11.30.2003

From John Fund of the Opinion Journal's Political Diary
House GOPers Brace to Fight Bush Spending

As Republican House leaders began desperately rounding up votes for President Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit late last week, they suddenly found themselves with a lot fewer arms to twist.

Rep. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania arranged for some two dozen members who had opposed the original Medicare bill to escape the Capitol and convene late Friday night at Hunan Dynasty, a nearby Chinese restaurant. "It was the only way we could avoid being browbeaten," says one dissident.

When the vote was finally called at 3 a.m. on Saturday, the leadership was still short and had to hold the roll call open for nearly three hours. Reps. Trent Franks of Arizona and Butch Otter of Idaho were finally convinced to switch their votes and put the drug benefit over the top. Both were told that if the bill didn't pass, the Democrats were planning on immediately bringing the more liberal Senate bill to the floor for a vote.

In other words, it was a classic bullying ploy -- there is little evidence Democrats had any such plans. Still, the fact that 25 House Republicans held out against pressure from President Bush, local officials in their districts and the party's Congressional leadership is remarkable. The Hunan 25 forged a bond during the Medicare fight and plan to keep working together to rein in the Bush administration's out-of-control domestic spending habits.

To: Club for Growth Members
From: Stephen Moore, President
Date: Novmeber 26, 2003
Subject: Medicare Bill Heroes and Zeroes


No doubt you share our dismay at the passage of the Medicare prescription drug bill. Defeating this incredibly expensive bill that does nothing to avoid Medicare's coming bankruptcy and would cause millions of seniors to lose their private prescription drug coverage was one of our top priorities of the year at Club for Growth Advocacy.

Many Club members have wondered, rightly, why a number of congressmen elected with Club for Growth backing voted for this trillion-dollar entitlement. We share that frustration. On the other hand, we're also very proud that the real heroes and leaders of the fight opposing the bill were congressmen elected with Club for Growth backing. They led a courageous and principled fight that came within an eyelash of winning a miraculous victory. Indeed, it appeared they had won, but the GOP House leadership kept the vote open for nearly three hours as they twisted arms to pass the bill. The efforts by Republican opponents were all the more impressive because they did so against their own party leadership and their own President. And by doing so, many put their own political careers in peril.

Without the congressmen elected with Club backing leading the charge, this wouldn't have even been a close vote at all.

In fact, it is precisely for legislative battles like this -- where every single vote counts and where members of Congress are under intense pressure from the party establishment to "go along to get along" -- that the Club for Growth exists. If the passage of this abominable bill teaches us anything, it is that just electing more Republicans to the House and Senate accomplishes very little. We have a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican President. Yet over 200 House Republicans voted for the biggest expansion of the Great Society welfare state in nearly four decades. Only 25 voted no. In the Senate, only nine Republicans voted no out of 51. President Bush will sign this bill and trumpet it as a great accomplishment. We have plenty of Republicans in Congress, but few who actually believe in smaller government.

The story of how this bill actually passed the House is worth recounting in some sordid detail, because there were so many House conservatives who acted heroically.

In the end, the bill passed with just two votes to spare in the House in a roll call that started at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and ended just before 6:00 a.m. This was the longest time ever taken for a House vote.

During the days before the vote Club for Growth Advocacy alerted every House Republican that we opposed the bill because of its enormous cost and because we believe it is a giant leap toward Hillary-health care. We released a poll showing that most seniors are satisfied with their existing prescription drug insurance coverage and that seniors oppose the bill when they learn of the details. We called all the Club members in the House, in some cases repeatedly, to remind them of our opposition and to urge them to hold firm and vote no.

Two lieutenants quickly emerged to lead the conservative revolt against the bill: Pat Toomey and Mike Pence. Both of them were elected with Club support, of course. Mike was all over the news eloquently dismantling this bill, arguing that he could never in good conscience look his children in the eyes and tell them that he had voted for a $1 trillion entitlement program that they would have to pay for some day. Sitting in the Oval Office of the White House, he told George Bush: "With all due respect, Mr. President, I didn't come to this town to create new entitlements, but to rein in the ones we already have."

The day of the vote it became clear to Toomey and Pence that there were 30 Republicans who were solid no votes, or leaning toward a no vote. One member who was a hard no vote from the very beginning was Tom Feeney of Florida, also elected with Club backing last year. Tom is the freshman class representative to the House leadership, a position that goes to the newcomer who the Speaker wants to groom for a leadership position. Feeney was told that his stubborn no vote would set him back three years in his bid to climb the House ladder. He would be relegated to a position of a back bencher. They put their arms around him and shook their heads and told him how disappointed they were in him. "Why jeopardize your career, Tom, over this one little vote?" Feeney never wavered. He too told the President that he could not in good conscience vote for an expansion in the welfare state. Of all the no votes, Tom probably had the most to lose.

The night of the vote Pat Toomey hosted a dinner at the Hunan Restaurant on Capitol Hill for the 30 Republicans who were against the bill. The message was "stick together." Toomey and Pence had devised a fallback plan to vote down the Medicare bill then come back to the President with a much scaled back plan that would 1) cover only those seniors who don't have existing prescription drug insurance and 2) retain the health savings accounts (the one redeeming feature of the bill). This was exactly what we at the Club and the Wall Street Journal urged as a sensible alternative that would cost only one-third of what the conference report cost. The plan of action was for these conservatives to go to the floor and record their "no" votes immediately, which would signal to the Democrats that there were not enough Republican votes to pass the bill. It almost worked.

In the first 10 minutes of the vote there were 17 Republican no votes recorded. The Democrats, who did not want to hand Bush a "victory" on this issue, voted no en masse, with the exception of about a dozen who waited on the sidelines to see what would happen on the Republican side of the aisle. When the normal 15 minutes passed, the bill was losing by 15 votes. After an hour it appeared that the House rejected the bill as 218 representatives, a majority, had voted "nay."

Now the intense lobbying pressure began. Members were promised pork barrel projects. They were threatened with primary challengers. The President, who had just returned from Britain, called lawmakers at 5:00 in the morning to round up a few more votes.

Todd Aiken of Missouri got a call from a state legislator earlier in the day, no doubt at the urging of the White House, threatening to run a primary challenge against him if he voted no. I talked to Todd several times during the day, urging him not to buckle. Aiken withstood intense pressure from his colleagues all night long and by 5:00 a.m. looked like he had come out of a torture chamber. But he held firm and voted no.

