The sum of all GOP fears is losing Phil Gramm's Senate seat to the Democrats in President Bush's home state. (Sen. Gramm is retiring at the end of his term.) Top GOP strategists once believed the prospect unthinkable and national media have given the race scant attention. That's about to change. A new poll shows Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, the Republican, in a neck-and-neck battle-46 percent to 44 percent-with Ron Kirk, the Democrat. Only 10 percent of voters are undecided. "This race should be an exciting one to watch," says Jeff Montgomery, who took the poll. For him, it sure will be. Mr. Montgomery is a Democrat, though not working for either candidate or the party. But it promises to be a long summer for Republicans, who should have this race locked down by now. While 57 percent of non-Hispanic white voters back the Republican, Mr. Cornyn is struggling among Hispanics, previously a Bush stronghold. A full 58 percent are backing Mr. Kirk, as are 84 percent of blacks. Thus, while Mr. Cornyn leads Mr. Kirk 55 to 38 among all voters in the Houston area, Mr. Kirk leads 52 to 38 in the heavily Hispanic South Texas/border region. Vice President Cheney has not yet gone to Texas to raise money for Mr. Cornyn and has no current plans to do so. The Cornyn camp has just launched a $2 million TV ad campaign to bring the numbers up.
Just two days before Tom Clancy's nuclear terrorism thriller The Sum of All Fears opened nationwide, the Bush administration announced a sweeping reorganization of the FBI. Top priority: counter domestic terrorism. The plan was in the works for months. The timing of the announcement suggests a PR offensive by the White House. Top administration officials believe nuclear terrorism is no longer the stuff of Clancy-esque novels and Hollywood blockbusters. Stung by congressional fury over the "Phoenix Memo" and FBI lawyer Coleen Rowley's scathing criticism of the bureau's less-than-stellar terror-fighting efforts, the administration is working to synchronize the counter-terrorism operations of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Secret Service. Top officials are convinced more strikes are coming. They also fear that a Clancy-like scenario, in which terrorists smuggle a nuclear bomb into the United States inside a cigarette vending machine on board a container ship, is chillingly realistic and extremely difficult to prevent. Part of the plan: Hire 900 new agents, including 520 focused solely on stopping terrorism. Nuclear threats now top President Bush's agenda. The White House is trying to cool tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. Intelligence estimates indicate Saddam Hussein is rapidly completing his first series of nuclear bombs. Mr. Bush also pressed President Vladimir Putin to end Russia's efforts to help Iran build nuclear power plants. The oil- and gas-rich nation has no need for nuclear power and the plants could be converted to manufacture weapons-grade plutonium.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle gives every indication he's running for president in 2004. But a majority (51 percent) of South Dakotans say: Don't. A survey of 1,000 registered voters taken for KELO-TV in Sioux Falls found that only 29 percent thought he should run for president, while 21 percent weren't sure or wouldn't say. Also interesting: President Bush is far more popular than Sen. Daschle in the senator's own state. Mr. Bush receives a 79 percent approval rating, 13 points better than the senator.
The surging U.S. economy is a good sign for the GOP and is keeping President Bush's approval numbers high despite Democratic attacks. Republican politicos were stunned by the first quarter's 5.6 percent growth rate. New home sales are up. Mortgage rates are low. Unemployment is beginning to edge down. Nondefense capital goods new orders are up 13.6 percent. Shipments of durable goods jumped 3.5 percent in April. Not surprisingly, Gallup finds Mr. Bush's approval rating at 76 percent. Even a new poll by Democrat Stan Greenberg gives the president a 69 percent rating.