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History > 2009 > USA > Politics (I)




Michael Steele, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland,

after being elected the Republicans’ national chairman on Friday.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times


New Face of G.O.P. Brings a Brash Style


















The Off-Off-Year Elections


November 5, 2009
The New York Times

Tuesday’s vote — particularly the election of Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia — has produced heated predictions about the revived power of Republican social conservatism and the declining fortunes of Barack Obama and his 2008 coalition.

If there were broad messages in the grab bag of contests, they were for both parties: Voters remain fearful about the economy. Independent voters are a force to be reckoned with. And everyone wants results.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg narrowly won a third term. It is impossible to link that to President Obama — who nominally endorsed the Democrat, William Thompson Jr., but left little doubt that his affection lay with the mayor. Mr. Bloomberg won on competence. Voters who said they cared most about experience and knowledge of the city’s problems voted heavily for him.

The closeness of the race contained another message for Mr. Bloomberg: Tone down the arrogance. Voters who said they most valued a leader who understood them went overwhelmingly for Mr. Thompson. If the mayor wants to create a legacy of leadership to match his legacy of competence, he needs to be less imperious and listen more closely to his constituents.

Competence was also the issue in New Jersey. Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, failed to deliver on the promise of his financial expertise and could not get even party loyalists to vote for him in sufficient numbers. Independents who were still more fed up with Mr. Corzine voted for the Republican, Christopher Christie, who won with just under 49 percent of the vote.

That election was not about Mr. Obama, although he is probably regretting the three visits he made there. It certainly was not a referendum on Republican orthodoxy, since Mr. Christie did not run as a social conservative. And while Mr. Christie did run a traditional anti-tax campaign, most voters polled on the eve of the election said they did not know much about his views.

In Virginia, Republican Robert McDonnell also avoided trademark social conservative issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. His two main pledges were to create jobs and fix the public transportation system. He handily beat R. Creigh Deeds, even in the state’s more Democratic and liberal precincts.

One race, a special election for the House of Representatives in upstate New York, did turn on an ideological divide — but it was within the Republican Party. The party’s leadership drove its candidate, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, out of the race because she crossed the line on issues like abortion. The anointed conservative, Douglas Hoffman, then lost to the Democrat, Bill Owens.

So what does this all mean for next year’s election? Above all, it means that voters want their leaders to focus on sound policy making, not party orthodoxy. And the No. 1 issue in every poll is the economy.

That means that Mr. Obama and Democrats in Congress should not draw the wrong conclusion and get timid about vital tasks like health care reform or more stimulus spending to ensure that any recovery also creates more jobs. At some point, they are going to have to bite the bullet and raise taxes to pay for all of this.

Mr. Christie and Mr. McDonnell, who promised to do more for their citizens, will also have to deliver. And we suspect that they are going to find it very hard do that and cut taxes. The voters are not in a forgiving mood.

    The Off-Off-Year Elections, NYT, 5.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/opinion/05thu1.html






Energized G.O.P. Looking to Avoid an Intraparty Feud


November 5, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Republicans emerged from Tuesday’s elections energized by victories in Virginia and New Jersey, but their leaders immediately began maneuvering to avoid a prolonged battle with conservative activists over what the party stands for and how to regain power.

The victories, in races for governor, were cast by the party’s national chairman, Michael Steele, as a sign of a “Republican renaissance.” In New Jersey, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, was toppled by the Republican nominee, Christopher J. Christie. In Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell, the Republican, defeated his Democratic opponent, R. Creigh Deeds.

Republicans said the victories showed that President Obama and his party were vulnerable on the economy, government spending and other issues.

Yet throughout the day Wednesday, Republicans grappled with the disappointing outcome of a special election for what had been a reliably Republican House seat in upstate New York. That contest became a battleground between the party establishment and a conservative insurgency demanding more ideological purity from candidates.

The race was won by a Democrat, Bill Owens, after the Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, a moderate, quit as conservative leaders and grass-roots organizations rallied around Douglas L. Hoffman, who ran on the Conservative Party line.