But nothing compares to the disgusting behavior of the Republican leadership toward Michigan's Nick Smith. Smith is retiring from the House and his son is running in a crowded field to succeed him. The leadership first offered unbelievable enticements to change his vote to a yes. First, they said that the leadership would take the unusual step of endorsing his son Brad in the tight primary race. Smith said no deal. Then they promised to raise $100,000 for Brad Smith if he voted yes. He still said no. Then several Republican leaders threatened that if he didn't change his vote they would raise money for his son's opponents. At this point, Nick's wife called her son to tell him of the situation. Brad Smith phoned his dad and heroically told him to vote his conscience and to not worry about the House race. Smith stuck with his no vote. Several infuriated Republicans in the House were still fuming after the vote and taunted Nick Smith with threats that "we will make sure your son never wins this seat." Ugly stuff.

Another hero was Rep. Scott Garrett, who of course replaced the RINO Marge Roukema with Club member backing. Garrett was lambasted by the leadership for the political suicide that they said he was committing by voting no. But when I asked him a few hours before the vote what he was going to do, he said "I am for freedom." And he was the only House Republican in the entire northeast to vote no.

By 5:00 a.m. many members were starting to suffer from sleep deprivation (was this done intentionally to break down their will to resist?). The drug bill was still stuck at a vote of 216-218. The vote count on the board had not moved in nearly an hour. Incredibly, the bill was going down to defeat. According to the Washington Post, on several occasions House Majority Leader Tom Delay was ready to throw in the towel and end the vote. Each time he was urged by the White House to hold off a little longer.

Then the White House and the Whip team tried one more desperation tactic. They went to two western state members, Trent Franks and Butch Otter, and told them that if they didn't change their votes, the President would immediately instruct the House leadership to pass the Democratic version of the bill. These two were told that they were the only ones standing between passage of an even worse Medicare drug bill. I'm convinced the White House was bluffing and this was simply another scheme to peel off votes. We'll never know, because Franks and Otter changed to yes votes after getting calls from the President and the bill passed 220-215 as two other lawmakers voted to be on the prevailing side.

Poor Trent Franks looked like he was white as a ghost when he walked off the House floor. Trent is a terrific guy and I truly believe that he simply allowed himself to get snookered. I have talked to him several times since the vote (he called me at 8:00 that Saturday morning to tell me what had happened). He seemed whipped and I have no doubt his conscience is gnawing away at him -- and will do so for a long time. Actually, I feel sorrier for Trent Franks than anyone else in this whole unseemly escapade.

"I went to college at the Citadel and so I have lived through the hazing process," said Rep. Gresham Barrett, another no vote. "But the barrage of attacks we absorbed from our own colleagues during those three hours was much worse."
I really believe that if we could have won this vote against the most powerful whip operation in the history of House and a popular Republican President, it would have proven to the Republican establishment that conservatives are sick of the spending splurge that is going on in Washington. The budget has grown by 27% in two years, a faster rate of growth in the budget than at anytime since LBJ's presidency. Republican leaders in the White House and the Congress seem entirely unconcerned about the orgy of spending and debt. They are in denial. A deserved defeat of this bill would have dropped an ice cold bucket of water on their heads and helped them snap out of it. So close!

I'm convinced this is a hollow victory for the Republican Party bosses. The bill could blow up in the Republicans' laps when seniors see the details of the carved up turkey they've just been served. Worse, the bill threatens to further demoralize fiscal conservative voters who are infuriated by the GOP's massive expansion of government. I know I'm demoralized. As Mike Pence told me last week, "We Republicans seem to have forgotten who we are and why voters sent us here."

We now have two big government parties in Washington. And we only have about two dozen Republicans in the House and a handful in the Senate who are trying to pull the Republicans in an anti-big government direction. We must add to these numbers. Probably the best way to shock the GOP establishment and start the process is to get Pat Toomey elected to the Senate in 2004 by defeating Sen. Arlen Specter. The day after the vote Specter blasted Toomey for his principled stand against this misguided legislation.

One final note: we intend to make it a top priority of the Club to protect the heroes who voted against this bill from the retribution of the Republican Party brass. If the party leaders do run primary challengers against these principled congressmen, we will do everything we can to crush the challenge and protect those true fiscal conservatives who voted for principle over politics during the wee hours of Saturday morning.

Here is a list of the Republicans in the House and Senate who voted against the bill:


House
Akin (Missouri)
Barrett (South Carolina)
Burton (Indiana)
Chabot (Ohio)
Culberson (Texas)
DeMint (South Carolina)
Emerson (Missouri)
Feeney (Florida)
Flake (Arizona)
Garrett (New Jersey)
Gutknecht (Minnesota)
Hostettler (Indiana)
Jones (North Carolina)
Miller (Florida)
Moran (Kansas)
Musgrave (Colorado)
Norwood (Georgia)
Paul (Texas)
Pence (Indiana)
Ryun (Kansas)
Shadegg (Arizona)
Smith (Michigan)
Tancredo (Colorado)
Toomey (Pennsylvania)
Wamp (Tennessee)

Senate
Chafee (Rhode Island)
Ensign (Nevada)
Graham (South Carolina)
Gregg (New Hampshire)
Hagel (Nebraska)
Lott (Mississippi)
McCain (Arizona)
Nickles (Oklahoma)
Sununu (New Hampshire)

David Brooks has quickly become one of my favorite columnists. Even when I disagree with him, he gives my brain a workout. This week’s column was especially interesting to me. Readers and friends know that I am no fan of pragmatism by any means, but just as I disagree with much of Dick Morris’ jibber-jabber, I don’t doubt that he’s right.

Brooks’ presumption is that we Republicans can have either the majority or purity, but that the two are mutually exclusive. He may be right in practice, but I don’t think it has to be so. Talking with the Angry Clam, he made the good point that if voters elect Republicans based on a certain set of principles, it should follow that we stick to those principles. Today that’d translate that if the country wanted a Medicare bill like this one, they’d have elected Democrats. And there is definitely something to be said there.

The irony of this debate is that one of the biggest supporters of the bill was Newt Gingrich, the guy who got us to this point in the first place. The “Contract With America” surely would have had no place for this socialized prescription drug coverage.

Either way, the Medicare Bill was a sham, and I’m proud of the conservatives who stood against it. Brooks at least explains the “why” of this sort of governing, and basically says, “Get used to it.” I sure hope he’s wrong…

The Promised Land
By DAVID BROOKS


The history of American conservatism is an exodus tale. It begins in the wilderness, in the early 1950's, with Russell Kirk, Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley Jr. writing tracts for small bands of true believers.

