy TV time in New York City and in Philadelphia. Lautenberg is wealthy enough to devote his personal resources to a race and will make any challenge an expensive proposition.
* Jack Reed, Rhode Island: Always his own man and with a solidly liberal voting record that seems to suit Rhoide Island, Reed was elected to the Senate in 1996 with 63% of the vote. In his first bid for re-election, in 2002, Reed received 78% of the vote. Incumbent senators in Rhode Island have a long history of accumulating seniority, and Reed doesn't seem likely to end that trend.
* Tim Johnson, South Dakota: Almost a year ago, Johnson suffered bleeding in the brain during a radio interview back home in South Dakota. His recovery has been long but progress is being seen, and he returned to the Senate in September. Johnson has pledged to seek another term in 2008, but rumors persist that he may decide to retire. Senate races are often close in South Dakota, so a campaign for re-election may be a bit rigorous for Johnson. We'll see what happens.
* Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia: The only member of the Rockefeller family who ran for office and won as a Democrat (although one can argue that, philosophically, the Rockefellers have been closer to the Democrats than the Republicans), Jay Rockefeller has been an economic liberal with a more moderate voting record on foreign and social issues. He voted to authorize Bush to go to war in October 2002, a move that was opposed by his West Virginia colleague, Robert Byrd. Rockefeller later acknowledged he had made a mistake, and the voters seem to agree with him. Rockefeller is in solid political shape back home and should be re-elected easily.

Of the 12 Democratic seats up in 2008, only Landrieu appears in jeopardy of being defeated.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Senate Races in 2008, Part II

Today, we take a look at some more of the Republican seats in the Senate that will be on the ballot next year.


* John Sununu, New Hampshire: I think New Hampshire is a wild card in the bunch. In presidential politics, it narrowly supported George W. Bush in 2000, then narrowly opposed his bid for re-election in 2004. Sununu has been generally conservative in the Senate, but he hasn’t always supported Bush. He was elected to his first term in 2002, by just under 20,000 votes. New Hampshire likes to be unpredictable. I’m withholding judgment on which party will win the Senate seat there, but it sounds like Sununu is having problems with the former governor, Jeanne Shaheen, he beat last time.
* Pete Domenici, New Mexico: We’ve already mentioned in this blog that Domenici will be retiring from the Senate due to health problems, and the vacancy could be an opening for Democrats. If popular Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson decides to seek the Senate seat, he could well win. If Richardson isn’t his party’s nominee for the Senate, the Republicans might hold on to the seat. This is one that could go either way. It will depend on which names are offered to the voters.
* Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina: The popular wife of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole turned back former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles to win her first term in the Senate in 2002. I haven’t heard of any issues that might cause her problems, and I think the seat is likely to remain Republican in 2008.
* James Inhofe, Oklahoma: Inhofe was elected to replace outgoing Sen. David Boren in 1994 when Boren decided to retire to accept the presidency of the University of Oklahoma. I was living in Oklahoma at the time, and I felt then -- and I feel now -- that Inhofe is likely to be able to hold the seat as long as he wants.
* Gordon Smith, Oregon: Against an Independent opponent in 2002, Smith was elected by 56% to 40%. Oregon is one state where turning out your voters really is important. It’s a state that is virtually split down the middle concerning Democratic and Republican allegiances. If what the experts are saying about Republicans not being very motivated and Democrats being highly motivated to vote in 2008 is true, Smith could be in trouble.
* Lindsey Graham, South Carolina: Strom Thurmond’s successor in the Senate was one of the leaders of Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the House in the late 1990s. He votes along conservative lines about 90% of the time, but his positions on judicial nominations and immigration have caused him some problems with conservatives in his home state. The Republicans are likely to hold the seat, but it will be interesting to see what happens with Graham’s Republican base.
* Lamar Alexander, Tennessee: Alexander has been a perennial candidate in Tennessee for a generation. He hasn't always succeeded. However, he did serve as governor from 1979 to 1987, so Tennessee voters have had a long time to become acquainted with him. They got to know him in other posts as well. He was president of the University of Tennessee for a few years after he stopped being governor, and he was secretary of education under the first President Bush. Just before his election to the Senate, he was a professor at Harvard's JFK School of Government. Alexander's record is generally conservative, but he's not as hard-line on social issues as many conservatives would like. The seat is likely to remain Republican. The question is, will Alexander carry the GOP banner, or will Republicans nominate someone else to do it?
* John Cornyn, Texas: As someone who lives in Texas, it's hard for me to believe that Cornyn's first term in the Senate is almost over. He was elected to replace retiring Sen. Phil Gramm in 2002, defeating Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk by about half a million votes. I haven't seen anything to indicate a shift in Texas politics, but it was a little surprising in 2006 when Democrats swept city and county judicial races in Dallas County. I had no idea that was coming, and I don't know if it represents a long-term trend in Texas. But, right now, I see no reason to look for Cornyn to be unseated.

* John Warner, Virginia: Warner has already announced his plans to retire in 2008, and I think the Virginia Senate race will be closely watched by a lot of people, especially after Democrat Jim Webb defeated incumbent Republican George Allen in the Senate race in 2006. I think the seat could go to the Democrats, but we'll need to see who gets the nominations -- former Gov. Mark Warner (no relation, as far as I know) seems to be the favorite among the Democrats right now.
* Michael Enzi, Wyoming: Earlier this year, the National Journal declared Enzi the sixth-most conservative member of the Senate. Seems like he's a good fit for the job. If he seeks re-election, he should have no trouble winning.

Next, we'll look at the Democratic-held Senate seats that are up for election in 2008.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Senate Races in 2008, Part I

The U.S. Senate was left virtually split down the middle after last year's elections. With almost exactly a year to go before the 2008 election, you might think the only race that matters is the presidential race, but one-third of the Senate seats will be voted on next year and two-thirds of those seats are being defended by the Republicans.

I want to examine each seat, but one article on all the Senate seats that are up next year would be almost book-length! So I'm going to break it up. Today, we take a look at part I.


* Jeff Sessions, Alabama: When I was growing up, major office-holders across the South were Democrats. Many Southern natives were Democrats because the Republicans had always been blamed for Reconstruction. But Alabama has been moving in the direction of the Republicans since the civil rights days of the 1960s. Sessions will be seeking his third term as a senator from Alabama. He won with 52% of the vote in 1996, and he was re-elected in 2002 with 59%. I've heard nothing to indicate that he faces any serious opposition next year.
* Ted Stevens, Alaska: Appointed to his seat in 1968, Stevens will be 85 by the time the next batch of senators is sworn in. But he's been easily re-elected in the past, and he's been a vocal advocate of Alaska in Congress. There's no reason to think he won't be re-elected if he runs in 2008.
* Wayne Allard, Colorado: When he was elected to the Senate in 1996, Dr. Allard (a veterinarian) pledged to serve only two terms. We are nearing the end of his second term, and Allard is leaving the Senate. The Colorado seat will be one that will attract a lot of attention in 2008, and many observers think it's possible the Democrats will win the seat. Rep. Mark Udall, son of Mo Udall, is favored.
* Saxby Chambliss, Georgia: Six years ago, Saxby Chambliss won the Senate seat then held by Max Çleland, a veteran of Vietnam who lost both legs and an arm in that conflict. Chambliss' campaign, run at a time when Republicans did not control the Senate and they needed a majority to ensure themselves of a powerful position when the Iraq War got started, took aim at Cleland in some dubious advertisements that linked Cleland to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Georgia is another Southern state that has trended toward Republicans, and it seems likely that Chambliss will win re-election.

