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Flash Traffic

Flash Traffic | Political Buzz from Washington

Issue: "Highway 65 hopefuls," April 20, 2002

The stage is now set: Republican John Cornyn, the Texas attorney general, will battle Democrat Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor, to replace retiring Sen. Phil Gramm in the U.S. Senate. The GOP cannot afford to lose, and it has a strong candidate in Cornyn. He was on the 1998 GOP ticket when then-Gov. Bush won in a landslide. He now has the full backing of President Bush, still hugely popular in Texas. Cornyn vows to support the Bush agenda in the Senate, including an aggressive war on terrorism, a big defense budget, pro-growth tax cuts, and more oil exploration in Alaska. Cornyn also says he'll strongly support conservative federal judiciary nominees. For this he received Bush's high praise last month at a Dallas luncheon that raised $1.4 million for Cornyn's campaign. Kirk says he'll support Bush when he thinks he's right. But it's clear to most Texas political observers that Kirk fully intends to be a trusted member of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's team if elected. The question is: Can a Democrat be elected? Kirk just survived a nasty three-way March 12 primary campaign and grueling April 9 runoff. The whole affair left some Texas Democrats bitter. Kirk, for example, outspent one of his challengers-Hispanic schoolteacher Victor Morales-160 to 1, and Morales does not yet appear in the mood to forgive and forget. "I thoroughly and completely distrust the Democratic Party leadership," Morales told supporters. "One of the reasons I ran was because of the terrible leadership we've had for years in the Democratic Party." Democrats are hoping that their Hispanic candidate for governor, Tony Sanchez, will soothe the ethnic concerns of the Morales backers.

Why can't the White House find a strong candidate to run against embattled Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.)? The latest polls find 43 percent of voters want to vote for someone else. But who? Whitewater prosecutor Robert Ray, a Republican, dropped out of the race after just 18 days in it. Assemblyman Guy Gregg is also out. Four Republicans remain in the topsy-turvy June 4 primary: state Sen. Diane Allen, state Sen. John Matheussen, businessman Douglas Forrester, and Essex County Executive Jim Treffinger. With strong organizational support, Treffinger may be the front-runner. But he certainly doesn't have the name I.D. or fund-raising abilities of a Steve Forbes or Tom Kean, and Torricelli already has more than $4 million in the bank. It's a serious recruitment failure, and it could cost the GOP the Senate this year.

Mitt Romney is a smart, savvy, good-looking venture capitalist who won international kudos for rescuing the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games from nearly paralyzing charges of corruption. Now he's the Republican candidate for Massachusetts governor, stepping in when incumbent GOP Gov. Jane Swift's poll numbers were dropping into low-double-digit territory. He leads all his potential Democratic rivals, including Robert Reich (47-32). But the son of a former Michigan governor has angered rank-and-file Republicans by refusing to take a "no new taxes" pledge: "I am not in favor of increasing taxes. At this stage, I am inclined to make that position as clear as I can, but not to enter into a written pledge of some kind."

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Benjamin Netanyahu predicted in testimony before the U.S. Senate last week that suicide bombers could be coming to the United States. He called for Yasser Arafat to be expelled from the West Bank, not negotiated with. And he firmly opposed the White House trial balloon that international troops or monitors might be sent into the war zone. "If we do not shut down the terror factories that Arafat is hosting-those terror factories that are producing human bombs-it is only a matter of time before suicide bombers will terrorize your cities here in America," the former Israeli prime minister told senators. "If not destroyed, this madness will strike in your buses, in your supermarkets, in your pizza parlors, in your cafes." In a New York speech the night before his Senate testimony, Netanyahu tried to explain why the Bush White House might be coming down so hard on Israel. "I think what the U.S. probably seeks right now ... is an extended cease-fire so they can get on the job of finishing Saddam Hussein before he acquires atomic bombs, a notable and important goal worthy of support without a doubt," he said. "But it cannot be achieved by sacrificing these principles that are at the core, the heart of this effort."

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg

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