Conservatives crashed into the walls of power during the Goldwater debacle of 1964, and then breached those walls with Reagan's triumph 16 years later. But even with Reagan in the Oval Office, Republicans were not the majority party. Democrats controlled the House, and few Reaganites actually knew how to run a government.

In 1994, with the Gingrich revolution, the conservatives strode closer to the center of power. But even then, they were not quite there. For the rule of exodus tales is that the chiefs who lead in the wilderness and storm the citadels do not get to govern once their troops have occupied the city. Renegades are too combative to govern well.

It was only this week that we can truly say the exodus story is over, with the success of the Medicare reform bill. This week the G.O.P. behaved as a majority party in full. The Republicans used the powers of government to entrench their own dominance. They used their control of the federal budget to create a new entitlement, to woo new allies and service a key constituency group, the elderly.

From now on, as Tony Blankley observed in The Washington Times, if you work at an interest group and you want to know what's going on with your legislation, you have to go to the Republicans. The Democrats don't even know the state of play.

If you are the AARP, seeking a benefit, you have to go to the Republicans. If you are a centrist Democrat like John Breaux or Max Baucus seeking to pass legislation, you have to work with the Republicans.

Under the leadership of Bush, Frist, Hastert and DeLay, the Republicans have built a fully mature establishment of activist groups, think tanks and lobbyists, which is amazingly aloof from the older Washington establishment (not to mention the media establishment). Republicans now speak in that calm, and to their opponents infuriating, manner of those who believe they were born to rule.

The Democrats, meanwhile, behave just as the Republicans did when they were stuck in the minority. They complain about their outrageous mistreatment by the majority. They are right to complain. The treatment is outrageous. But the complaints only communicate weakness.

Democrats indulge in the joys of opposition. They get to sputter about fiscal irresponsibility, just as the green-eyeshade Republicans used to, as the majority party uses the power of the purse to buy votes. They get to make wild charges. They get to propose solutions that ignore inconvenient realities. They never have to betray their principles to get something done, and so they savor their own righteousness.

Minority parties are pure but defeated; governing parties are impure but victorious. The Republicans are now in the habit of winning, and are on permanent offense on all fronts. They offer tax cuts to stimulate the economy and please business. They nominate conservative judges to advance conservative social reform and satisfy religious conservatives. They fight a war on terror. They have even come to occupy the Democratic holy of the holies, the welfare state. In exchange for massive new spending, they demand competitive reforms.

The only drawback is that now, as the governing party, they have to betray some of the principles that first animated them. This week we saw dozens of conservatives, who once believed in limited government, vote for a new spending program that will cost over $2 trillion over the next 20 years.

In the past three years, federal education spending has increased by 65 percent. Unemployment benefit payments are up by 85 percent.

Many conservatives are dismayed over what has happened to their movement as it has grown fat and happy in the Promised Land. A significant rift has opened up between the conservative think tankers and journalists, who are loyal to ideas, and the K Street establishmentarians, who are loyal to groups.

The good news for Democrats is that the K Street establishment will slowly win this struggle. The majority will ossify. It will lose touch with its principles and eventually crumble under the weight of its own spoils. The bad news for Democrats is that, as Republicans can tell you, the ossification process is maddeningly slow. After the New Deal, it took 60 years.

11.25.2003

SWEET JUSTICE

IRS Audits Nation's Top Teachers' Union
Tue Nov 25, 3:05 AM ET Add U.S. National - AP to My Yahoo!


By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The IRS is auditing the nation's largest teachers union, scrutinizing an organization that works energetically to elect candidates but files tax returns reporting zero political expenditures from member dues.



The National Education Association promised Monday to cooperate, but its president, Reg Weaver, said the union "will not be silenced" by the audit or the conservative law firm that requested it.


NEA spokeswoman Kathleen Lyons said the audit began last week. "It will be a complete, thorough audit," she said. "The IRS has not singled out any particular aspect of our activities."


Weaver and Lyons predicted the association would be exonerated, contending the IRS found no problems when it audited the NEA's 1993 tax return. The IRS is prohibited by law from publicly discussing audits of specific taxpayers.


The NEA has tax-exempt status as a union but must report political expenses "direct and indirect" on its tax return. Some of those expenses could be considered taxable by the IRS. It defines a political expense as "one intended to influence the selection, nomination, election or appointment of anyone to a federal, state, or local public office."


The Associated Press, which first reported on the NEA's tax returns three years ago, has reviewed the NEA's filings from years 1993 through 1999 and hundreds of pages of internal NEA documents. The records showed the 2.7 million-member union spent millions of dollars to help elect pro-education candidates, produce political training guides and gather teachers' voting records.


A July 1999 strategic plan, for instance, stated the union budgeted $4.9 million for the 2000 election for such things as "organizational partnerships with political parties, campaign committees and political organizations."


Part of the money, the document said, would be spent on a "national political strategy" which involved "candidate recruitment, independent expenditures, early voting, and vote-by-mail programs in order to strengthen support for pro-public education candidates and ballot measures."


The documents were gathered by Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm that has filed complaints with the IRS seeking an audit and a criminal investigation of whether the NEA evaded taxes.


Landmark received the NEA documents as part of a lawsuit it filed that forced the IRS to disclose records identifying members of Congress who had asked the tax agency to audit political opponents.


Mark Levin, president of Landmark, hailed the IRS audit and said Monday the NEA "has diverted tens of millions of dollars in membership dues to influence political campaigns, for which it hasn't paid a wooden nickel in taxes."


"It appears that the NEA may finally be called to account for its failure to tell the government — and its members — how much it is spending on politics," he said.


Weaver, the NEA president, said his organization will "vigorously defend our constitutional right to speak to our members about the role of politics in public education."


Union members "have a right to be involved in politics," he said. "Our organization will not back down in the face of those who want to bully us out of our rights as Americans."


Marcus Owens, a tax attorney who headed the IRS tax-exempt organizations division, said it was not unusual for the agency to wait three years to act after Landmark's 2000 audit request.


He said an audit of a major organization like the NEA could only be conducted if high-level agents were available.

11.23.2003

WE INTTERUPT THIS BROADCAST

Definitely a curious weekend for me, so if my thoughts in the next few days aren’t of the political nature, forgive me.

First, this monkey’s sister is in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Div 3 Final Four. So, I am way, way excited about a sport that usually captures exactly zero of my attention.