* Larry Craig, Idaho: Democrats haven't won a statewide race in Idaho since the Frank Church days -- and it's been nearly 30 years since Idaho voters rejected Church when he sought his fifth term in the Senate. It remains to be seen if Craig's infamous arrest in the Minneapolis airport forces him to resign or to not seek re-election, but it seems likely that, whether Craig is on the ballot or not, Republicans will continue to hold his seat in the Senate. However, the Republicans may actually have to wage a fight to keep it.
* Pat Roberts, Kansas: Political attention in Kansas may have been on Roberts' colleague, Sam Brownback, and his recent decision to withdraw from the presidential campaign, but now Roberts will be the center of attention back home. Elected to replace retiring Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum in 1996, Roberts faced only Libertarian and Reform Party opponents in 2002 and won re-election with 83% of the vote. Kansas is a Republican state and likely to return Roberts to the Senate next year.
* Mitch McConnell, Kentucky: As Minority Leader, McConnell is the top-ranking Republican in the Congress. There is talk of a Republican challenger for McConnell's seat, but I haven't heard anything about a Democratic challenger. So it seems likely the seat will stay in Republican hands.
* Susan Collins, Maine: Collins may well be one of those Republicans who pays the price for the growing unpopularity of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Both John Kerry and Al Gore carried the state against Bush. Collins appears to be vulnerable. Republicans will have to fight hard to keep this seat.
* Norm Coleman, Minnesota: Coleman is another Republican who is considered vulnerable in 2008. After incumbent Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash just before the 2002 election, Walter Mondale stepped forward to run in his place and was defeated by Coleman. Minnesota is a Democratic state historically, although Republicans have enjoyed a few victories there in recent years. Even so, Democrats feel they have a good chance to win the seat and will be targeting it in 2008. One of the prominent names being mentioned as a Democratic challenger to Coleman is comedian Al Franken.
* Thad Cochran, Mississippi: Thad Cochran has been in the Senate for nearly 30 years. Against only a Reform Party opponent in 2002, he received more than 80% of the vote. Against a Democratic opponent in 1996, Cochran took 71% of the vote. He may hold the safest seat in the Senate.
* Chuck Hagel, Nebraska: Hagel has announced his intention to retire from the Senate. At first glance, one would assume that the seat will remain Republican, but the question is whether former Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, will run for it. Kerrey was governor of Nebraska for four years and senator for 12 years. He decided not to seek re-election in 2000, but he has been publicly pondering the possibility of seeking Hagel's seat. If Kerrey seeks the seat, it will make the Nebraska race one of the most closely watched Senate contests in the nation.

A glance at the 11 Republican-held seats we've examined today, I think 7 of them appear likely to remain with the Republicans. But 4 seats are clearly in jeopardy. The seats in Colorado and Nebraska will have no incumbent running, and the future of Nebraska's seat is clearly linked to the decision yet to be made by former Sen. Bob Kerrey. Two other seats, in Maine and Minnesota, will have Republicans defending their seats against a significant effort by the Democrats.

Breaking News, October 24 -- Kerrey will not seek Hagel's Senate seat, and Republicans should be breathing a sigh of relief over that. It means Democrats will have to nominate a lesser candidate to seek the seat in heavily Republican Nebraska.

If Democrats carry those four seats, Republicans will have to carry at least that many Democratic-held seats to stay even, and the Democrats are only defending about a dozen seats in 2008.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Christian Conservatives and the Republican Candidates

In the aftermath of the Values Voters Summit in Washington this weekend, there's been a bit of a shakeup in the "God-o-Meter."

There was no update on John McCain. He didn't get much support from the Christian conservatives in their straw poll, either. One has to wonder if McCain's pandering to the religious right has backfired.

Mitt Romney stayed where he was, which was at the top. Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee and even Rudy Giuliani went up slightly, perhaps from the exposure of speaking to the summit attendees.

There have been no updates recently on the Democratic side.

A week ago, Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard was saying that Giuliani needed to make a serious commitment to the pro-life position when he spoke to the social conservatives. Now, Barnes is saying that Giuliani made inroads with Christian conservatives with some of the things he said yesterday.

Apparently, that "inroads" assessment conveniently overlooked the fact that Giuliani got less than 2% of the vote in the Values Voters Summit straw poll. Giuliani doesn't seem to be building a groundswell of support among Christian conservatives for his candidacy.

By the way, the Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting observation or two about the Republican race.

And Steven Greenhut of the Orange County Register sees the libertarian and conservative factions that Ronald Reagan brought together in the 1980s splitting apart.

Such a split was inevitable, without a charismatic force like Reagan to keep them together.

Gas Prices Going Up

The Lundberg Survey reports that the national average price for a gallon of unleaded gas went up 5 cents in the last two weeks.

But that nickel increase will pale in comparison to the increase that's coming. The price of crude oil went up 18 cents in the same two-week period, but that increase hasn't been felt at the pump because it hasn't been passed along yet by refiners, marketers and retailers.

So fill up at the best price you can get right now, because it isn't going to last.

The national average was $2.80, which is 60 cents higher than it was a year ago at this time. The best price to be found was in Newark, N.J., where a gallon was selling for $2.56. San Francisco had the highest price, at $3.17.

Here in my east Dallas neighborhood, the price ranges from $2.61 to $2.65.

C-SPAN's 'American Writers'

C-SPAN has been showing a series called "American Writers II, the 20th Century." A website, "American Writers," will bring you up to speed on who's been profiled and how these writers continue to influence us today.

I just sort of stumbled on to a rerun of one of the episodes. Perhaps this series hasn't gotten much press attention, but I urge you to watch it whenever it is shown in your area.

For anyone who reads or admires great writers, this series is well worth your time.

An Unobserved Anniversary

I'm sure there were those who paid attention to it, but I saw no recognition in the media that October 12 was the 10th anniversary of the death of singer/composer John Denver.

Denver, who died in an experimental airplane crash, was 53. He was also one of my mother's favorite singers. Like Denver, my mother died before her time. She was 63 when her life was taken in a flash flood in 1995.

It was hard to pigeonhole Denver. Some people thought he was a country singer, some people thought he was a folk singer, others thought he performed soft and pop rock. The truth was that he performed all those genres in a way that was uniquely his.

His music was relentlessly cheerful and sweet, but it also had a poignance and a mellow quality. I enjoyed listening to his music as a teenager, and I still listen to it when I hear it on the radio. I appreciated his support of environmental causes, and I think his voice would have added a meaningful dimension to the debate over global warming today.

His music is a reminder to me of a time in my life when things were simpler. Or at least they seemed that way.

And I guess I'll never hear one of his songs without thinking about my mother and how much I miss her.

Thanks for the memories, John.

A 'Fresh Start' for Louisiana?

Bobby Jindal, a Republican member of the House, was elected governor of Louisiana Saturday. Jindal will be the nation's youngest governor and the first nonwhite since Reconstruction to hold the post in Louisiana.

Jindal is an Indian-American -- as in native of India.

Under Louisiana's open primary system, if none of the candidates received a majority of the vote, a runoff would have been necessary in November. But Jindal prevailed over 11 opponents with 53% of the vote and was elected outright to succeed Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who was criticized for the state's response to Hurricane Katrina two years ago and decided not to seek re-election.

