Washington Prowler

Democrat Down Cycle

On the defensive in key Senate races. Lieberman looks good. Grounding Norm Mineta's successor.

By 6.26.06

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DEAN'S DELUSIONS
Democrat National Committee chairman Howard Dean is seeing polling numbers that are making him a nervous man. Recent internal polling data for Senate races from Washington state, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, and Maryland -- with the exception of Missouri, which is a GOP defense -- shows Democrat support cratering if not crumbling around the edges.

Missouri's seat -- held by Sen. Jim Talent -- "was one we'd targeted as winnable, along with Pennsylvania, and all of those other seats weren't ones we were overly concerned about, even Maryland, where we think we have two strong candidates on our side," says a DNC staffer. "But now we're seeing bad signs inside our polling data and folks here aren't happy."

Why should they be? In Maryland, where Rep. Ben Cardin is leading in fundraising, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume is actually ahead of Cardin in name recognition and support in some Democrat polls. Republican Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele is currently garnering greater support among African-Americans than any other Republican in recent state history.

In Michigan, where there is a contested Republican primary to face off against Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Democrats across the state are seeing support collapsing, and Stabenow is now considered in danger by her own party. In Minnesota Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) is polling ahead of expectations, and in Washington state, Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell is now the No. 1 Republican target in the 2006 cycle as her polling numbers slide.

"The problem is this: we've committed huge amounts of resources on the state level in anticipation of that investment paying off in getting out the vote," says another DNC staffer. "Dean has taken heat for spending so much money. Right now, that investment isn't looking very good and no matter what anyone says, we're nervous. Things were never as good as people were saying they were, and now the numbers are confirming that."

Dean especially has been taking heat from Sen. Chuck Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and from minority leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi about the amount of upfront spending the DNC has been making. They had been pressing for the DNC to invest funds into the House and Senate campaign committees so that the funds could be used for important races.

"We had targeted Pennsylvania and Maryland as high cost races," says an outside Democrat political consultant. "After that, you're looking at Missouri and Minnesota as races we really wanted to win. Now, we're looking at spending a lot more in Maryland and Minnesota, and a lot more than we probably budgeted in Washington and Michigan. That means less for other states. The upshot is if the numbers hold or continue to get worse, we aren't winning the Senate."

LIEBERMAN'S OPPORTUNITY
All of that bad Democrat news makes the ongoing saga between Connecticut Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, and his party all the more interesting. At a time when his party can ill afford to alienate centrist constituencies across the country, it is doing just that with Lieberman, and some senior Republicans are wondering whether they shouldn't get into the fight to help Lieberman despite the fact that a weakened Lieberman could mean a win for their expected nominee in the state, Alan Schlesinger.

"Lieberman has been a more loyal American and a real leader for our nation than some of the men we have on our side of the aisle in the Senate," says a Republican fundraiser. "I don't want to see Lieberman lose to a leftist nut like Ned Lamont."

Lamont is a communications executive who is challenging Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Lamont has run almost exclusively as an anti-war, MoveOn.org candidate. Recently, Lieberman's former running mate, Al Gore, refused to support Lieberman, and just yesterday, Sen. Russ Feingold refused to support his colleague.

There have been rumors that Lieberman, were he to lose the Democratic primary, would run as an independent. To that end, some members of his campaign have been quietly preparing petitions to collect the necessary 7,500 signatures that are required for submission the day after the August 8 primary.

An independent Lieberman scares Democrats, if only because they fear he will increasingly side with Republicans in a newly aligned Senate. "I don't know why they are treating him so badly at a time when they should be trying to embrace him a bit more, if only for his vote," says a Republican. "You sense that guys like Feingold are talking to the wrong people, the nutty left. Feingold listens to them, does what they tell him, and then when it comes time to actually do something, they don't have the power or the votes to really help. Lieberman isn't a marginal guy. Feingold is. The environment right now is just crazy."

WON'T FLY
Some Bush administration and senior Senate staffers are warning the White House away from one of the potential replacements for departing Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta: Federal Aviation Administration head Marion Blakey. Blakey, who previously served as chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, is considered a strong candidate.

But the FAA is mired in trouble right now, with failing infrastructure and poor career management, political infighting, and trouble with outside contractors who have failed to resolve technology problems the FAA was aware of but chose not to pursue.

"Now just isn't her time," says a Senate staffer. "We've suggested to the White House that they look in another direction."

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