Secondly, and somewhat more pressingly, I’m just confused about a bunch of life related things, so am taking a few days to sort them out.

Stick with me though, we’ll be back running at full “butt kicking” speed soon.

Thanks,
FM

11.20.2003

TOLD YOU SO!!!

Arnold's not off to a great start.

During the campaign, he told us "Milton Friedman is right, and Karl Marx is wrong!" (ignore for the moment that our concern isn't whether he agrees with Marx, but Clinton)

However, consider Friedman in his own words:
"I am favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible. The reason I am is because I believe the big problem is not taxes, the big problem is spending. The question is, 'How do you hold down government spending? Government spending now amounts to close to 40% of national income not counting indirect spending through regulation and the like. If you include that, you get up to roughly half. The real danger we face is that number will creep up and up and up. The only effective way I think to hold it down, is to hold down the amount of income the government has. The way to do that is to cut taxes."

Now compare that to Arnold's plan to finance our current defecit on the backs of future generations. Something tells me Friedman might not approve.

Arnold. Milton Friedman is right, and YOU'RE WRONG!

Roe, the Sequel
WSJ Editorial

Antonin Scalia was right after all. And we don't mean his prediction that the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision this year throwing out a Texas sodomy law would quickly become a vehicle for gay marriage -- which came true this week courtesy of a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision.

We mean Justice Scalia's far more prophetic dissent a few years back in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Though that case involved abortion, Mr. Scalia's larger point was about the culture wars that were unleashed on the body politic the last time our judiciary presumed to "settle" a contentious social issue that properly rests with the people's elected representatives.

"By foreclosing all democratic outlet for the deep passions this issue arouses," he wrote, "by banishing the issue from the political forum that gives all participants, even the losers, the satisfaction of a fair hearing and an honest fight, by continuing the imposition of a rigid national rule instead of allowing for regional differences, the Court merely prolongs and intensifies the anguish." That is one legacy of Roe v. Wade.

We were reminded of this by Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall's 4-3 majority opinion this week defining marriage as an "evolving paradigm" and declaring there exists no "constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples." Can anyone doubt that the Massachusetts High Court has started another Thirty Years War?

So let's be clear. Notwithstanding headlines trumpeting that Massachusetts has just opted for gay marriage, the people of that commonwealth did no such thing. It is four liberal judges on the Massachusetts Supreme Court who, egged on by well-connected and politically powerful gay rights activists, have imposed their own moral values on the rest of its citizens.

This is no coincidence. Despite Justice Marshall's solemn talk about an "evolving paradigm," most gay rights champions don't believe Americans have evolved that much. And they know they'd have an almost impossible time getting this new "paradigm" past most state legislatures. In other words, it's precisely the American public whom they most fear and whose voice they want to keep out of this process.

So they've done what liberals so often do: Provoke some state court decisions in hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will finally do the legislating for them. This sure beats having to persuade your fellow Americans through democratic debate. Did we mention that Justice Marshall's very first legal citation, in the second paragraph of her decision, is Lawrence?

The tragedy here is that the first casualty of an all-or-nothing court clash over "rights" is any kind of reasoned debate or workable social consensus. American attitudes toward homosexuality are plainly changing, and many companies, including the one we work for, already extend full benefits to same-sex partners. We believe that this signals most Americans are at least open to persuasion about increasing the rights of gay Americans, including but not limited to marriage.

But what the Massachusetts High Court gave America in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health is not an argument, much less an open debate. It is instead a unilateral declaration that the assumptions and values that have defined one of civilization's oldest and most vital institutions -- marriage -- should be tossed out the window. And if you don't agree they're going to force it on you anyway.

Millions of Americans who have other views are not going to accept this moral diktat, and so once again our politics will be polarized by the cultural furies. When the fighting starts, let's all be clear about who fired the first shot.


My take:Watch quickly for Senate Republicans to use this as a rallying point for why nominees currently being Borked need up or down votes. The Democrats should tread softly and be careful what they ask for. A renewed interest in a judiciary that relies on Textualism, Originalism, Constructionism, etc is exactly what they don't want, but may be exactly what they get as a result of this opinion.

11.19.2003

THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND RETURNS?

SARASOTA -- Former two-term Republican U.S. senator from New Hampshire Bob Smith, now of Sarasota, said Tuesday he was "very seriously" considering a run for the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, and that a formal announcement of his candidacy next month was likely.

"My wife and I certainly had no intention of re-entering politics when we moved here," said Smith, who served six years in Congress and 12 years in the Senate before his defeat last year by U.S. Rep. John Sununu. "But ever since Sen. Graham retired, a lot of people have been asking me to run, offering to support me and help me raise money.


"Of course, I thought of it as just very flattering at first. But the level of interest really seems to be increasing, and so now I'm meeting with people I know and respect, gauging the level of support I'm seeing and being offered. ... If it turns out to be as strong as it looks, I'll probably officially announce next month and begin traveling around the state to meet people, let them get to know me and hear what they have to say. ... At this point, my feeling is, 'Why not?' "


Smith said he has an ad-hoc campaign committee in place, major fund-raising resources to tap into across the country, and an active financial account from his last Senate contest -- an account, he says, that saw contributions from more than 6,000 Florida residents.


"I believe my record of support for the space program, the environment, the military, for POWs and for veterans would be of interest to all Floridians," he said. "I was actually criticized in my last race for my time and effort working on the Everglades restoration bill, which was essentially mine. ... But I felt the Everglades was a national treasure, not a local one, and I said so. That was used against me and probably had something to do with my losing the election."


Smith was targeted for defeat by the national GOP in his race with Sununu after he briefly left the party during an abbreviated run for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.


Florida Republican Party spokesman Jeff Becker said Tuesday he had been unaware of Smith's interest in the contest, but that he was intrigued by the prospect of a run from the maverick New Hampshire transplant.


"Obviously, with 18 years in Congress under his belt, he would bring a lot of experience and seniority to the seat," said Becker. "He was an independent for a while, and I'm sure that's going to be part of the discussion. ... He's certainly going to make the primary all the more fascinating to watch."


During his tenure in the Senate, Smith held leadership posts on the Armed Services, Environment and Public Works, and Ethics committees.


He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1985-1990, with memberships on its Armed Services; Science, Space and Technology; Veterans Affairs, and Small Business committees, the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, and the House Task Force on POW/MIAs.


Smith served two years of active duty (1965-67) in the Navy and five years

(1962-65,1967-69) in the Naval Reserves. He served one year of active duty in Vietnam (1966-67), stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin, and is a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.