Blanco defeated Jindal in the governor's race four years ago.

Despite beautiful weather on Saturday, voter turnout in the governor's race was down by 100,000, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. That may be a lingering effect of Hurricane Katrina. About half of the decline in participation came in New Orleans, where more than 120,000 voted in the 2003 governor's race, but just under 76,000 people participated Saturday.

Jindal promised a "fresh start" in his speech to supporters Saturday night.

And Captain's Quarters thinks Jindal may be starting a long, successful political run that could extend beyond Louisiana's borders.

But the Louisiana governor's mansion seems to have been a magnet for corruption and abuse of power for decades.

It remains to be seen if Jindal can reverse that trend.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Will There Be A Game 7?

It's still really early in the Cleveland-Boston Game 6 in the American League Championship Series.

It's the first inning, but J.D. Drew of the Red Sox just ripped a grand slam and Boston is up 4-0. A four-run lead doesn't seem to mean as much in major league baseball as it did when I was a kid, but if Boston holds the lead, the teams will play the deciding seventh game tomorow night.

By nature, I'm a National League fan. I like the Dodgers and Cardinals, and I've been in St. Louis to see them play each other on several occasions. With neither of those teams involved in this year's playoffs, I haven't had a strong rooting interest. And it's been hard to build an interest in the other series when they've all been over so quickly.

Now, it will be kind of fun to watch the Colorado Rockies playing in their first World Series, no matter which team they play, but there wasn't much drama in their series with the Diamondbacks. It was four and out.

Now we might finally be treated to a Game 7.

So I'm pulling for the Red Sox to win tonight.

Romney, Huckabee Favorites At The Values Voters Summit

Republicans have been gathering in Washington this weekend to appeal to Christian conservatives at the Values Voters Summit.

There never really was any question that abortion would be a hot topic at the summit.

And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani deserves credit for facing up to his stated position, which isn't very popular with Christian conservatives. Giuliani is pro-choice, and he didn't walk away from that position to win some votes.

"Isn't it better that I tell you what I really believe instead of pretending to change all of my positions to fit the prevailing winds?" Giuliani asked his listeners.

The sentiment was admirable, but not successful.

Even though Giuliani spoke about his own faith and his reliance on religion being "at the core of who I am," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney finished first in a straw poll of Christian conservatives at the Values Voters Summit, receiving 1,595 votes (27.6%) from 5,775 that were cast online, in person or by mail.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came in a close second with 1,565 votes (27.1%), Texas Rep. Ron Paul was third with 865 votes (15.0%) and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson was fourth with 564 votes (9.8%).

The remaining 20% were divided among the other Republican candidates. In that group, Giuliani received just 102 votes (1.8%).

Based on that, it appears that Giuliani has considerable work to do to convince Christian conservatives to support him in both his bid for the nomination and, if successful, his bid to win the general election -- even though Giuliani tried to reassure the restless Christian conservatives by telling them that he would appoint conservative judges, support school choice and demand victory in Iraq.

Those are all issues that are important to Christian conservatives -- but it appears that abortion remains the No. 1 issue with that voting bloc.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who emphasized his own conservative credentials and his opposition to abortion, appears to be increasingly irrelevant to the presidential campaign. He received only 81 votes (1.4%).

Among those who voted in person at the summit and heard all the candidates speak, Huckabee, who criticized the "holocaust of liberalized abortion," was the clear choice, receiving 488 of 952 in-person votes (51.3%). Romney received 99 in-person votes (10.4%).

It's odd that Romney should win the overall vote, based on his support for the anti-abortion cause. His original position was pro-choice, but he has switched to pro-life since deciding to enter the presidential race. Romney also has some work to do to persuade Christian conservatives that Mormons are Christians. About half of Christian conservatives polled are unconvinced.

On the Democratic side, there's some news from Iowa. The Storm Lake Times endorsed Delaware Sen. Joe Biden for the presidency, following Biden's recent visit to the small town of Storm Lake in western Iowa. The newspaper told its readers that Biden has the "professional skills and ... the personal strength" to be president.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Whither Goest the Evangelical Vote?

We've been wondering which candidate would earn the allegiance of the evangelical voters.

In today's Washington Post, we found the answer we had been expecting, really.

No one.

All the Republicans covet the evangelicals' backing, but each has a shortcoming -- or two -- that gets in the way of closing the sale.

The Post spoke to Chuck Colson of the Prison Fellowship, a national Christian ministry. Colson's assessment: "Nobody has rung the bell yet."

There's a certain irony to the idea of the Washington Post quoting Colson, who spent time in prison for what he did in service to the president, Richard Nixon, who was driven from power by the Post's investigation into Watergate.

At the time of the Watergate break-in in 1972, Colson was a conniving chief counsel for Nixon, known as Nixon's hatchet man who was responsible for drafting the memo that served as the basis for the infamous Enemies' List.

It's also ironic that Colson's quote should appear in the Post on this date -- the 34th anniversary of the famed "Saturday Night Massacre" when Nixon ordered the dismissal of the special prosecutor, leading to the resignations of the attorney general and his top assistant.

Four weeks later, in defending his actions in a nationally televised press conference, Nixon uttered one of his most famous sentences, "I am not a crook."

Colson became one of the famed Watergate Seven, along with H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Mitchell, who were indicted for their roles in the scandal.

That was 30 years ago. In the last three decades, Colson has developed a reputation as a leader among evangelical Christians.

It's interesting, also, that the New York Times' David Brooks thinks former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee might be the most acceptable candidate to all the factions in the Republican Party.

As a former Baptist minister, Huckabee would appear to have a natural "in" with evangelical voters. But he doesn't seem to have registered with them yet.

Patrick Ruffini, writing in Town Hall, thinks the Republican Party may have hit rock-bottom and is due for a rebound.

So whoever wins the allegiance of evangelical Christians has the advantage in the race for the nomination. And that nomination may turn out to be more valuable than it appears to be right now.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

'Our Town' Loses a Prominent Citizen

If you grew up in Arkansas, as I did, the name Richard Allin will always be special.

A columnist at the Arkansas Gazette for many, many years, Allin passed away of heart failure Thursday. He was the author of the "Our Town" column, first at the Gazette and then at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in the years after the Democrat acquired the rival Gazette in 1991.

When he retired in 2004, Allin was voted the most favorite columnist by Democrat-Gazette readers. He went to work at the Gazette in 1963 and took over the "Our Town" column two years later.

I knew Richard Allin. I wouldn't say we were close friends or anything like that, but we were acquaintances when I worked on the Gazette copy desk from 1984 to 1988. He was a gentleman and one of the most entertaining writers I've ever known.

According to the account from the Associated Press, Allin wrote, in his final column, that he "ate raccoon at Murry's, pig ears and snout in Paris, haggis in Inverness, Scotland, roadkill turtle in New Orleans and baked beans on toast in England — all in the name of duty. I have had more fun writing the Our Town column than any man is supposed to. I cherish every moment."

He was 77. But he was in his 50s when I knew him. And I've heard he was in poor health in his final days and weeks.

Rest in peace.

News From The Campaign Trail ...

There are more developments in the presidential campaign today.

* Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback apparently will end his presidential campaign on Friday.

Sam who?

Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of him. Brownback hardly made a ripple in the polls, remaining in single digits throughout his ill-advised venture into presidential politics. In the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, conducted last weekend, Brownback had the support of 1% of respondents.

And his campaign warchest reportedly has less than $100,000.

You don't win presidential campaigns with that kind of support and that kind of financial backing.

Nevertheless, Brownback was one of the few, unabashedly genuine social conservatives running on the Republican side. With a social moderate like Giuliani one of the leaders in the race, it begs the question -- Who will win the social conservative vote?

* Jeb Bush Jr., nephew of the president and the son of the former Florida governor, endorsed Rudy Giuliani in his quest for the Republican nomination.

“I know that Rudy has the leadership qualities and unmatched experience to be the next president of the United States,” Bush said. “I’m honored to join his campaign and look forward to working with the many young professionals throughout Florida supporting the mayor.”

Bush will be the chairman of Florida Young Professionals.

It remains to be seen how much positive influence an endorsement from a Bush will have in the race. But Jeb Bush Jr. becomes the second well-known person to join Giuliani's campaign lately. Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a national co-chairmanship in Giuliani's campaign yesterday.

* If Barack Obama expected to unite black registered Democrats behind his bid for the presidential nomination, the latest CNN poll shows he is failing in that effort. The CNN survey reports that Hillary Clinton is the choice of 57% of black registered Democrats, and Obama is favored by 33%.

Clinton's lead over Obama among black Democrats seems to be fueled by support from black women, who pick Clinton over Obama by 68% to 25%. Apparently, black women's allegiance to their gender is more significant than their allegiance to their race.

Among white Democrats, Clinton has 49% support, while Obama is at 18% and former Sen. John Edwards has 17%.

You can read more about the survey here.

* While we're on the subject of polls, the latest CBS News poll shows Giuliani leading among Republicans with 29%.

His nearest competitors are former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson with 21% and Arizona Sen. John McCain with 18%. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has 12% and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was included in the poll for the first time, has 4%.

* It looks like we won't have to get too far into the new year before people will start voting in the presidential race.

Iowa is scheduled to hold its caucuses on January 3. That's 11 weeks from now.

New Hampshire still hasn't decided when to hold its first-in-the-nation primary, but to retain its status, New Hampshire will have to hold its vote at least before January 15, which is the date voters in Michigan go to the polls in that state's presidential primary.

To be first overall, New Hampshire will have to schedule its vote for January 1 or 2 -- or take the unprecedented step of holding its primary in the calendar year before the general election is to be held.

Anyone for a little post-Christmas politics? 'Tis the season ...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Battle for Endorsements -- and Momentum

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani picked up a significant endorsement today in Texas. And in the battle for the allegiance of Southern voters.

Gov. Rick Perry, who succeeded George W. Bush in 2001 when Bush became president and then was elected on his own twice (2002 and 2006), endorsed Giuliani and became a national co-chair of Giuliani's campaign.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney picked up a couple of endorsements this week. One was from Bob Jones III, the grandson of Bob Jones, who founded the conservative college that bears his name in South Carolina. The other endorsement for Romney came from another famous name -- Rep. Connie Mack Jr., R-Fla., whose father was a senator from Florida.

The "middle class" is the hot new buzz word in politics, but MSNBC wonders what the middle class is.

Jonathan Martin of The Politico says the Romney campaign is trying to narrow the focus of the campaign into "us or Rudy," thus taking attention away from the other contenders.

When the issue is framed that way, Romney's campaign clearly believes rank-and-file Republicans will feel that Romney better represents their beliefs. And that Romney is the best alternative to Giuliani.

But one Romney supporter in the media, Dean Barrett of the Weekly Standard, thinks Romney needs to find his voice.

Romney drew fire recently from John McCain for his assertion that he represented the "Republican wing" of the Republican Party. Lately, Giuliani is drawing criticism from McCain for supporting pork-barrel spending.

The Republican candidates in general seem to have their own problems with the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

According to the latest Fox News polls, the top four Republican candidates -- Giuliani, Romney, Fred Thompson and McCain -- trail Clinton by varying margins nationally.

McCain and Giuliani run the closest races -- head to head, Clinton gets 47% in each matchup, while McCain draws 44% and Giulani draws 43%. Those margins tend to fall within the margin of error, so it could be closer than it appears in both cases.

The Fox polls show that Clinton beats Romney and Thompson by identical 50-38 margins.

The surveys were conducted within the last week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Joys Of October

It's worth noting that this time next year, the presidential race will be in the home stretch, and the commercials and the mud-slinging will be at their peak.

So it's a good idea to enjoy the joys of October this year while you can.

That means the World Series. We've already got one shocking underdog -- the Colorado Rockies -- slated to play in the Fall Classic -- and possibly another one, if the Cleveland Indians hang on to beat the favored Boston Red Sox. The Rockies winning the National League championship is comparable to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team capturing the gold medal and the 1969 New York Mets winning the World Series. And you can bet it won't be long before the underdogs in the presidential campaign start comparing themselves to the Rockies.

Unfortunately, none of them can claim the same turf, since none of the candidates can say Denver is home.

And the joys of October includes college football and the traditional pageantry it boasts. Rivalries renew themselves in October -- and surprises occur. Last weekend, we had the rarest of events in college football -- both the No. 1 and No. 2 teams were beaten, causing a massive shakeup in the polls and reminding everyone that anything can happen.

The NFL is nearing the midway point of its season, with the Green Bay Packers sharing the top spot in the NFC behind the 38-year-old arm of Brett Favre. Favre is still a gunslinger and he reminds us, as George Blanda did a generation ago, that even the older guys can make their contribution in sports.

And, of course, basketball and hockey are getting under way, so there's something for everyone out there.

Enjoy the joys of October. They may be harder to enjoy next year.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Where Do We Stand Now?

As the third full week of October 2007 begins, it's a good time to ponder where each party stands in relation to its eventual nominee for president -- and the direction each party wants to take.

The Republicans

Fred Thompson made his debate debut last week, and his appearance was noteworthy because it exceeded the rather poor expectations the experts had. But the debate was noteworthy also for the confrontational nature of the Rudy Giuliani-Mitt Romney exchanges.

During the weekend, Romney decided to be the GOP's version of Howard Dean (circa 2004) when the former governor of Vermont claimed he represented the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." Substitute the word "Republican" for the word "Democratic," and you have what Romney told his audience.

This was a bit much for John McCain, whose position in the race has been slipping decidedly for months. McCain decided to take on Romney and insisted that Romney was a poor choice to carry on in the tradition of Ronald Reagan. Read about it in the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. and former Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee was being declared "Mr. Right" by Jonathan Martin of The Politico. But becoming a competitive candidate might not be a good thing right now for Huckabee. The Boston Globe told its readers recently about Huckabee's decision to parole a convicted (and later castrated) rapist who proceeded to murder a woman in Missouri. That's not the kind of thing that tends to motivate the true believers to get out and vote for you.

And Bill Krstol frets, in the Weekly Standard, that the Republican candidates in general are too gloomy. Perhaps they need to borrow a page or two from Reagan's don't-worry-be-happy playbook.

The Democrats

If there were people out there who thought the Democratic race -- with Republicans holding their first debate with Fred Thompson on the stage and with Hillary Clinton seemingly on cruise control to the Democratic nomination -- would take the week off, they were mistaken.