Despite Mr. Hoffman’s loss, many conservatives promised to press on with opposition to centrist Republican candidates. That vow intensified concerns among party leaders that the opportunities they see coming out of Tuesday’s results could be dimmed by intramural battles over whether to reach for the political center or do more to motivate the base on the party’s right.

“When our party is united, whether you run in a Northern state or a Southern state, our party can win,” said the House Republican whip, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia. “But when you are divided, you can lose a seat that has been in the Republican column for quite a long time.”

The debate has been fueled by a somewhat inchoate populist anger that has taken hold among grass-roots conservatives, encouraged in part by political leaders like Sarah Palin, the party’s vice-presidential nominee last year, and commentators like Glenn Beck of Fox News. In that sense, the divisions within the party extend beyond the traditional strains between the shrinking ranks of Republican moderates and the social and economic conservatives who have dominated the party in recent years.

The situation is all the more complicated because, after the party’s defeats in 2008, it has no dominant leaders or cohesive establishment to bridge the divides and help articulate a positive agenda. In that vacuum, the conservative activists and party leaders were both jockeying for advantage on Wednesday.

Mr. Steele, the party chairman, said in an interview that the outcome in New Jersey and Virginia, where Mr. Christie and Mr. McDonnell had played down their conservative views on social issues, instead focusing on the economy, should go a long way toward relieving the divisions and showing the party how to win next year.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a potential 2012 presidential candidate who backed Mr. Hoffman in the New York race, told reporters in Iowa that he would not get involved in an intraparty battle again. He said the New York contest, as a special election, had been unusual in that the nominee had been chosen by party leaders rather than by primary.

Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor who is also a possible 2012 contender, urged Republicans not to support third-party candidates, warning that doing so was a recipe for defeat. “There is potential danger if people believe the way to get the attention of Washington is through third-party candidates,” he said. “Typically what a third-party candidate does is ensure the election of the one you like the least.”

But Mr. Huckabee, eager not to alienate conservatives, made clear that he would support primary challenges to Republican candidates who he thought strayed from the party’s values. As one example, he said he was supporting a conservative challenger to Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, who is seeking the nomination for a Senate seat in a primary that is shaping up as the next big showdown between Republicans.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told ABC News that the committee would not spend money on behalf of candidates it is supporting in contested Republican primaries, like Mr. Crist in Florida. Although the committee typically does not spend money in a primary, Republicans said Mr. Cornyn’s remark was intended to relieve some of the anger being directed at the party establishment.

Ms. Palin, who had endorsed Mr. Hoffman in the upstate New York race, indicated that she had not been dissuaded by his loss.

“To the tireless grass-roots patriots who worked so hard in that race and to future citizen-candidates like Doug,” she wrote on her Facebook page, “please remember Reagan’s words of encouragement after his defeat in 1976: the cause goes on.”

And Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, announced that he was endorsing Chuck DeVore, a conservative, in the California race for a Senate seat. Mr. DeVore is opposing Carly Fiorina, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, who was encouraged by party leaders to seek the nomination.

Other conservatives, too, were not deterred by the New York defeat. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative organization that strongly supported Mr. Hoffman, said that conservative activists intended to play a role in Republican primary and general elections next year and that it was just as important to keep unacceptable politicians out of Congress as to help others win.

Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, another conservative group that campaigned heavily on behalf of Mr. Hoffman, said the organization was now considering issuing endorsements in contested Senate and House Republican races in New Hampshire, Florida, Kentucky and California.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had endorsed the moderate Republican in the New York race, said the opportunity suggested by the results in New Jersey and Virginia should be an impetus to resolve tensions.

“I think the conservative movement and the Republican leadership can pretty rapidly come to an agreement that defeating Pelosi in 2010 and Obama in 2012 is worth sorting things out for,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Mr. Gingrich said that throughout history, political leaders had emerged to steer parties to power by reconciling competing factions. Asked which Republicans had the stature to do so now, he replied: “That will happen. Or it will not.”