By BARRY MILLMAN

SEE I IS GOT CULTURE

Now, I don't want you to get the wrong impression of me. Generally, I violently oppose all things people consider "cultured." I don't like foreign films, paintings, sculptures, fiction of most sorts, and especially poetry. But every once in a while there is a worthy exception to these usually steadfast rules. Joy Skilmer, the pen name of old Reagan hand Lyn Nofziger (one of the few people I consider a hero, for what it's worth), offers this:

Teddy Kennedy, rounder, drunk

And girl drowner, who would have thunk

He, of all people, has the gall

to throw the word “neanderthal.”

At those who think our laws should be

Written constitutionally.

He says such folks are not the sort

To name to any fed’ral court

“Neanderthals!” Ted doth assert,

Who drag their knuckles in the dirt,

Uncouth and worse, the kind who say

The constitution is the way.

But Ted Left-winger Kennedy

Is determined that this won’t be.

Conservatives that George Bush names

Ted and his friends shoot down in flames.

With smears and lies they do their work

Just like they did on old Bob Bork.

Teddy Kennedy, rounder, drunk,

And girl drowner--youse is a skunk.

by Joy Skilmer.

11.13.2003

WHY THE JOURNAL KICKS ASS

Every once in a while, everything the Journal prints is fit for framing. Today is one of those days.

The McEntee Primary

Yesterday's splashy endorsement of Howard Dean by two major unions may or may not be a turning point in the Democratic race for President, but it certainly is for the labor movement. Public-sector unions have clearly consigned private-sector industrial unions to second-rate political status.

SEIU and AFSCME are now the two largest unions in the AFL-CIO. They are dominated by public-sector and health-care workers, not the electricians, plumbers, machinists and auto workers who once populated the union movement. The latter unions have by and large stood by Dick Gephardt, who has fought their battles on trade for decades. But they are a shrinking political force, as the unionized share of the national private work force has declined (to a mere 8.5% last year).

Today's Walter Reuther is Gerald McEntee, the AFSCME chief who cares far more about taxes and entitlements than about free trade. Like the teachers unions, Mr. McEntee has as his main priority the care and feeding of the public sector. In this sense, these endorsements are a signal that Mr. Dean may not be the flinty "fiscal conservative" of his own advertising. By endorsing at this pivotal campaign moment, Mr. McEntee and SEIU kingpin Andy Stern know they are gaining long-term leverage if the former Vermont Governor ends up in the White House. Taxpayers may want to notice the company Mr. Dean is keeping.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?

Senator George Voinovich, who earlier this year irritated many conservatives with his opposition to the President’s tax cuts is at it again, this time fighting to tax Internet-access. The Wall St. Journal takes him and Senator Lamar Alexander to the woodshed for their inability to act like Republicans!

Point, Click and Tax

The effort to make permanent a temporary ban on Internet-access taxes has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. But don't blame the Democrats.

Fault instead two GOP Senators, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and George Voinovich of Ohio. Both are using procedural legerdemain to prevent a vote on the Internet Tax Nondiscrimination Act, a provision that not only keeps the taxman away from your AOL or EarthLink account but also bans "multiple or discriminatory" levies on electronic commerce. A temporary Internet tax moratorium, in place for the past five years, expired on November 1. If Congress doesn't act to extend it before winter recess, don't be surprised by a yuletide e-mail tax.

Former governors themselves, Senators Alexander and Voinovich are being pressured by state and local tax collectors, who throw around terms like "cash-strapped" and "revenue shortfalls." Except that the data all suggest the real problem is too much spending, not too little revenue.

Commerce Department figures released last month show that second-quarter state and local revenue was up for the fifth straight quarter. States saw revenues rise in every category, including federal aid, which is up 14% over last year thanks to the $20 billion they received through President Bush's most recent tax-cut package. States and municipalities are on pace to collect $1.4 trillion in taxes this year, up from a record $872 billion in 2002. Clearly, the taxpayers are doing their part.

In a floor speech last week, Senator Alexander said the Internet is "a grown-up business" and "not a baby in a crib anymore." Really? According to the Census Bureau, e-commerce accounted for a grand total of 1.3% of total sales last year. And while about half of the country is now online, the fastest-growing segment is among low-income households. Mr. Alexander wants to let the states impose regressive Web-access taxes on those least able to afford them. That's no way to close a "digital divide."

In a recent letter1 to the Journal, the Senator went so far as to say that not allowing states to tax the Internet constitutes an "unfunded mandate." He hangs this argument on a rather fanciful reading of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, a toothless 1995 measure aimed at curbing Washington's habit of imposing expensive affirmative duties on states through legislation or regulation (particularly in environmental and entitlement programs) and then forcing the states to foot the bill.

Mr. Alexander's interpretation turns any Federal pre-emption of state law into an "unfunded mandate." But clearly that wasn't what Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey had in mind. Are FCC spectrum licenses "unfunded mandates"? After all, the states could be licensing radio and television airwaves but for Federal laws that stop them. How about airline tickets, another thing states are prohibited from taxing? Mr. Alexander's tortured reading of the law shouldn't trump the Constitution, which clearly says Congress is pre-eminent on matters of interstate commerce.
Instead of the permanent ban being pushed by GOP Senator George Allen and Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, Internet tax proponents are now offering a two-year moratorium extension with murky language that state and local officials hope will allow for some hidden taxation. Their ultimate goal is to label as much Internet activity as possible with the term "telecommunication services." This would allow them to tax the Web at phone service rates. Which is where the money is.

A 2002 Council on State Taxation report found that the average combined state and local tax burden on telecommunications is 13.9%. Add the 4% federal burden (which includes a 3% excise tax), and you're pushing 18%. The National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures and others whispering to Senators Voinovich and Alexander would like nothing better than to tangle up the Internet in this nightmare tax web. If they can get the Internet categorized as one big telephone service, state and local governments can start applying existing telecom taxes to the Internet administratively, without any debate or votes.
Inexplicably, these tax proponents seem to have found another ally in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. He could end the debate and move for a cloture vote any time he wants. Proponents of the permanent ban, which is supported by the White House, say they have the votes to pass it. Senator Frist has not hesitated to file for cloture on judicial nominees, so what's with this soft spot for Internet taxes?