Former Vice President Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize reignited interest in a "Draft Gore" movement. But it ain't gonna happen, writes Gary Rosen in Commentary magazine.

Even for the award itself, Gore has his detractors. Peter Bronson of the Cincinnati Enquirer says Gore was honored for 'science fiction.'

And Albert R. Hunt of Bloomberg.com says Hillary's campaign is "efficient, tough and joyless." If the Republicans are having trouble finding the next Ronald Reagan, the Democrats don't seem to have resurrected Hubert Humphrey's "Happy Warrior" with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The Polls

In the latest Rasmussen Reports Tracking Poll, Clinton has the support of 45% of Democrats and Giuliani leads among Republicans with 29%.

Clinton's top two rivals, Obama and Edwards, don't have as much support combined as Clinton -- Obama has 22% of Democrats and Edwards has 11%.

Giuliani's leading rival, according to Rasmussen, is Thompson, who is supported by 23% of Republicans. Romney is running a distant third with 13%.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Craig Inducted into Idaho Hall of Fame

Sen. Larry Craig was inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame Saturday.

The veteran senator, who was charged with disorderly conduct after being arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom in June, was chosen for induction in March. His induction proceeded as scheduled.

Although pressured to postpone or cancel Craig's induction, Hall of Fame officials decided to induct him as scheduled. Read the report on the induction ceremony in the Idaho Statesman.

American Indian Activist Dies

Vernon Bellecourt, a longtime leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who opposed the use of Indian nicknames in sports, died of complications from pneumonia Saturday. He was 75.

Bellecourt's brother, Clyde, was a founding member of AIM in 1968. Vernon soon became an active member and spokesman, participating in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

In his later years, Vernon Bellecourt was actively opposed to Indian nicknames in sports. Ten years ago, he was arrested in Cleveland during protests against the Indians' mascot, Chief Wahoo, when the Indians appeared in the World Series. Charges against him were dropped.

Bellecourt's death is a timely reminder of that protest, since the Cleveland Indians are appearing in the American League Championship Series again this year.

The protest did bear some fruit for advocates of Native Americans who opposed the use of Indian nicknames in sports. Many schools have changed their nicknames -- but many have not. And none of the professional teams, such as the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Redskins, have changed their nicknames.

Bellecourt's point about stereotype nicknames was well taken, but Native Americans weren't the only group to be so maligned. For example, the nickname for Notre Dame's athletic teams -- the Fightin' Irish -- perpetuates the image of drunken, brawling Irishmen.

And, in some cases, the slur is doubtful. Vancouver's NHL team is known as the "Canucks." Canuck is a slang term that was probably intended to describe French Canadians, but apparently it evolved to become a term used for Canadians in general. It is considered an offensive term by some Americans, but reportedly it is not considered offensive by most Canadians.

The Vancouver nickname is probably a good analogy to illustrate how some Native Americans probably aren't offended by some of the nicknames that Bellecourt and his followers opposed -- such as "Warriors" or "Braves."

And some of those nicknames clearly have historical significance -- such as Florida State's use of "Seminoles" as a team nickname.

Sometimes, though, the historical angle of a team's nickname isn't positive -- i.e., the use of "Sooners" as Oklahoma's nickname. In reality, the "Sooners" were 19th century criminals, illegally settling on lands in the Oklahoma territory before President Benjamin Harrison declared them available for settling. Not all of the Sooners seized their lands illegally, but most of them did.

Still, Native Americans are the ones who most often are maligned by derogatory team nicknames, and Bellecourt's point raised our collective consciousness. We should be grateful to him for that.

You can read his obituary at the Star-Tribune's website.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What Giuliani Needs to Do

Fred Barnes, in an article in The Weekly Standard, says Rudy Giuliani needs to demonstrate to social conservatives that he's committed to an anti-abortion posture when he speaks to the Values Voter Summit in Washington next weekend.

Polls have shown that more than a quarter of Republicans would vote for a third-party candidate who has the support of social conservative leaders if Giuliani is the Republican nominee.

Some social conservative leaders, like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Gary Bauer of American Values, are speaking unfavorably about Giuliani's social conservative credentials and his efforts to score points with social conservatives, such as his pledge to appoint "strict constructionist" justices to the Supreme Court.

As Barnes points out, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but enough people voted for Ralph Nader in Florida to deprive Gore of that state's electoral votes -- and, thus, swung the state and the election to George W. Bush (with the help of the mostly Republican-appointed Supreme Court).

A mass defection on the scale that polls are suggesting almost certainly would doom Giuliani in the general election, Barnes says.

It's a reasonable argument. But I think there's another question that social conservatives who have supported the Republican Party need to ask themselves.

The Republican Party has had an anti-abortion plank in its platform since 1980. In nearly 28 years, we've had 7 presidential elections, and Republicans have won 5 of them. Republicans controlled the Senate from 1981 to 1987, and Republicans controlled both houses of Congress from 1995 to 2007.

With all those Republican office-holders -- who, apparently, owed their elections in part to the anti-abortion movement -- why has nothing been done on this issue?

That's not something that can be blamed on Giuliani.

Even if social conservatives defect to support a pro-life candidate, they've already had all the cards on their side for many years -- and nothing has been done.

What else did they need?

Mondale Planning to Endorse Hillary?

The Hill reports that former Vice President Walter Mondale is planning to endorse Hillary Clinton for president sometime soon.

As noted in the Hill's report, a Mondale endorsement would be particularly appropriate, considering that Mondale's running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, made history 23 years ago as the first woman to be nominated for vice president by a major party.

As usually happens to "historic firsts," the Mondale-Ferraro ticket was handily beaten in the general election -- by the Reagan-Bush ticket that was seeking a second term.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore Wins Nobel Prize

Former Vice President Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize today. Actually, he shares it with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- but they were both honored for their work to warn people of the dangers of global warming.

"This is a chance to elevate global consciousness about the challenges that we face now," Gore said in Palo Alto, Calif. "It truly is a planetary emergency, and we have to respond quickly."

Gore is not the first American politician to be so honored. Former President Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Then-Vice President Charles Dawes (who served under Calvin Coolidge) was honored in 1925. Then-President Woodrow Wilson was a recipient of the award in 1919 for promoting the League of Nations. And another incumbent president, Theodore Roosevelt, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his collaboration on peace treaties.

The announcement has further energized the "Draft Gore" movement, which seeks to get the former vice president into the race for the presidency. Could it be that Jim Rutenberg contributed to that effort in today's New York Times? His article, headlined "Prize Caps Year of Highs for Gore," reads like a promo for a potential Gore advertisement.

Time's Bryan Walsh suggests that 2007 may be remembered as a tipping point in the environmentalist movement.

Mike Allen of The Politico points out that winning the Nobel Peace Prize heightens the drumbeat of White House speculation -- and Gore and his people don't seem too eager to blunt it in any way. There is also talk of a more influential, more important post for Gore in a possible Hillary Clinton administration -- if he chooses not to enter the race for the nomination.

"The Nobel Peace Prize rewards three decades of Vice President Gore's prescient and compelling -- and often lonely -- advocacy for the future of the earth," presidential candidate John Edwards, one of Gore's potential rivals for the nomination, said in a statement.