Mr. Steele said he hoped that the party would be able to skirt further divisive battles.

“You know what the reality is?” he said. “This is healthy, in that it exposes fault lines that we can learn to avoid.”


Carl Hulse and Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.

    Energized G.O.P. Looking to Avoid an Intraparty Feud, NYT, 5.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/us/politics/05repubs.html






G.O.P. Wins Two Key Governors’ Races; Bloomberg Prevails in a Close Contest


November 4, 2009
The New York Times


Republicans swept contests for governor in New Jersey and Virginia on Tuesday as voters went to the polls filled with economic uncertainty, dealing President Obama a setback and building momentum for a Republican comeback attempt in next year’s midterm Congressional elections.

But in a closely watched Congressional race in upstate New York, a Democrat who received a late push from the White House triumphed over a conservative candidate who attracted national backers ranging from Rush Limbaugh to Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor.

In New Jersey, a former federal prosecutor, Christopher J. Christie, became the first Republican to win statewide in 12 years by vowing to attack the state’s fiscal problems with the same aggressiveness he used to lock up corrupt politicians.

He overcame a huge Democratic voter advantage and a relentless barrage of negative commercials to defeat Jon S. Corzine, an unpopular incumbent who outspent him by more than two to one and drew heavily on political help from the White House, including three visits to the state from President Obama.

“We are in a crisis; the times are extraordinarily difficult, but I stand here tonight full of hope for the future,” said Mr. Christie, 47, who will become New Jersey’s 55th governor. “Tomorrow begins the task of fixing a broken state.”

Mr. Corzine, 62, who entered politics a decade ago after a career at Goldman Sachs, conceded at 10:55 p.m. “It has been quite a journey,” he said. “There’s a bright future ahead for New Jersey if we stay focused on people’s lives, and I’m telling you, I’m going to do that for the rest of my life.”

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Christie had 49 percent of the vote, Mr. Corzine 44 percent.

In Virginia, where Mr. Obama was the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since 1964, Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican and former state attorney general, rolled to victory over R. Creigh Deeds, a veteran state senator.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. McDonnell had 59 percent and Mr. Deeds 41 percent. Mr. McDonnell’s victory, along with Republican victories in the races for attorney general and lieutenant governor, ended eight years of Democratic control in Richmond.

In New York’s 23rd Congressional District, Douglas L. Hoffman, a little known accountant running on the Conservative Party line, conceded after midnight to his Democratic rival, Bill Owens, after driving a moderate Republican from the race.

The three races marked the first major elections since the country plunged into the worst recession in decades, and basic economic issues — job losses, foreclosures, taxes — were front and center.

In Virginia, Mr. McDonnell, avoided divisive social issues, concentrating instead on his plans to create jobs, improve the economy and fix the state’s transportation problems.

In New Jersey, Mr. Christie held Mr. Corzine, a onetime Goldman Sachs chief executive, accountable for rising unemployment, persistent budget deficits, and his failure to gain control over skyrocketing property taxes, the nation’s highest. Voters embraced Mr. Christie even though he offered little detail about how he would fix the state’s chronic financial problems and instead appealed to voters hungry for change.

Voters in both states remained strongly supportive of President Obama, exit polls conducted by Edison Research showed, though they said that was not a factor in their decisions. But independent voters, who in New Jersey favored the president in 2008 and in Virginia split between Mr. Obama and John McCain, delivered strong margins for both Mr. Christie and Mr. McDonnell, the surveys showed.

In New Jersey, a sprawling corruption case begun by Mr. Christie, which culminated in July with the arrests of dozens of politicians and others, appeared to have taken its toll on the Democratic get-out-the-vote machinery. In Hudson County, a party bastion where a number of Democratic officials were charged, only 39 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, county officials said.

The races in New Jersey, Virginia and New York attracted intense interest because they provided the first test of President Obama’s ability to transfer the excitement he unleashed last year to other Democratic candidates.

The White House, to varying degrees, became involved in all three races, worried that defeats would undermine the public’s perceptions of the president’s political clout and his ability to pass major legislation.

