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Flash Traffic | Political Buzz from Washington

Issue: "Scorched-earth politics," Sept. 7, 2002

New polls show Republican Senate candidate Doug Forrester, the previously nearly unknown Republican businessman, pulling ahead of New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli. In a sign the White House political operation takes Mr. Forrester seriously, President Bush will headline a big Forrester fund-raiser in Trenton on Sept. 23.

One poll finds Mr. Forrester ahead by 11 points, another by 12. Even Sen. Torricelli's internal poll shows the race even, a stunning reversal from earlier this summer when the Democrat led by double digits. Another sign of how much the White House is investing in this race: On Aug. 26, top TeamBush political strategist Karl Rove dispatched Cuban-born housing secretary Mel Martinez to New Jersey to help Mr. Forrester reach out to the Hispanic community.

Sean Hannity's Let Freedom Ring debuted at No. 3 on The New York Times bestseller list. Now GOP insiders are asking: Will the Long Island native and rising media star challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton for the U.S. Senate? A growing number hope so and suggest he begin running for a House seat first, perhaps the seat vacated by Rick Lazio in 2000.

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For the record, Mr. Hannity expresses no interest in elected office, saying he's happy doing what he's doing. But what he's doing is precisely what attracts the attention of Republican strategists and high-dollar donors: building a grassroots political base. His daily talk show draws an audience of 10 million on more than 200 stations around the country, and Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes is the No. 1 political debate show on television and often tops Larry King's ratings.

NFL-star-turned-conservative-congressman Steve Largent won his Aug. 27 GOP primary and is currently the frontrunner in what's expected to be a tough battle to become the next governor of Oklahoma. Two Democratic candidates-state Sen. Brad Henry and businessman Vince Orza-must now face a runoff after neither drew a majority of the vote in a four-way primary. Mr. Largent resigned from Congress after three terms to run for governor. Oklahoma Republican operative Tom Cole, seeking to replace the retiring Rep. J.C. Watts in the 4th Congressional District, won his primary after a brutal six-way contest. But as with Mr. Largent, it's not yet clear which Democrat Mr. Cole will face. Former state Senate Majority Leader Darryl Roberts and attorney Ben Odom emerged from a four-way primary battle as the top Democratic vote-getters, but now must face a Sept. 17 runoff.

President Bush's effort to reach out to Latino voters appears to be bearing fruit. A new poll for The Latino Coalition, a center-right policy shop based in Washington, D.C., finds Mr. Bush's job-approval rating has hit 68 percent among registered Latino voters. "In a significant show of strength from last year's survey, President Bush now beats Al Gore 50-35 percent among Latino voters," says TLC executive director Roberto DePosada. "Last year the former vice president was defeating President Bush by a 54-28 percent margin in our survey."

The Congressional Budget Office says a sluggish economy and stumbling stock markets are to blame for such rapidly falling tax revenues that what was once projected to be a $5.6 trillion surplus over the next 10 years will tumble to a $336 billion surplus.

Next year's deficit could top $157 billion. Democrats blame the president and talk of rolling back the Bush tax cuts. The White House says it's time to rein in spending, not raise taxes. The first big test on the GOP's commitment to "fiscal restraint" will be the vote this month on the budgets for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. It is being seen as a referendum on the president's budget and the White House's ability to keep moderate Republican members from asking for too much.

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg


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