Also among the American recipients of the prestigious prize are

* former Secretary of State Elihu Root (1912)
* former Secretary of State Frank Kellogg (1929);
* international president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Jane Addams, who shared it with former Columbia University president and former Republican vice presidential candidate Nicholas Butler (1931);
* former Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1945);
* honorary international president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Emily Balch, who shared it with chairman of the International Missionary Council and president of the World Alliance of Young Men's Christian Associations John Mott (1946);
* Ralph Bunche (1950);
* former Secretary of State and former Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall, for the Marshall Plan (1953);
* Linus Pauling, for his campaign against nuclear weapons testing (1962);
* Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1964);
* Norman Borlaug (1970);
* then-Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger (1973);
* and author Elie Wiesel (1986).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The 'God-o-Meter' Revisited

I'll admit it. I couldn't help myself.

When I told you about the Beliefnet.com "God-o-Meter" last weekend, I bookmarked it and decided to keep up with its ratings.

I find this fascinating because I think the presence or absence of the evangelical vote could be a huge factor in next year's elections. And I do think it's possible that many evangelicals won't vote next year. If they do vote, will they stay with the Republicans? Will they switch to the Democrats? Will they support a third party?

Often, a voting bloc is as noteworthy for what it doesn't do as for what it does. When a group feels demoralized and taken for granted, many members of that group may choose not to participate.

Evangelical voters may not be a significant part of the Democrats' primary electorate, but they will be part of the general election electorate. It will be interesting to see what Democrats do to attract them for the fall election.

We already know that evangelical voters played a decisive role in re-electing George W. Bush in 2004. And their consistent support for Republican candidates helped ensure two terms in the White House for Ronald Reagan and one for George H.W. Bush, not to mention Republican majorities in the Senate in the 1980s and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress in the 1990s and the first half of this decade.

But the Republicans have failed to show much competence in Bush's second term, from the mishandling of the war to the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina -- and, seemingly, everything in between.

And the majority of evangelical voters are not only anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-gun control; they are also attracted to the Republican tradition of fiscal responsibility.

These voters also display a compassionate side on issues that have historically been important to Democrats -- global warming, environmental issues, energy conservation, medical support for victims of AIDS and cancer, stem cell research.

Many evangelicals supported the Iraq War until they realized that the Republicans weren't competent directing the war, they weren't living up to their reputation for fiscal responsibility, and they weren't committed to the social issues the evangelicals cared about.

But Democrats haven't come up with workable -- and passable -- solutions for governing since winning control of Congress last year.

Some of the most interesting developments in the latest "God-o-Meter" ...

* Former Arkansas Gov. and Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee has slipped from near the top to the middle of the pack with comments about negotiating with Middle Eastern countries. It appears he's traded places in the Republican rankings with ...

* Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has surged by saying the kinds of things that religious voters like to hear. He's rated slightly ahead of ...

* Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, who nevertheless has improved her rating lately. It didn't hurt that she reminded voters that, in her youth, she was a "Goldwater girl." But the Democrats who are getting the best religious ratings -- equal to McCain -- are ...

* Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

Obama has been making news everywhere, including this blog, for his "40 Days of Faith and Family" tour of South Carolina that prominently features gospel concerts and faith forums. It seems to have backfired a little. His rating dropped a bit in the "God-o-Meter."

So it's hard to tell what the evangelical voters will do next year.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Republican Debate

Although the highlight of last night's Republican debate was a sparring match between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, it was noteworthy for the fact that recent entry Fred Thompson made his debate debut.

And Thompson avoided making any serious mistakes that might have damaged his campaign. John Dickerson of Slate was impressed that Thompson made it through the debate without falling on his ***. The National Review's Byron York said Thompson was clearly among the top tier Republican candidates with his performance.

And Michael Goodwin of the New York Daily News crowed that "Thompson shows he's no joke" in the debate.

Quin Hilyer of HumanEvents.com thought Giuliani and Thompson were the winners of the debate.

Did you watch the debate? What were your thoughts?

Al Gore

Draftgore.com is increasing its efforts to get Al Gore into the 2008 race, insisting he's the Democrats' best chance to win back the White House from the Republicans.

A full-page ad in the New York Times today made that very proposal, and an article in Newsweek suggests that a Nobel Prize might be the thing to get him into the race.

Will Gore get into the race? Can he halt Hillary's momentum and grab the nomination?

Or is it too late for someone else to get into the race -- and have any hope of winning?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Real Clarence Thomas

When you watched the 1991 confirmation hearing of Supreme Court designate Clarence Thomas, did you think you were seeing the real Clarence Thomas?

In a way, you might have been, if you accept what Thomas Sowell says in Real Clear Politics today. It depends on how you interpret Sowell's writing.

Sowell says he has known Thomas for nearly 30 years, that he has been a principled jurist and that he has an astonishing sense of humor.

Sowell also says that, contrary to his image, Thomas is not "a lonely and embittered man, withdrawn from the world" after his experience before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The truth, Sowell says, is that Thomas meets people in a low-key way during the summers -- not "grandstanding," as others do, but driving his bus around the country and mixing with middle class folks in "truck stops, trailer parks and mall parking lots."

The man of the people has just published a book about his life, My Grandfather's Son, which is out in bookstores now.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Will Huckabee Win In Iowa?

A report in the Washington Post suggests that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee could be the surprising winner of Iowa's Republican caucus in January.

Huckabee has already pulled off one surprise in Iowa, finishing second behind Mitt Romney in the August straw poll. That poll was non-binding. The caucus in January won't be.

I have a friend in Arkansas who used to be a Democrat but now considers himself an independent. He has concluded -- as I have -- that experience as a governor (i.e., executive branch) is better, both for winning and for governing, than experience in the House or Senate (i.e., legislative branch).

It's hard to argue with that conclusion. Since 1960, we've had current and former vice presidents (Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush) and former governors (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush) in the presidency, but only one sitting member of Congress (John F. Kennedy) has been elevated to the White House.

Who Owns The 'Faith' Issue?

You have to go back to before Ronald Reagan's election as president in 1980 to find a time when religion wasn't regarded as the exclusive domain of the Republican Party.

Thirty years ago, in 1976, faith seemed to belong to Jimmy Carter and the Democrats. Carter's "born again Christian" appeal brought a lot of evangelical Christians into the political arena, but it was really Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority who mobilized the evangelicals for the Republicans in 1980 and delivered them as a voting bloc for the next quarter century.

Now, political observers are wondering which party the evangelicals will support in the next presidential election. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told reporters, after speaking to a congregation of evangelical Christians in Greenville, S.C., Sunday, that, at a time when evangelical leaders are talking more about issues of social justice, like AIDS and poverty, "I think it's important, particularly for those of us in the Democratic Party, to not cede values and faith to any one party."

Obama and his campaign certainly seem to be targeting religious voters in the South Carolina primary, which is scheduled to be held in late January. The Obama campaign is reaching out to evangelicals in a promotional effort dubbed "40 Days of Faith and Family." Gospel concerts and faith forums highlight the agenda.

There may be evidence that the image of Democrats as being friendly to people of faith is improving. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Survey reports that, from July 2006 to August 2007, the percentage of Americans describing Democrats as being friendly to religion went up from 26% to 30%. In the same survey, the percentage of Americans who described Democrats as being unfriendly to religion went down from 20% to 15%.

Fifty percent of respondents described Republicans as being friendly to religion.

Republicans to Debate Tuesday

See what the Republican presidential candidates have to say on the issues of the day in their next debate.

MSNBC will be in Dearborn, Mich., on Tuesday to provide live coverage of the Republican debate from 9-11 p.m. (EDT).