With polls of the Virginia race showing Mr. Deeds falling further behind, the White House refrained from an all-out effort on his behalf, though Mr. Obama campaigned with Mr. Deeds twice.

In New York, however, the president’s aides played a pivotal role in helping Mr. Owens over the weekend, engineering a surprise endorsement from the moderate Republican who had abandoned the race under pressure from conservatives.

And in New Jersey, the White House took a firm hand in guiding Mr. Corzine’s re-election campaign, culminating in rallies featuring the president campaigning with the governor in Newark and Camden on Sunday.

The victor in Virginia, Mr. McDonnell, 55, is a social and fiscal conservative, but ran on a more moderate platform that appealed to voters in the suburbs in Fairfax County, where he was raised. By contrast, Mr. Deeds, 51, had a difficult time introducing himself to densely populated Northern Virginia.

Mr. Deeds sought to portray Mr. McDonnell as a radical conservative by publicizing his 20-year-old master’s thesis, which criticized working women and single mothers. But polls showed voters found Mr. Deeds’s commercials too negative.

The New York race emerged in the national spotlight after President Obama appointed the district’s long-serving congressman, John M. McHugh, a Republican, as secretary of the Army. Almost immediately after local Republican leaders chose Dede Scozzafava, a supporter of gay rights and abortion rights who embraced the federal stimulus package, she came under attack by conservatives as heretical.

Leading conservative voices lined up behind Mr. Hoffman, of Lake Placid, and opponents of same-sex marriage and abortion flooded the district with volunteers from across the country.

In the final days of the campaign, Ms. Scozzafava stunned her party by withdrawing from the race and then backing Mr. Owens. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. traveled to Watertown on Monday to rally Democrats and disgruntled Republicans, but the event drew only about 200 people.

In New Jersey, Mr. Christie attacked Mr. Corzine’s economic leadership, saying he had driven jobs and residents from the state. The governor countered that Mr. Christie offered no viable plan for digging New Jersey out of its enormous financial hole.

Christopher J. Daggett, a former state and federal environmental official, made a splash with a plan to cut property taxes and a strong debate performance, but was hobbled by weak fund-raising. After reaching 20 percent in one public-opinion poll, he failed to break out of the double digits.

New Jersey was a deep-blue state, and Mr. Obama’s election boosted Democratic registration, giving the party a 700,000-vote advantage. Mr. Corzine assailed Mr. Christie, who was named United States attorney by President George W. Bush in 2001, as a philosophical clone of Mr. Bush.

The White House, viewing New Jersey as its best hope for victory, poured resources into the race. The president’s pollster overhauled the campaign’s message, White House aides reviewed Corzine commercials and attended strategy sessions, and cabinet officials lined up to appear at Mr. Corzine’s side.

But Mr. Corzine’s abiding unpopularity — his highest approval rating followed his 2007 car accident and was chalked up to pity — suggested that even “Obama surge” voters who voted for the first time last year could not tilt the outcome in the governor’s favor.

No issue loomed larger in New Jersey than the economy, which Mr. Corzine assured residents in January ranked as his No. 1, 2 and 3 priorities. But Mr. Christie never wavered from a simple strategy: making the vote a referendum on Mr. Corzine and highlighting how his supposed Wall Street financial skills had been a bust for the state.


David Kocieniewski and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

    G.O.P. Wins Two Key Governors’ Races; Bloomberg Prevails in a Close Contest, NYT, 4.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/04/nyregion/04elect.html







A Challenge to Voting Rights


April 29, 2009
The New York Times


The United States has changed a great deal since the Voting Rights Act was first passed in 1965, but minorities still face significant obstacles in registering to vote and casting ballots. It would be outrageous overreaching — the sort of thing Republicans deride as judicial activism — if the Supreme Court takes away the power of Congress to protect minority voters from harassment and disenfranchisement.