WSJ NAILS WHAT DEMS ARE UP TO

To Beat President, Democrats Hone A 5-Point Attack

With Bush Vulnerable in Poll,
Party Hammers on Iraq,
Lost Manufacturing Jobs

By JACOB M. SCHLESINGER and JEANNE CUMMINGS
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


WASHINGTON -- President Bush has formidable advantages for his 2004 re-election campaign. Incumbents rarely lose when the economy is turning sharply up. Americans tend to rally around presidents during wartime. The president expects a record $200 million war chest to battle his Democratic rival.

Now the Democrats' battle plan is starting to take shape, with five main objectives. Neutralize Mr. Bush's national-security edge by fanning doubts about his Iraq policy. Craft economic attacks that can work even if the economy keeps improving. Dent the president's reputation for honesty and competence. Mobilize Democratic partisans in 17 states that Mr. Bush barely won or lost in 2000. And maneuver around the new campaign-finance law by redirecting now-banned big donations away from the Democratic Party to a new set of groups that will coordinate attacks on Mr. Bush.

The president clearly has some vulnerabilities. In a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll1, 40% of Americans say they'd "probably" vote for the Democratic candidate in November 2004 vs. 43% who'd back Mr. Bush -- a statistical dead heat. His approval rating hovers at a tepid 51%, misgivings over the Iraq conflict are growing, and even favorable assessments of his personal qualities have slipped. Those are only slightly better than his weakest numbers yet. (See related article2.)

The Democrats will first have to go through a bruising primary contest with eight rivals before a nominee emerges, probably in March. And then Republicans will begin in earnest to take the candidate apart. That's why Democrats and loyalists aren't waiting for a leader this time around to implement their plan.

Here's a look at how the Democrats are mounting their attack:


The Iraq War

On Capitol Hill, Democrats have worked to win the strategic political war even while losing legislative battles. They prolonged debate over Mr. Bush's request for $87 billion in new war-related spending to play on Americans' sense of sticker shock at the huge expenditure.

The administration "wanted to do it in one week, but it took more than four," says Illinois Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton White House political aide who was a leading critic of the package. The lengthy deliberations, he reasons, allowed the figure to "settle in America's consciousness" and fan discontent over administration mistakes.

And that discontent, on the campaign trail, has become a staple of candidate ads and stump speeches. "Eighty-seven billion dollars is a lot of money for Iraq -- too much, in fact," says Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, in his first TV ads -- though he ended up voting for the funds.

Daily barbs from retired Gen. Wesley Clark lend weight to Democrats' foreign-policy critique, whatever happens to his own bid. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry ties the cost of rebuilding Iraq to the broader offensive against Mr. Bush's economic policies, introducing legislation to pay for Iraq's reconstruction by repealing Mr. Bush's tax cuts on families making more than $311,950 a year.

The Economy

While Mr. Bush savors signs of robust growth and a stronger job market, Democratic strategists are busily honing "the glass is half-empty" arguments.


"The control of the definition of the jobs issue is going to matter over the next year," said Kerry adviser Bob Shrum in a recent conference call with other party strategists. While Mr. Bush touts monthly employment gains, Democrats focus on the net loss in payroll jobs -- a shortfall that almost certainly won't be made up by next November.

Democrats are focusing on the troubled manufacturing sector rather than the broader labor market. And they're highlighting job losses in states that represent important electoral targets. When national party chairman Terry McAuliffe traveled to Cleveland recently, he appeared at a news conference with the owner of an African-American family-run landscaping firm that had laid off 26 of its 30 employees.

Party leaders in Washington keep a state-by-state compendium of unflattering economic statistics to embarrass Mr. Bush on his own travels. When Mr. Bush used an appearance at a Columbus, Ohio, aluminum maker to bask in the recent growth pickup, the Center for American Progress, a new pro-Democratic think tank, released a report noting that "Columbus has lost 16,000 jobs since President Bush took office -- almost 2% of the city's entire work force."

The President's Character

Among the trickiest challenges for Democrats is undermining Mr. Bush's personal popularity. Though Democratic partisans loathe him, other Americans don't, and changing their attitudes won't be easy. "People love Laura Bush, and they really think the president is a moral man," pollster Celinda Lake cautioned a recent gathering of Democrats from Midwestern states, offering polls showing that 67% approve of Mr. Bush personally. "We have to be careful about how we talk about him. We can't just call him a liar, even though that's what we think."

So Democrats are trying to walk close to that line without crossing it. Mr. Kerry blasts e-mails to supporters detailing the "Daily Distortions from the Commander in Chief." Mr. Lieberman has launched a "bushintegritywatch.com3" Web site, showing an image of the president raising his right hand swearing to "uphold the honor and integrity of the office" -- while crossing the fingers on his left hand behind his back.


The Democratic National Committee recently ran a television ad in Pennsylvania -- a state the Bush campaign is focusing on in next year's election -- aimed at stoking the dying embers of public anger about the leak of a Central Intelligence Agency operative's name. "Scandals in the Bush White House," a man's voice intones over a blurry black-and-white photo of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Dusting off a variant of the 2000 campaign charge that Mr. Bush isn't bright, former Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg recently sent candidates and congressional leaders a memo proposing a "core message" that begins: "President Bush is overwhelmed by the problems facing the country." MoveOn.org4, a liberal activist group, has created an online contest for backers to create the most effective anti-Bush message, to be judged by liberal writer Michael Moore, Democratic campaign veteran Donna Brazile, and actors Jack Black and Janeane Garofalo, among others.

Get Out the Vote

With America increasingly polarized into opposing political camps, Democratic strategists have joined Bush advisers in concluding that the key to 2004 success is mobilizing partisans more than persuading a diminishing pool of independents. The Republican and Democratic camps each claim 45% of the electorate; just 10% of Americans say they're up for grabs, according to some polls. That's a shift from the more fluid 40-40-20 split of earlier years.

So Democrats are investing more heavily than ever in efforts to maximize Democratic turnout. Their model is the AFL-CIO voter drive of the 1990s, concocted after Republicans took control of Congress in 1994. By ramping up direct political communication with their members, union leaders swelled the proportion of the electorate from union households to 26% in 2000 from 19% in 1992.

Democrats see the opportunity for similar gains among other core constituencies such as African-Americans, Hispanics and working women. At a rally Wednesday, where two large labor unions announced they were endorsing him, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean responded to those who worry his red-meat partisan message can't win in the general election. "We're going to have three to four million people that didn't vote the last time, or voted for third parties," he said.