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Gas Prices

You may have noticed a slight dip in gas prices at the pump lately.

Don't get too excited. In the last couple of weeks, prices dropped an average of 4 cents a gallon. And, while that's good news, it loses its luster when you realize that gas prices were about 47 cents lower per gallon at the same time last year. And the Lundberg Survey's publisher, Trilby Lundberg, warns that this does not represent a "trend for the future."

Nationally, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $2.75. The best price to be found was in Newark, N.J., where that same gallon cost $2.52. The highest price was in Honolulu, where drivers could expect to pay $3.09.

Larry Craig and the Hall of Fame

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was selected for induction into Idaho's Hall of Fame in March, the Idaho Hall of Fame Association board chairman says. As it stands now, the induction ceremony is still slated to include Craig next weekend.

The selection was made a few months before Craig's infamous arrest in the bathroom sting operation at the Minneapolis airport.

Kootenai County Republican precinct committeeman Phil Thompson thinks the honor should be delayed "10 or 15 years" to allow matters to be resolved. As it is, however, Craig is still scheduled to be inducted next Saturday alongisde one of his top supporters, Gov. Butch Otter.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Bush Legacy

The Republicans who seek to inherit the Republican nomination from George W. Bush don't appear eager to inherit his presidential legacy.

The Washington Post reports that Republican presidential hopefuls are walking a tightrope in advance of the primaries. They'd like to distance themselves from the Bush record and the president's low approval ratings without appearing to be too critical. The party's base remains loyal to Bush, and anything that is perceived as Bush bashing could have a negative effect on a campaign among the very voters that campaign will need to win the nomination.

But without establishing their independence from Bush, the Republican hopefuls can't hope to win many of the Democratic or independent votes they will need to win the general election.

There is no clear consensus as to which direction the party should take.

David Frum, former specchwriter in Bush's first term, recalls that the Democrats faced the same kind of problem at the end of Bill Clinton's presidency, debating the direction the party should travel.

But it's a little different with Bush. Democrats could only claim majorities in the House and Senate for the first two years of Clinton's presidency. For the last six years of Clinton's tenure, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress by varying margins.

For most of Bush's presidency, the Republicans controlled not only the White House but both houses of Congress as well -- and most of the justices on the Supreme Court were appointed by Republican presidents.

So Republicans can't blame Democrats for mushrooming deficits, or the failure to do something about issues that social conservatives care most about, like abortion.

Competitive Campaigns and Inevitability

Democrats who want a candidate who will be competitive in every corner of the country might want to give John Edwards a look.

Recent polls may show Edwards trailing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the nomination, but polls also show him with the best chance of winning a general election showdown against any of the potential Republican nominees.

That includes a poll showing him beating every prospective GOP nominee in Oklahoma, where no Democrat has won since Lyndon Johnson narrowly defeated Barry Goldwater there in 1964.

Many observers have eagerly hung the "front-runner" label on Mrs. Clinton. Being the front-runner and being the nominee are two very different things. Sen. Edmund Muskie was thought to be unstoppable in his bid for the 1972 Democratic nomination, but the party nominated Sen. George McGovern instead. In 1988, at various times leading up to the primaries, Mario Cuomo and Gary Hart were thought to be the favorites on the Democratic side, but Michael Dukakis captured the nomination.

George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole turned out to be the nominees, as expected in 1992 and 1996, but they had to fend off challenges from Patrick Buchanan before ultimately winning hard-fought nominations.

Let's wait until they hold the caucuses in Iowa and the primary in New Hampshire before we proclaim anyone the front-runner.

John Edwards will appear on NBC's Meet the Press, airing at 9 a.m. (Dallas time) Sunday.

Faith and Politics

How does the religious rhetoric from presidential candidates stack up?

One way to measure it is by taking a look at beliefnet.com's "God-o-Meter," which updates a candidate's rating based on interviews and other statements concerning religion. So each rating apparently is current.

Members of the religious right are said to be likely to bolt the Republican Party for a third-party candidate if Rudy Giuliani wins the nomination. Based on the God-o-Meter's current rating, that may be correct. Giuliani currently gets the lowest rating of any of the presidential candidates -- tied with Democrat Chris Dodd.

Does religion belong in a political debate? Many people swear by the principle of "separation of church and state," but, in reality, church and state have never been legally separate.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan owed his election as president, in part, to the activities of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. Four years earlier, Jimmy Carter had no problem talking about being a "born again Christian" who was seeking the presidency. In 1960, John F. Kennedy had to deal with criticism for being a Catholic running for president of a nation that had always had Protestant presidents.

The discussion of Mitt Romney's Mormonism is just the latest chapter in the story.

Whether overtly or covertly, religion has always had a role in political campaigns.

The question each voter has to answer is, how much of a role does religion play when you're deciding which candidate to support?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Sixty Years Ago Today ...

Sixty years ago today, President Harry Truman delivered the first-ever televised presidential address.

There have been many memorable presidential addresses on TV since 1947 -- Ike warning the country of the "military/industrial complex," JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Richard Nixon telling the nation he would resign, Ronald Reagan after the Challenger explosion, even George W. Bush speaking to Congress in the aftermath of 9/11.

These were moments that, in their own ways, brought the country together, because they were shared experiences. And they were shared because of television.

That's not to say that radio addresses by Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't do their part to unite the country during the Depression and World War II. But TV gave us not only the voice of the president but his image as well -- which has seemed to make his involvement in the moment more personal.

Unfortunately, history didn't seem to record the subject of Truman's first televised address, only the fact that he gave one. But, in a way, that's appropriate. Most televised presidential addresses have been quite forgettable.

And some of the addresses before television were memorable, too.

The American people didn't see Roosevelt tell them that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself or that December 7th was a date that would live in infamy. But they did hear him say those words.

The experiences might have been even more meaningful if Americans could have seen their president during those times of crisis.

Television gave people the opportunity to forge a new kind of relationship with their president -- for better or worse.

These days, to be elected president, one must look good on television. Not necessarily great -- just better than the other guy.

It's hard to imagine some of our greatest presidents -- Roosevelt, for example, who was handicapped by polio, and Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our homeliest president -- succeeding in the era of television.

Perhaps it was better for them -- and for the country -- that they lived in the pre-television era.

In Lincoln's case, his eloquence seems to have been served better by printed reports. Although he possessed a brilliant mind, apparently he didn't have the speaking voice to do full justice to the words.

Accounts have it that Lincoln spoke in a high-pitched voice with a distinct frontier accent -- pronouncing words like get, there and chair as git, thar and cheer.

They're Lining Up

In the immediate aftermath of New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici's announcement that he won't seek re-election next year, candidates to replace him are starting to line up.

Republican Rep. Heather Wilson of Albuquerque apparently is planning to run for Domenici's seat next year. Her district was a top take-over target for Democrats in 2006, and reports are that the district is even less hospitable to Republicans now. Her prospects in a statewide race are regarded as much better.

Wilson appears likely to be challenged by another Republican House member, Steve Pearce of the Second District. Pearce represents the southern and eastern parts of the state.

Therre is no word yet about which Democrat(s) might run for the seat.

The March of Time

September marked the 50th anniversary of the Central High Crisis in Little Rock.