On Wednesday, the court is scheduled to hear arguments in a case in which a Texas utility district is challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a significant provision that requires selected jurisdictions across the country to “preclear” new voting rules with the Justice Department or a federal court. Congress adopted the preclearance requirement to prevent the adoption of rules that make it harder for minorities to vote in places that have a history of doing just that. The utility district argues that Congress is exceeding its authority.

Congress has broad power to protect minority voters. After the Civil War, the Constitution was amended for the express purpose of authorizing Congress to pass laws to help bring black Americans up to full citizenship — including eradicating the obstacles to voting. In light of the direct mandate of the 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment, it is not surprising that the Supreme Court has upheld Section 5 on four separate occasions.

Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act most recently in 2006, by a vote of 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate. Before that, it conducted an intensive investigation to determine whether the law was still needed. The record of obstacles to minority voting that it developed is incontrovertible.

Some of the obstacles minority voters face at the ballot box have gotten significant coverage in the news media. Florida and Ohio made headlines with the roadblocks they put in the way of voter registration drives that have a strong record of signing up poor and minority voters. Other assaults on minority voting rights have attracted little attention. In 2001, the white leaders of Kilmichael, Miss., tried to cancel an election after black citizens became a majority. When the town voted — thanks to the Voting Rights Act — it elected its first black mayor.

The election of the first African-American president last year was an undeniable sign of racial progress. But even that breakthrough cannot ensure that legislative districts will not be gerrymandered, voting rolls purged or election procedures modified at the state and local levels in ways that diminish the rights of minorities. For that, as Congress wisely recognized, we still need the Voting Rights Act.

    A Challenge to Voting Rights, NYT, 29.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/opinion/29wed2.html






Unapologetic and Unrestrained: Cheney Unbound


April 24, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — On the mornings he is in town, Dick Cheney wakes up at 6, climbs into his black sport utility vehicle and drives himself to a Starbucks near his McLean, Va., home. He returns with a pair of grande skim lattes — decaf for him, regular for his wife, Lynne — and settles into work in the sun-drenched office above his garage, penning his memoir in longhand on yellow legal pads.

It is the kind of scene that Americans have come to expect from their elder statesmen: a quiet, unassuming return to private life after giving up power. Except, that is, for the quiet and unassuming part.

In the three months since leaving office, Mr. Cheney has upended the old Washington script for former presidents and vice presidents, using a series of interviews — the first just two weeks after leaving office — to kick off one last campaign, not for elective office, but on behalf of his own legacy. In the process, he has become a vocal leader of the opposition to President Obama, rallying conservatives as they search for leadership and heartening Democrats who see him as the ideal political foil.

Even before Mr. Obama released secret memorandums on the interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration, Mr. Cheney, as part of researching his memoir, had asked the National Archives to declassify two other documents he contends would show that harsh interrogations produced useful information, according to his daughter Liz, who is helping him organize and write the memoir. The documents do not reveal specific tactics, Ms. Cheney said.

When the Obama administration released the memos, Mr. Cheney asked the archives to expedite his request and made a splash this week by announcing it on Fox News in an interview with Sean Hannity.

Former President George W. Bush has said that Mr. Obama “deserves my silence,” but Mr. Cheney, who told Mr. Hannity he has spoken with Mr. Bush just once since leaving office, does not share that view.

“I think he feels compelled to make clear why, particularly related to national security issues, it is so important that we don’t abandon those policies and that we remember the fact that we are at war,” Ms. Cheney said Thursday. “When he sees the current administration making decisions that he believes are making the nation less safe, he does not believe there is any obligation under those circumstances to be silent.”

At a time when his party has no high-profile leaders on Capitol Hill, Mr. Cheney is in effect the ranking Republican speaking out against Mr. Obama. His message has been amplified — on television, in op-ed pieces and elsewhere — by an informal band of supporters, including Ms. Cheney.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly repudiated the Bush administration; in the interviews, Mr. Cheney has hit back. Speaking to Politico in February, he warned of a “high probability” of another terrorist attack. On CNN, he suggested that Mr. Obama was using the economic crisis to justify a big expansion of government. On Fox, he agreed when Mr. Hannity asked if Mr. Obama was “telegraphing weakness.”

