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,
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
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.
Elections, NYT, 5.11.2009,
Energized G.O.P. Looking to Avoid an Intraparty Feud
November 5, 2009
The New York Times
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mr. Steele said he hoped that the party would be able to skirt further divisive
“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,
G.O.P. Wins Two Key Governors’ Races; Bloomberg Prevails in a
November 4, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER and IAN URBINA
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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,
Unapologetic and Unrestrained: Cheney Unbound
April 24, 2009
The New York Times
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
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
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
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.
Unrestrained: Cheney Unbound, NYT, 24.4.2009,
New Face of
G.O.P. Brings a Brash Style
February 4, 2009
The New York Times
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
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
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
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
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,
Reid Is GOP Target in 2010 Election
February 3, 2009
Filed at 12:39 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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
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
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
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,