Washington Prowler

Hoeven Can’t Wait

Sen. Kent Conrad isn't safe. Plus: Dean's Labor dues. Also: Bayh buy.

By 2.6.05

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CONRAD SEES RED
It's true that President Bush hit the upper Midwest and the South in his first big push after the State of the Union Address in order to target potential Democratic support in the House and the Senate. But he also was sending Democrats a clear message: 2002 and 2004 were no mistakes. Recall that the President was particularly aggressive in campaigning for Republicans in the midterms in 2002, and barring unforeseen political disasters, will be out there again, pressing for added GOP strength in Congress.

Democrat Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota is up for re-election in 2006, and Bush apparently intends to do to him what was done to Sen. Tom Daschle in 2004 if Conrad doesn't fall into line. Conrad was rumored to be mulling retirement, but indications are now that he will run for re-election. The White House has targeted North Dakota's Republican Gov. John Hoeven to run against Conrad. Hoeven attended the State of the Union, then spent time with the President on Air Force One back to his home state. According to White House political sources and a staffer on the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Hoeven's political future was discussed.

Now Conrad finds himself in a tough spot. In a state that tends to run heavily red in national campaigns, with a strong rural and Catholic vote, he will be hard pressed to be a highly visible obstructionist with the GOP putting a spotlight on just about every move he makes in Washington. Hoeven is considered a strong campaigner, and popular in the state. The NRSC expects him to make a decision in the next couple of months, and he is expected to oblige the President.

Beyond the White House interest in Hoeven, his recruitment would be a big boost for Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who took over control of the NRSC from Sen. George Allen. "People aren't sure she is up to the job," says a Republican Senate insider. "She wanted it, and got the support, but there are lingering questions. This kind of early, aggressive move helps her quite a bit."

LABOR COSTS
Big Labor's support of apparent new DNC chairman Howie Dean may have seemed as inevitable as Dean's election to the top of the Democratic Party's leadership, but it isn't as strong or as stable as the support may appear to be. This is, in part, because labor leaders within the AFL-CIO aren't sure themselves how much support they are going to have in the coming months.

Last week at an AFL-CIO executive committee meeting, President John Sweeney was asked about the process by which the huge union would be accounting for its political spending in the 2004 election cycle. This is a sore point for Sweeney and his supporters, because when everything is said and done, labor expenses on behalf of Democrats nationally may surpass half a billion dollars, including money funneled to Democratic 527s and shadow organizations.

"They have virtually nothing to show for that money spent," says a Democratic fundraiser. "There are some senior people inside the labor movement who are asking for greater transparency in the area of campaign expenses. Sweeney is feeling some heat."

Dean is expected to bend over backwards for his labor chums once he is installed. Labor was an early backer of Dean's presidential run, pulling out only when it was clear that his chances had guttered out after the Iowa and New Hampshire debacles. Dean's assistance will be essential to Sweeney and his team, if only to ensure that the labor leaders have some breathing room to rebuild support among their state and local affiliates.

BAYH BUY
Apparently Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh really is serious about making a presidential run in 2008. After voting against the nomination of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bayh had his new pollster Paul Maslin -- he of the Dean 2004 campaign -- poll for public reaction to his no vote. No word on the results, but they may must have been favorable given the numerous TV appearances Bayh made after the fact.

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