To Democrats, Mr. Cheney is the perfect person to remind the nation of all the reasons Republicans were turned out of office. “I think the country has rendered a pretty clear verdict last fall on Cheney and Cheneyism,” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod.

Even some Republicans say they wish the former vice president would disappear. Among them is Meghan McCain, the daughter of the Republicans’ 2008 presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, who appeared Thursday on the ABC show “The View.”

“You had your eight years,” Ms. McCain declared. “Go away.”

Other former vice presidents have kept a much lower profile, at least this early after leaving office. Al Gore was supportive of Mr. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but in September 2002 delivered a speech critical of Mr. Bush’s plans for the Iraq war. After John F. Kennedy bungled the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, Richard M. Nixon, the former vice president who lost to Mr. Kennedy, visited the new president at the White House and said the nation should support him.

But some conservatives, feeling beleaguered these days, are grateful that Mr. Cheney is speaking out. John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a close ally of his, said that after having to hew publicly to Mr. Bush’s views, Mr. Cheney might be feeling liberated. “It’s about time he had a chance to get his voice back,” Mr. Bolton said. “There’s no cone of silence now.”

For its part, the Obama White House is trying to figure out just how to handle the lifting of the cone. After the former vice president appeared on CNN last month, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was dismissive, declaring, “I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal.”

But now Mr. Cheney is gaining some traction with his argument that the Obama White House, which prides itself on transparency, should declassify the memorandums he is seeking. Mr. Gibbs faced a string of questions Thursday about whether Mr. Obama had read them (he said he did not know), and Mr. Axelrod said the White House would consider declassifying them after intelligence and national security agencies had weighed in.

As for Mr. Cheney, he does not have any more interviews scheduled, although his daughter said he was flooded with requests. Aside from working on his book, he has been meeting with foreign dignitaries, hosting policy luncheons around his kitchen table (it seats 10) and spending a fair amount of time at his other homes, in Wyoming and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He will be making a speech in New York soon, his daughter said, and he has a couple of fishing trips planned for May.

    Unapologetic and Unrestrained: Cheney Unbound, NYT, 24.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/24/us/24cheney.html?hp






On Politics

New Face of G.O.P. Brings a Brash Style


February 4, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The election last week of Michael Steele to be chairman of the Republican National Committee drew considerable notice, not surprisingly: he is the first African-American to hold that position in the party’s 155-year history.

Yet there are other ways that the selection of Mr. Steele, a former lieutenant governor from Maryland who lost a bid for the Senate in 2006, represents a break from the Republican past. And those could prove to be more significant than race, as the Republicans debate in the weeks ahead how much “opposition” they should put in the phrase “loyal opposition.” They face a president who is extraordinarily popular and a nation that appears weary of partisan politics as it confronts an economic crisis.

With Mr. Steele, the Republican Party has turned to someone who is markedly different from his recent predecessors in style and temperament. He is brash and brawny, takes chances that occasionally get him in trouble, and clearly relishes the idea of being portrayed as the fighting counterpoint to President Obama and the Democratic Party. This is not someone who is going to be spending a lot of time talking about microtargeting and the other mechanical aspects of politics.

The new face of the Republican Party does not seem to share the hunger for bipartisanship that Mr. Obama has made one of the stylistic touchstones of his first weeks in office. That became clear from the moment Mr. Steele took the job on Friday, as he all but invited the president of the United States to join him in the boxing ring.

“It’s going to be an honor to spar with him,” he said, before throwing down the gauntlet to Mr. Obama with a quotation from, apparently, an in-your-face late-1980’s rap song by Kool Moe Dee: “How ya like me now?” (Confession: A certain reporter initially suggested that Mr. Steele was invoking the country star Toby Keith, a reference that was convincingly challenged in a barrage of e-mail messages from readers.)

