Earlier this year, White House senior staff were predicting that Office of Management and Budget director Mitch Daniels would be one of the first Bush Administration staffers to high tail it out of town. That was in part due to the fact that his family remains based in home state Indiana (Daniels visits weekly), and because Daniels has been touted as a 2004 gubernatorial candidate there.
But lately Daniels has been telling friends and political backers in the Hoosier state that they might have to look elsewhere for a candidate. "With the economy and the budget mess this year, it's looking like he may have to commit to the Bush team longer than he might have expected," says a White House staffer. "The president and Rove probably thought that Daniels would be free to run for elective office by now, but things haven't worked out that way."
Increasingly, Daniels is being counted on to be a voice of calm on the economic front now that Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's public persona isn't playing well on Wall Street or Main Street, U.S.A. Daniels has impressed the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill with his handling of the budget and appropriations debates. "The problems the White House is having on budget and appropriations isn't Mitch's fault," says a GOP Senator. "The problems are up here on Capitol Hill and in White House legislative affairs."
While Daniels may not be on the hook for the appropriations debacle -- federal spending and Congressional appropriations requests are shattering records and putting taxpayers into an ever deeper hole -- White House insiders agree that the OMB guru has to find a way to package a message on the spend-a-holic Congress, particularly on the Homeland Security front.
"Mitch has said the president won't stand for bloated budgets there, and he has to make sure the president is held to that pledge," says the senator. "I can just see a situation where the president might sign a flawed Homeland Security appropriations bill for the sake of signing the bill, but that would be the wrong way to go."
North Carolina Democratic Senate primary loser Dan Blue continues to mull whether or not he will support his party's nominee, former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. Three weeks ago, Blue's decision not to endorse Bowles after their tightly contested race was seen as a minor blip, one that would be quickly resolved between the two men. Now, that blip has become, well, a blimp-sized problem that is creating major difficulties for the Democrats.
This week, the North Carolina Association of Educators, which has endorsed Democratic candidates more than 95 percent of the time, announced that, at least for now, it was withholding its endorsement for U.S. Senator. The group of educators had endorsed Blue in the primary, and after post-primary interviews with the two candidates, Bowles and Republican Elizabeth Dole, even seemed to be leaning toward giving the nod to Dole. Bowles's meeting with the group lasted less than ten minutes. Dole spent more than a half-hour with the group, and emerged smiling and laughing with NCAE staffers.
While the NCAE's endorsement isn't viewed as key to a Bowles victory, North Carolina Democratic insiders say it is evidence that Blue's influence in the state (he is a former speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives) remains strong. Meanwhile, the NCAE's reluctance to simply jump on the Bowles bandwagon is hampering Bowles's ability to gain broad-based party support where he needs it most. "Blue isn't playing games here. The two men had serious ideological differences and Bowles hasn't done anything to assure Blue that he's willing to bend on some of those," says a Blue supporter who served with him in the legislature.
One area where the two men disagreed was school choice. Bowles in the past has been more supportive of it than Blue. Hence the NCAE's endorsement quandary. "What's clear is that Blue supporters are sticking by him and won't give Bowles the time of day until he gives Dan the time he deserves," says the Blue supporter.
In the meantime, Bowles continues to stall in the polls, not making up much ground on Dole as the campaign clock ticks closer to election day.
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