Two Republican Senate races to begin watching for the 2008 cycle are in Virginia and New Hampshire, where Sen. John Warner and Sen. John Sununu are facing similar challenges: a changing political environment in their states.
Both New Hampshire and Virginia are increasingly taking on stronger tinges of blue, and increasingly creating new challenges for the Republican Party during an election cycle that initially appears to be even more challenging than the 2006 cycle.
Warner's Virginia seat was thought to be a safe one, but with victory by Democrat Jim Webb -- some would say it was more of a loss by Sen. George Allen -- Warner is now uncertain of whether he's willing to put himself through what is sure to be a bruising battle.
"It isn't that Allen lost, it's how he lost, that has to trouble Warner," says a Republican political consultant who has worked in Virginia. "The far-left wing of the party was so aggressive in Virginia with guerrilla tactics, Web attack ads and blog posts, that Warner has to look at all that and wonder if it's worth that kind of fight. He's had it comparatively easy in the past few races. Does he want to fight for what amounts to a minority seat?"
Warner may be looking at having to take on former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, whom he defeated in 1996 in what's proved to be by far the closest of his re-election runs, and this was back when Mark Warner ran a pretty straightforward liberal. He is now thought to have looked at the Webb victory as an opportunity to examine an alternative path to national prominence over a second tier presidential candidacy.
Democrat Warner is said to be keeping his options open for 2008. He's kept his leadership PAC up and running, sent out a campaign style "holiday" card to supporters, and done some statewide polling in the past three months to gauge interest in his running for the Senate seat. He is also believed to be looking at options again for a presidential bid now that moderate Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh has pulled out of the race.
"I'm not sure that Warner believes that the current field presents the voters with the most complete candidate to pick from," says a Democrat operative. "Clinton and Obama both have flaws. The only candidate with some comparisons to Warner is [former Iowa Gov. Tom] Vilsack, and Warner probably has a slightly higher name recognition nationally to him. He'd be smart to look at that run again."
Sununu faces similar challenges: a changing electorate and state and targeting by the national Democrat Party, but retirement isn't an option for him, at least not one he is pondering.
Already, Sununu fundraisers are saying that he is garnering strong support from national GOP donors and traditionally supportive corporate and industry lobbying groups. "They understand the stakes involved in the Sununu race and they want to build him up as early as possible, have him well armed and ready to fight," says one fundraiser. "Finances won't be a problem. But it's going to be a fight."
Right now, there is no clear candidate to challenge Sununu.
By now, most of the GOP staffs of committees and personal offices working for those Republicans who lost in November know their fate and are looking for new slots on Capitol Hill or in other parts of Washington or the country. But for many of them, the exit was far rougher, not because of Democrats, but because of their own party, and sources point to the main culprit being Rep. Roy Blunt.
During the lame duck session in December, outgoing House majority leader John Boehner went to incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and negotiated what amounted to a severance package for Democrat and GOP committee and personal staff who lost their jobs due to turnover. The package was initially for two months' severance, but limited to leadership staff and some committee staff. That package was eventually expanded, and Boehner and Pelosi thought they had a deal.
But according to House leadership sources, Rep. Roy Blunt and a cohort of fiscal conservative Republicans scuttled the deal. "They claimed that they couldn't very well cave on a payout to staff and then look like hypocrites fighting a minimum wage increase," says the leadership staffer. "The problem is, we've already caved on the minimum wage increase, so this was just grandstanding."
"I can't believe our own people treated us this badly," said a staffer on Ways and Means who is out of a job. "We could have used that two months pay to at least give us a bit of peace of mind over the holidays, but they couldn't even give us that."
The Michigan Catholic Conference, the statewide leadership office for the Catholic Church in Michigan, has joined forces with far-left political groups that support unlimited abortion, fetal tissue testing, and cloning to support regulation of the Internet.
The state Catholic Conference, which is considered one of the more liberal conferences in the nation, made the decision, according to sources inside MoveOn.org, after the left-wing group promised to help the conference with other policy issues it is involved in on the state level, including immigration reform.
Regulation of the Internet became an issue in the state of Michigan after the activists supporting federal regulation of the Internet, sometimes called "Net Neutrality," lost their fight in Congress last fall. Move.org, as well as some of the Internet businesses pushing regulation of the Internet, including Google, Amazon, eBay and Microsoft, have started seeking state Internet regulation legislation in some statehouses, including Michigan.
Overall, the National Catholic Conference of Bishops based in Washington, D.C. is considered by most practicing Catholics to be left-leaning on most political and moral issues, with the exception of abortion.
"In that regard, we're not surprised that the Michigan office would do something like this, because it's a political issue and I'm sure they see some kind of First Amendment tie-in or something," says a Capitol Hill source who works with the Catholic Conference on abortion-related issues at times. "But to get in bed with groups that espouse positions that run counter to just about every critical moral position the Church holds, from abortion to same sex marriage to stem cell research, is just abhorrent."
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