RIGHT WHERE THEY WANT HIM
Despite seemingly treading water on the Miguel Estrada nomination to the federal appeals bench, the White House feels it is gaining ground and support for the nomination and even hopes to extend the debate a bit longer.
"We're winning in a way," says a White House political staffer. "We've firmed up three Democratic votes this week, and the public perception is that Democrats are playing a race card of sorts against this man. As things stand, we can only gain with more debate."
Several weeks ago, it appeared that Estrada was stalled and that the White House might pull the nomination back. Others inside the White House, according to sources, were mulling whether a "leak" of several Estrada memos from his when he served in the U.S. Soliciter General's office might not help push things along. Such documents have been a point of debate for Democrats, who have been demanding numerous documents written by Estrada, because they say he doesn't have a large enough backlog of written opinion for them to evaluate where he stands. Obviously, nothing the White House or Justice Department might have leaked would have been damaging to the nomination. But in the end, the decision was made to let Estrada ride the Republican majority in the Senate, such as it is.
President Bush has been steadily supporting Estrada, targeting speeches and comments to the Hispanic community regarding one of their own. Thus far, independent Hispanic interest groups have backed Estrada, while groups bound to organized labor or Democrat-controlled interest groups have rallied against him.
As White House strategists currently see it, it's a no lose proposition. If for some reason the Estrada nomination is pulled or defeated, Republicans feel confident they can build on doubts in the Hispanic community that the Democrats aren't really their party. And if Estrada is confirmed, it shows conservatives they have a president willing to go farther than Bill Clinton was ever willing to go for his nominees.
SHOW IT TOOMEY
If for no other reason than it might push Sen. Arlen Specter a bit to the right on some votes, conservatives should be rejoicing at word that Stephen Moore and his Club for Growth have recruited Rep. Pat Toomeyto run against him in 2004. Toomey is one of the most strident fiscal conservatives in the House, constantly pushing for offsetting budget cuts in appropriations legislation, and calling for smaller government.
"He's the antithesis of Specter in so many ways," says a Republican House member. "Once people in Pennsylvania get to know him, they are going to like him."
As the Prowler reported last December 18 ("Stuck With Specter") conservatives in the state party were looking for someone to step up and challenge Specter in 2004, despite the White House's ongoing support of Specter. Now Moore's Club for Growth has come through for them. Toomey, whose district includes parts of Allentown and Bethlehem, will have to traverse the state to build up name recognition. But his small government, Reaganesque politics should hit a chord with blue-collar Catholics who were attracted to the Gipper way back when.
The White House is in a bind. While some inside would prefer a more reliable conservative in the seat, similar to Pennsylvania's junior Sen. Rick Santorum, it can't afford to anger Specter. "We need his votes and his support," says a White House staffer. But should Toomey defeat Specter in the Republican primary, look for full White House support for the victor.
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