The stylistic and philosophical implications of the choice became even clearer when Mr. Steele appeared before House Republicans at a retreat on Saturday. Mr. Steele celebrated their refusal to give Mr. Obama a single vote for his economic recovery plan — albeit in language that was perhaps a tad eyebrow-raising, given the soberness of the country’s economic problems and the concern of some Republicans that the party was skating on thin ice.

“The goose egg you laid on the president’s desk was just beautiful,” he said.

(It is difficult to imagine Ken Mehlman, the buttoned-down lawyer who led the party during much happier days from 2005 to 2007, saying anything quite that colorful.)

This was the same Mr. Steele who, if he didn’t invent what became the signature chant of the Republican presidential campaign, certainly popularized it when he spoke at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota. “Drill, baby, drill,” he said, grinning broadly as the crowd picked up the slogan and repeated it for nearly 30 seconds.

This free-spirited way has gotten him in trouble. He ruffled Republican feathers in 2006 when he had a lunch with reporters at a fancy Washington D.C. restaurant in which he systematically disparaged President George W. Bush and his administration. The single condition he imposed on reporters at the lunch was that his remarks be attributed only to a “Republican Senate candidate” — though within 12 hours the world knew which Republican Senate candidate was trash-talking his president.

For a party as dispirited as his, Mr. Steele is certainly something of a tonic. The enthusiastic reception that greeted his elbows-out acceptance speech was a marked contrast to days of meetings that until that point had bordered between morose and laconic.

Yet while there are benefits to having a party leader who is given to a bit of showmanship — he will have little trouble getting bookings on the Sunday talk shows — there are arguably some risks here. When he spoke to Republicans on Saturday, he did something that some of his more cautious predecessors might have avoided: He set down out three markers to judge him by this year.

His three big targets, he announced, were the upstate New York Congressional district left vacant when Representative Kristen Gillibrand was tapped to replace Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey. “I’m in the business of winning elections,” he said.

That New York Congressional seat, a relatively conservative district that had only recently gone Democratic, seems like a prime target for the Republican Party. Virginia and New Jersey are more problematic, and Mr. Steele could find himself wishing he had not bet on a trifecta come November.

Most significant, though, is where Mr. Steele placed himself in the debate about how aggressively the Republicans should resist Mr. Obama and his financial stimulus plan. Mr. Obama’s aides, who have conspicuously resisted getting drawn into the fight Mr. Steele is trying to pick, described the remarks as an attempt by Mr. Steele — who is viewed by some conservatives as not being conservative enough — to shore up his standing with his base.

Mr. Steele is taking over his party at what could prove to be an historically pivotal moment. A Gallup Poll released last week found that 36 percent of respondents identified themselves as Democrats, compared with 28 percent who said they were Republicans. That is the largest lead Democrats have enjoyed in that poll since 1983. And Mr. Obama’s popularity cuts across party lines.

“The American people are patient to turn this thing around,” said David Plouffe, who was Mr. Obama’s campaign manager. “What they are not patient for is more of the same Washington politics. The real danger here — particularly for those who supported the economic policies responsible for getting us here — is to not be part of doing all you can to dig this country out of this economic hole. You seem to be sailing directly into the headwinds of where the American people are.”

If the economic plan passes Congress without significant Republican support and then does little to help the economy over the next two years, Mr. Steele’s combative style could help conservatives build a case for a return to power. If the economic plan pays off, though, many Democrats suggest that he may find himself sharing blame for a miscalculation that could set the Republican Party back for a long while to come.

    New Face of G.O.P. Brings a Brash Style, NYT, 4.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/us/politics/03web-nagourney.html






Reid Is GOP Target in 2010 Election


February 3, 2009
Filed at 12:39 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is among Republicans' biggest targets in 2010, but a GOP takedown is hardly a guarantee.

As Reid, 69, prepares to seek a fifth term, analysts say the Senate's leading Democratic voice has turned off some voters in libertarian-leaning Nevada and undercut his slogan from campaigns past: ''Harry Reid, Independent like Nevada.''

Last week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee began airing its first critical ad against Reid, lambasting him as a ''super-spending partisan.'' Committee spokesman Brian Walsh promised that Reid would have ''a very competitive race on his hands.''