Organizers from pro-Democratic activist groups called America Coming Together and Partnership for America's Families are already knocking on doors in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Cleveland to boost black registration for next year. In Cleveland, activists have a computerized street map with red dots showing houses to be approached. By boosting African-American turnout to 11% of the total state vote from 9% in 2000, they argue, the Democratic ticket can erase more than half the 165,000-vote edge by which Mr. Bush captured Ohio's 21 electoral votes three years ago.

The effort is aided by a new, comprehensive national Democratic database, which has been blended with various political and commercial lists to provide as detailed a picture as possible of the voter lifestyles and ideological leanings. Some strategists think even data such as pet ownership could be a clue to environmental attitudes.

Rather than leafleting all voters with information about Medicare, Democrats can now target those pitches to elderly voters, while talking education to families with small children, long-term care coverage to a couple caring for elderly parents and overtime to somebody who works more than 40 hours a week. The database also can determine whether a given voter tends to watch TV, read magazines or surf the Internet, to figure out how best to deliver the message.

Fund Raising

President Bush's antagonists know that none of their efforts will ultimately matter if they cannot vie financially with the incumbent. And the Democrats' disadvantage in money was exacerbated by the recent McCain-Feingold law banning unlimited donations to political parties, or "soft money."

While banning soft money was Democratic Party doctrine for years, professional operatives considered it political suicide. Republicans, with wealthier donors and superior direct-mail prowess, long have had a decided advantage over Democrats in collecting "hard money" -- donations that are limited in size and can be used to directly advocate for or against a candidate. Soft money from wealthy supporters, labor unions and access-seeking corporations kept the Democrats competitive in recent years.

The Republicans' hard-money advantage in 2004 likely will be huge. So far, they have raised $116 million, compared with the Democrats' $44 million. Moreover, President Bush appears on his way to raising a record-smashing $200 million or more for his primary campaign. That could dwarf anything his Democratic opponent will have left after securing the nomination, leaving the challenger badly outgunned for several months of the spring and summer, until the Treasury releases money for the publicly financed general-election campaign.

Worried about the void, liberal operatives have plotted ways around the campaign-finance law that their party's elected officials pressed Republicans into enacting. They have set up a sprawling alliance of nonprofit groups to recapture some of the approximately $250 million in soft-money donations that the reform law now prevents the party from accepting.

They aim to use that money to finance get-out-the-vote efforts and ads slamming Mr. Bush and Republicans. By law, most of the nonprofit groups can accept unlimited donations and participate in the political process, as long as they disclose donations and don't explicitly advocate any federal candidate's election or defeat -- or coordinate with candidates or political parties. So most groups will focus on "educating" voters about what they consider Mr. Bush's shortcomings -- without touting any particular candidate in the process.

The effort includes big bucks from some of the biggest names in the pro-Democratic galaxy. It was started by labor leaders, mulling how to spend the roughly $30 million in soft money they gave to Democrats in 2000 but now can't under the reform law. The Service Employees International Union donated a portion of its $4 million in previous soft-money checks to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's new group, which aims to raise $2 million to register 500,000 new Hispanic voters. George Soros, a 74-year-old billionaire with a penchant for liberal candidates and causes, has kicked in $10 million for a voter-mobilization project, and another $5 million to MoveOn's ads.

At the same time, the leading Democratic candidate, Mr. Dean, is aiming to turn Mr. Bush's fund-raising strength into a liability. Campaign manager Joe Trippi travels with a CD-ROM showing how fund raising could become a central element of the Democrats' November 2004 message. It includes a bar graph showing that more than 70% of Mr. Bush's campaign donors gave $2,000, while just 10% of Mr. Dean's donors have given that much. Indeed, more than 50% of Mr. Dean's donors have given $200 or less, while just 10% of Mr. Bush's backers have donated such small amounts. Mr. Trippi uses the bar graphs to drive home the argument that Mr. Bush's campaign is financed by well-heeled special interests, not average Americans.

11.11.2003

FURTHER PROOF GOOD POLICY IS GOOD POLITICS
Wall St Journal Editorial

Bush's Steel Opening

The World Trade Organization surprised no one yesterday when it once again ruled that the 30% steel tariffs the Bush Administration imposed in 2002 are a violation of global trade rules. Now the question is whether the Administration will use the verdict as a convenient way to extricate itself from the tariffs. The other option is to sit by as the world levies billions in retaliatory duties.

The U.S. appeal to the July WTO ruling against the tariffs never had a snowball's chance in a steel furnace of success. It was, however, a way to delay global trade retaliation until at least September. That marked the midway point of the three-year tariff span and the first opportunity for President Bush to decide whether to dump them. This second WTO ruling gives him another opening, and we can only hope he's realized that this protectionist ploy has been a bust from every angle.

The industry argues that the tariffs gave it the breathing space to do the restructuring it had avoided for decades, and there's no doubt the levies have padded U.S. steel margins. But they haven't stopped the inevitable process of bankruptcy (and walking away from pension and retirement obligations) as well as labor re-negotiation. All of this would have had to happen even if the Administration hadn't abandoned its free-trade principles.

Meanwhile, the tariffs imposed a toll on the rest of the economy -- in particular on steel users. U.S. manufacturers that consume steel for products ranging from cars to toasters watched domestic steel prices jump by more than 30%. The International Trade Commission, which released a report at the tariffs' September midpoint, found that in their first year the levies inflicted a $680 million hit on the U.S. economy.

A study done earlier this year for the Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition went further. It found that higher steel prices cost 200,000 American jobs and $4 billion in lost wages from February to November 2002. Those 200,000 jobs were more than the total number of people employed by the U.S. steel industry itself. That's one reason more than 200 companies and organizations representing steel-consuming and related industries sent Mr. Bush a letter last month begging for relief.

Meanwhile, the strategy of using the tariffs to score political points has backfired. The tariffs have done nothing to win over protectionists, as evidenced by the growing number of blue-collar union endorsements of Democrat Presidential contender (and anti-free-trader) Dick Gephardt. Karl Rove might also note that a disproportionate number of the steel-consuming jobs that have been lost are in key battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania, which Mr. Bush needs if he is to win re-election.

If the tariffs don't go, all this will only get worse. The European Union, Japan, China, Norway and others are already busy polishing their lists of U.S. goods on which they could impose big retaliatory tariffs. The lists are designed to inflict maximum economic and political pain, hitting popular products from key electoral states. The EU's short list includes T-shirts, fruit juices, toilet paper, pantyhose, notebooks, watches, ballpoint pens, rowboats and apples. EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy made clear that within 35 days Europe would impose tariffs that could reach $2.2 billion. This would dwarf the ITC's $680 million estimate of damage already done.

