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Flash Traffic

Flash Traffic | Political Buzz from Washington

Issue: "The trouble with Tommy," May 4, 2002

A new Zogby poll shows Democrats leading the GOP (36-30) for control of Congress, up 5 points since March. But 46 House members will face no opposition whatsoever this fall, including 27 Republicans and 19 Democrats. With 194 Congressional district filing deadlines still open, the number of unchallenged incumbents could still climb. If the current ratio holds, GOP strategists feel confident they can hold the House.

Who will replace Karen Hughes? President Bush's top message strategist (and the highest-ranking woman in White House history) surprised everyone when she announced she'd return to Texas this summer. GOP strategists agree finding a strong new message czar is critical as the party heads toward mid-term elections. The buzz in Washington includes many names. Among them: Mary Matalin, Vice President Cheney's top adviser; Torie Clarke, Don Rumsfeld's spokeswoman; and Dan Bartlett, the 31-year old White House communications director who's been with Mr. Bush since his earliest days as governor of Texas. A name not yet in play: Ed Gillespie, former top aide to Dick Armey and Republican National Committee communications director. Mr. Gillespie, who worked on the Bush 2000 campaign, was offered a communications post after the election; he chose instead to work as a lobbyist. But President Bush also loves surprises. Ms. Matalin told WORLD Ms. Hughes will "continue providing for [President Bush] the talents and advice she currently does. All the speculation about musical chairs here is from folks who don't know ... how this place works." True enough. But someone's going to get her coveted West Wing corner office and somebody must assume her responsibilities of crafting and coordinating the president's speeches, appearances, and press operations. One thing is certain: Karl Rove will be the most powerful aide in the White House. With Ms. Hughes leaving and Joe Allbaugh running the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Rove is the only remaining member of the original Bush Troika. Chief of staff Andrew Card may leave at the end of the year. RNC chairman Marc Racicot is considered a figurehead. And Mr. Rove and his team are mapping out the GOP's fall election strategy.

Al Gore's lead over fellow Democrats in the polls for the 2004 nomination is growing. But in fundraising, Mr. Gore is lagging. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards-unknown nationally but a rising star among Democrats-is the new leader of the PAC. Sen. Edwards scooped up $658,750 for his New Optimist political action committee in the first quarter of 2002 and spent little. (Mr. Gore raised $528,480, but only has $180,000 cash-on-hand.) Tight with liberals and trial lawyers (he's both), Sen. Edwards is co-chairman of the Senate prayer breakfast with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Sen. Edwards also raked in more than $300,000 for his Senate reelection campaign, bringing his total cash-on-hand to just over $1.5 million. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is out-gunning his former running mate. He raised $642,469 for his PAC in the first quarter of 2002, after raising $1.3 million in 2001. He says he won't run if Mr. Gore does, but he's making serious preparations: He lavished $198,000 on 65 House, Senate, and local Democrats this year, including those in Iowa and New Hampshire. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt raised $310,000 in the first quarter, giving him a cash-on-hand total of $1.1 million. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry raised nearly $250,000 for his "Citizen Soldier" PAC. He also raised $1.2 million for his 2002 reelection campaign in the first quarter, bringing his cash-on-hand total to $3.2 million. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle raised a mere $140,000, but has $1 million cash-on-hand.

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Will John McCain run in 2004 as a Democrat? A New Republic cover story, "Why John McCain is the Democrats' Best Hope," has the Beltway buzzing. The most interesting nugget: John Weaver, McCain's chief strategist and a lifelong Republican, has just switched his political registration to Democrat. "I only work for Democrats now," he tells TNR. And Sen. McCain? "Oh, right."

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg


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