Dispatches > The Buzz

Flash Traffic

Political buzz from Washington

Issue: "Guns & Poses," April 13, 2002

President Bush's battle to help the GOP retake the Senate is scheduled to take him to Iowa on April 15 and South Dakota on April 24. The White House hopes to breathe life into the weak campaign of Iowa Rep. Greg Ganske, who seeks to challenge incumbent Sen. Tom Harkin. In South Dakota, Bush will stump for popular Republican candidate Rep. John Thune, who seeks to unseat incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson. Bush personally recruited Thune to drop his gubernatorial bid and run for Senate instead. In March, Bush campaigned for five Senate hopefuls, including Norm Coleman in Minnesota, Jim Talent in Missouri, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, and John Cornyn in Texas. A GOP win in South Dakota would bolster its chances of retaking the Senate. It would also be a political bloody nose for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota native who may be considering a run for president. With only 750,000 residents, the sparsely populated state also has incredibly low TV and radio advertising rates. So conservatives have already launched withering attacks against Daschle and Johnson. The Club For Growth -- a scrappy, supply-side, pro-Republican group created by former Cato scholar Steve Moore and CNBC's Larry Kudlow -- may have the toughest ad on the air. It rips the "Daschle deficits" and accuses the senator of "petty partisanship." Democrats are crying foul. Even Thune is concerned about a possible voter backlash against him.

President Bush's approval ratings on his handling of foreign affairs dropped 12 points in recent weeks, from 83 percent to 71 percent, according to Gallup. Bush remains popular: His overall approval rating is 79 percent, but conservative leaders are starting to perceive a White House double standard on fighting terrorism. In particular, the No. 3 Republican in the House criticized the president for not backing Israel's war on terrorism without reservation and openly declaring Yasser Arafat a terrorist. "The defense of freedom demands more from us than a value-neutral brokerage," House Majority Whip Tom DeLay declared in a major foreign-policy address on April 3. "During four decades of terrorism, Yasser Arafat has proven his total contempt for human life…. [W]e should support Israel as they dismantle the Palestinian leadership that foments violence and fosters hate. Arafat and his Authority have been an impediment to peace and a threat to the emergence of moderate Palestinian voices."

Even respected Democrats are expressing concern that their colleagues in the Senate are refusing to confirm new federal judges in timely way. So far, President Bush has nominated 29 circuit court judges, 68 federal district judges, and one international trade judge. Less than half have been confirmed. Half of the 16 judgeships in the 6th Circuit Court covering Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee are vacant. "Delay in confirming judges means justice delayed for individuals and businesses," wrote former Clinton White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler and former Democratic Rep. Mickey Edwards in a March 13 Washington Post op-ed. The two note that "combined with the bitter nature of some confirmation battles, it may deter many qualified candidates from seeking federal judgeships." In a recent letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat, former American Bar Association president Wallace Riley wrote of his concern that U.S. circuit courts "face a particular crisis" with an "extraordinary 19 percent vacancy rate." Good news: President Bush has made five new recess appointments, including black conservative Jerry Reynolds to be Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Education Department.

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Al Gore in March shaved the beard he'd grown after losing the 2000 presidential election in a close shave. A new reflection in the mirror? Yes, but also a reflection of public opinion. According to a March Gallup poll, only 15 percent thought Gore looked good with a beard. A full 62 percent of Americans thought Gore would look better without one.

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