The best solution is for the Administration to recognize the WTO decision for what it is: a golden opportunity. The U.S. economy is showing signs of recovery, but nothing is certain. By citing the verdict and dropping the tariffs now, Mr. Bush can further aid the economy, in particular one sector that is still struggling to get on board the recovery train: manufacturing. Along the way, he'll save other industries from big hits to their exports. And by complying with global trade rules, the U.S. will gain needed credibility in its attempts to get free-trade talks back on track.

The WTO verdict also offers the best hope for some political cover. The Administration might take its cue from Republican Representative Pat Toomey, who is fighting a tough Senate primary battle in the steel-sensitive state of Pennsylvania and who has been supporting the tariffs. A few weeks back, however, Mr. Toomey noted that the economy was stronger and that the steel industry had gone through consolidation. He suggested that now was a good time to "re-evaluate" and reminded his constituents that "tariffs have a cost; tariffs have a downside."

We'd call that the understatement of the Bush Administration's tenure. Mr. Bush is now perfectly positioned to put aside these costs and downsides and instead provide a further boost to the economy in the run-up to Election Day. Let's hope he grabs that chance while he can.

WHY BUSH WILL WIN
Electoral Math is something that most people don't spend a lot of time worrying about. But in Presidential elections, its the name of the game. Events since the 2000 election are nearly all in Bush's favor. For instance, after the Census and the redistribution of electoral votes, Bush "Red States" have picked up votes, while Gore "Blue States" have dropped.

Now comes this today from Mort Kondracke. This may well prove to be the turning point in the 04 election, and will be the most underreported story out there!

GOP Has Scored Major Gains In Swing States
By Mort Kondracke

Democrats may be cheered by the fact that President Bush's approval ratings are at their lowest point in his presidency and that his re-elect numbers aren't great. But they have to be worried about a pro-Republican shift in voters' party identification.

It may not seem dangerous that, according to a new Pew Research Center poll, 31 percent of registered voters regard themselves as Democrats, 30 percent as Republicans and 39 percent Independents, but that's a 5-point GOP switch from the average from 1997 to 2000.

During that period, 33 percent considered themselves Democrats and 27 percent Republicans. According to Pew, the GOP has gained among every demographic group except African-Americans - including 8 points among Hispanics.

Even more significantly for 2004, Republican ID gains have been substantial in "light red" or "light blue" swing states carried narrowly by either Bush or Vice President Al Gore in 2000.

Republicans made gains in every one of the seven swing states that Gore carried with 51 percent of the vote or less, which together account for 77 electoral votes. Bush won the election, of course, with 271 electoral votes to Gore's 266.

In Iowa, for example, which Gore carried by a bare 4,110 votes, party ID among registered voters has switched from 32 percent Democratic and 27 percent Republican to 34 percent to 27 percent in favor of Republicans.

In Michigan, with 17 electoral votes, Republicans have gained 8 points, according to Pew. In Wisconsin, which Gore won by a margin of just 5,396, party ID has moved 5 points toward the GOP.

In Pennsylvania, with 21 electoral votes, Gore won by a margin of 50.6 percent to 46.4 percent, but the GOP has picked up 4 percentage points in party ID. It's also made gains in New Mexico and Oregon.

Meantime, Republican ID is also up in six "light red" states - narrowly carried by Bush - with a total of 70 electoral votes, topped by Florida, where the GOP has gained 6 points.

Other states in this category are Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia. In two other narrowly-for-Bush states, New Hampshire and Ohio, the GOP has lost ground slightly.

Pew and its director, Andrew Kohut, by no means regard the party ID numbers as the final word on the 2004 election, of course.

Pew's lengthy report on the 2004 political landscape, titled "Evenly Divided and Increasingly Polarized," says that "because Republicans traditionally turn out to vote in higher numbers than do Democrats, the current division in party affiliation ... could provide the GOP with a slight electoral advantage."

Kohut told me that "a few months ago, the Republicans were poised to do very well on the strength of Bush's response to terrorism. Now, though, discontent over the Iraq war and the economy have brought down his approval ratings and re-elect numbers to equal levels."

Indeed, Pew shows that Bush's approval rating in October was at 50 percent and his disapproval at 42 percent - the narrowest margin during his presidency. The liberal Democracy Corps, which tracks most national polls, showed that Bush's average for October was 51.9 percent, down from 53 percent in September, 56 percent in August and 69 percent in April amid the Iraq war.

According to Pew and a number of other recent polls, a "generic" unnamed Democratic nominee ties or beats Bush in a head-to-head matchup.

Pew found that "a year before the election, the divided electorate looks strikingly similar to the one reflected in exit polls from the 2000 election." The electorate is split 50-50 between Bush and the Democrat. Whites favor Bush by about the same margin, as do men, married persons and regular church attendees.

What may be dangerous to Bush is that he has lost ground among independents, who split 51-49 in his favor in 2000, but now divide 52-48 against him.

On the other hand, in every poll, Bush beats a named Democratic opponent. In the Pew matchup, he beat Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) by 6 points; Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) by 8; retired Gen. Wesley Clark, 10; frontrunner Howard Dean, 11; and Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), 12.

Averaging the performance of the Democrats, Pew found that Bush gained the most ground against them (as compared with an unnamed Democrat) among independents, conservative Democrats, women and those who believe that the war in Iraq was the right decision.

If Bush's approval ratings are at their lowest point ever right now, it's worth noting that in late 1971, President Nixon had just a 49 percent approval rating and in late 1983, Ronald Reagan's was at 49 percent. Both won in landslides. And President Bush's father in 1991 still had a 56 percent approval rating and went on to lose the 1992 election.

Current approval ratings have yet to factor in an improving economy - the 7.2 percent third quarter growth rate, surging productivity and reduced numbers of new jobless claims - all of which are bound to help Bush.

Extravagant Democratic attacks on Bush's credibility and trustworthiness have caused no dents in his reputation. An October Zogby International poll showed that 56 percent of voters are "proud" to have Bush as president and only 26 percent "ashamed." By 64 percent to 31 percent, they consider him "honest and trustworthy."

It would seem that Bush's re-election rides on one thing: success or failure in Iraq. At this point, according to Pew, 60 percent of voters say that going to war was the right decision and only 33 percent say it was not. Democrats, who think it was wrong by a margin of 54 percent to 39 percent, are out of step - for now.