But for all the Republicans' tough talk, Reid, one of Capitol Hill's wiliest politicians, has ensured that he'll be difficult, if not impossible, to beat.

Reid was responsible for bringing early presidential caucuses to Nevada, a move that gave Nevada Democrats a 100,000-voter advantage over a weakened state GOP. Just a year ago, Democrats were fewer than 5,000 voters ahead of Republicans.

The immediate beneficiary was President Barack Obama, who won the state last November, but the new voters are sure to help Reid as well.

Currently, Reid has no Republican opponent -- thanks, in part, to his own maneuvering.

Reid helped defeat former Nevada GOP Rep. Jon Porter in 2008, leaving one potential 2010 challenger in a weakened position to launch a campaign. Before that loss, Porter was softened up by an energetic 2006 challenge from Reid's then-30-year-old press secretary, Tessa Hafen, who ran at Reid's urging.

Another potential GOP challenger, state Sen. Joe Heck, also went down to defeat last year in a relentlessly negative campaign mounted by the Nevada Democratic Party, which is loyal to Reid.

Nevada's Republican lieutenant governor, Brian Krolicki, was indicted by the Democratic state attorney general shortly after announcing he might run against Reid. Krolicki claimed Reid was behind felony charges related to his handling of a state college savings program when he was state treasurer, something Reid strongly denied.

Then there was the case of U.S. Attorney Greg Brower, a former GOP assemblyman who also was on some lists of possible candidates. Earlier this month, Obama's transition team surprised some by asking Brower, appointed by President George W. Bush, to stay on. Reid had requested that Brower keep his job.

Republicans in Washington and Nevada insist there's plenty of time for a strong candidate to emerge. They hope to unite behind someone soon.

That person will have to start raising money immediately. Reid already has raised $3.3 million -- nearly half the total he spent in his last re-election race in 2004.

The Republican challenger won't be able to depend on a flood of campaign cash from the state's key gambling and mining industries. Reid is cozy with both.

''He's always a jump ahead of the competition,'' observed Ted Jelen, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Anyone who opposes Reid will have difficulty raising money within Nevada, said longtime GOP consultant and gambling industry insider Sig Rogich, who plans to vote for Reid.

Nevada Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons is so unpopular due to scandals and budget deficits that he'll probably be opposed in the GOP primary next year -- a contest that is sure to draw GOP time and money from the Senate race. One of Reid's sons, Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, is a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Still, Reid's approval numbers have hovered around 50 percent. ''It doesn't take rocket science to know when somebody, at least their numbers, are vulnerable,'' says Nevada's junior senator, Republican John Ensign.

Ensign declined to identify possible GOP opponents. But it was Ensign's own razor-thin, 428-vote Senate loss to Reid in 1998 that ensured Reid would never again take victory for granted.

Since becoming Senate Democratic leader in 2004 and then majority leader in 2006, Reid has worked to avoid the fate of his predecessor, Tom Daschle, who was defeated in his home state of South Dakota in 2004.

Even while playing his national role sometimes to excess -- he once called Bush a ''loser'' -- Reid has been careful to pay attention to Nevada issues. He has tried to kill a planned nuclear waste dump outside Las Vegas by sapping it of funding. He has introduced key land bills that have enabled growth and has promised plenty of help for Nevada in the stimulus bill Congress is crafting.

''There isn't anything that comes out of here that I don't have my hand in,'' Reid said last week on a conference call with reporters and state officials.

Reid recently hired campaign manager Brandon Hall, who helped engineer Democrat Mark Begich's triumph over longtime Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in Alaska last year. Reid's team is already getting outside help: the Service Employees International Union used its first television ad of the 2010 cycle to defend Reid as a champion of the middle class after the National Republican Senatorial Committee went after him on the air last week.


Kathleen Hennessey reported from Las Vegas.

    Reid Is GOP Target in 2010 Election, NYT, 3.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/02/03/washington/AP-Reid-Re-election.html