I grew up in Conway, just a short drive from Little Rock (shorter now, due to the highway and the expanding population of the town, than it was when I was a little boy), but the Central High crisis happened a couple of years before I was born. So I have no memories of what life was like in Little Rock before integration of its public schools.

I do know, however, that when I enrolled in first grade in 1966, it was the first time that the schools in my hometown were desegregated. Prior to that, I have memories of going to places like the local theater (one of those old-fashioned, single-screen theaters with the marquee out front and a balcony inside) and seeing the black patrons being ushered in to a section of the balcony from a back entrance.

I don't remember seeing separate water fountains or rest rooms, but I'm sure they were there. I just wasn't old enough to read yet. So I couldn't distinguish between "White Only" and "Colored Only" signs.

The experience of the "Little Rock Nine" in 1957 was a watershed event. It was a showdown between the forces of the past, embodied by then-Gov. Orval Faubus, and the forces of the future. Similar showdowns were destined to occur in coming years in other Southern states with other Southern governors at other Southern schools.

Today, Arkansas' largest school district is 70% black. All the problems have not been resolved. But things are different.

Nevertheless, it's a little baffling to me the fuss that was made over the anniversary this year. Sure, a 50th anniversary is a milestone, but from what I've heard from friends back in Arkansas, it was treated like an event to celebrate, rather than an event to be ashamed of.

Perhaps it's in the way you look at it. The event itself, with people spewing hatred at each other and challenging the basic right to a good education, was not praiseworthy. All across the South, Gov. Faubus and white citizens in Arkansas were praised by segregationists.

But they were on the wrong side of history. And that's the part that seems to be deserving of the praise. The Little Rock Nine helped Arkansas grow -- in spite of itself.

Would Rudy Split the GOP?

A source in the Dallas Morning News suggests that the nomination of Rudy Giuliani to head the Republican ticket in 2008 will lead to a split in the Republican ranks, resulting in a third-party candidate who espouses traditional Republican positions on social issues like abortion, gay rights and gun control.

The outcome of that, the head of the Morley Institute for Church and Culture told the Dallas newspaper, would be the "siphoning off" of 5-10% of Republican votes -- and the election of the Democratic nominee, presumably Hillary Clinton.

Giuliani may have been the man at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. And many people may be supporting him now because of their memories of his role on that day. But it remains to be seen if, as the Dallas Morning News suggests, "The Giuliani campaign is ground zero in the fight over the future of the religious right."

Giuliani's campaign is clearly counting on the belief that religious conservatives are more concerned about national security right now than they are about social issues. But that would mark a radical shift for them, a shift I'm not convinced has occurred.

If another terrorist attack happens, national security will become the top issue for both parties -- and all bets are off. But the more distance there is between 9-11-01 and the primaries, the more likely it is that voters in both parties will forget how it felt on that day. And the more likely it is that voters in both parties will continue to vote on pre-9/11 concerns.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Domenici's Going To Go

Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico is retiring at the end of his term.

He becomes the fourth Republican senator (not including Larry Craig, whose own political plans remain very much in the air) to decide against running for another term in 2008. And many of those seats could switch over to Democrats.

In Domenici's home state, for example, popular Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, could quite probably win the seat if he decides to abandon his campaign for the presidential nomination -- and if he decides he doesn't want to be Hillary's running mate.

The Republicans hold 22 of the 34 Senate seats that are up for election in 2008. Four of those Republicans are retiring. Four more face challenges that could threaten to capture those seats for the Democrats.

At this point, it appears that only one Senate Democrat, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, faces a significant challenge in a re-election bid.

Clearly, Republican hopes for winning back the majority in the Senate have taken a major hit lately.

By the way, has anyone noticed that these Republican seats were won in the election just before the invasion of Iraq? Some of them had been won before that, but some of the Republican victories in 2002 were clearly the result of the Administration's bogus drum beating that linked Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 hijackings.

Including the shameful Republican campaign that slandered Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, a distinguished veteran of Vietnam who lost both legs and an arm in service to his country.

If Saxby Chambliss, the Republican who defeated Sen. Cleland six years ago, loses his re-election bid, there's only one thing to say.

Those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword.

Craig's Going To Stay

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has decided not to resign after all.

Apparently, the decision doesn't surprise many of his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Although word has it that Craig is causing "frustration" and "fatigue" for members of his party.

But, as District Judge Charles Porter wrote in an order that declared that it was too late for Craig to withdraw his plea of guilty to disorderly conduct charges, "The defendant, a career politician with a college education, is of at least above-average intelligence. He knew what he was saying, reading and signing."


In fact, anyone who heard the audio tape of his interrogation after being arrested in June had to reach one inescapable conclusion. The senator repeatedly denied he was gay before anyone accused him of it.

He knew what the signals were and he knew he'd been using them.

Isn't It Time ... ?

Don't you think it's about time for us to focus on someone other than Britney Spears?

In recent weeks, she's been trashed for her weight, she's had her children taken away from her, and now, her new song (and I use that word loosely in this context) "Gimme More" is #3 on Billboard's Hot 100 list. And this has all been done with a public that breathlessly awaits her every move.

Now comes word that Britney's former bodyguard has accused her of child abuse.

Speaking only for myself, I would get along just fine if I never hear her name or see her image again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More From The Polls

According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are building their leads in the races for their parties' nominations.

Sen. Clinton now stands at 53% among Democrats, the poll reports. Sen. Barack Obama is second with 20% and former Sen. John Edwards is third with 13%.

On the Republican side, former New York City Mayor Giuliani has 33%, former Sen. Fred Thompson is second with 17%, Sen. John McCain has 12% and former Gov. Mitt Romney has 11%. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is in single digits with 8%.

It's a little different in New Hampshire, where the first primary will be held. The Zogby poll says Clinton remains in front among Democrats there, but her support level is at 38% and Obama's support is at 23%.

Among Republicans, Giuliani is in second place in New Hampshire with 21%. Romney, who used to be governor in neighboring Massachusetts, has 24% in New Hampshire.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Giuliani's 'Gender Gap'

In June, the Los Angeles Times was reporting a "gender gap" in the support levels for most of the leading Republican candidates for president.

Rudy Giuliani enjoyed the support of 35% of Republican men, but only 21% of Republican women were backing his candidacy. Fred Thompson hadn't entered the race at that time, but the Times reported that the former Tennessee senator was supported by 33% of Republican men but only 15% of Republican women favored him. Mitt Romney wasn't getting much support from either group, with only 5% of Republican men and 14% of Republican women on his side.

According to a Gallup Poll released last Friday, Rudy seems to have narrowed his "gender gap" in the last three months, with support from 34% of Republican women and 31% of Republican men.

That still translates only into about one-third of the Republican electorate. If you're going to win the nomination to be the standard-bearer for a major political party, you have to do better than that.

Although it's hard to deny that Giuliani, who has a record of supporting the right to choose, gay rights and other issues that Republicans haven't been supporting since before Ronald Reagan was nominated (if then), is moving in the right direction with women in his party.

At first glance, it looks like he's slipping among men in his party, but that "slippage" is actually within the usual margin of error. It could be that Giuliani's support among Republican men has remained about the same while his support among Republican women has risen dramatically.

So dramatically, in fact, that he may be supported by more women in his party than men.

I wonder if these Republican women have heard the latest diatribe from Ann Coulter, whose newest extremist tome hits bookstores this week. In an interview with The New York Observer, the Queen of Mean claims that we'd never have another Democratic president if women were denied the right to vote.