“First Read” is a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news. Please let us know what you think. Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.  To bookmark First Read, click here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, Bill Hatfield and Katie Adams

First Glance
It’s rare when Arnold Schwarzenegger gets upstaged -- especially in his own state -- but that’s exactly what happened yesterday when a little news event in Santa Maria, CA sucked the oxygen out of his three-minute address last night calling for a special election. Yet now with that election scheduled for November 8, it’s safe to say we’ve reached a new stage in this off year. So far in 2005, politics has mostly centered on policy and process. Social Security. Judges. Moral values. Dean. Bolton. But in addition to Schwarzenegger’s special election, primaries today in Ohio and Virginia allow us to turn our attention the kind of story political reporters love the best: the horse race.

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

In Ohio, 11 Republicans compete to succeed GOP Rep. Rob Portman (who left his seat to become US Trade Representative), and the two most prominent candidates are Pat DeWine and former Congressman Bob McEwen. DeWine’s name should ring a bell: He’s the son of Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine (R), a member of the Gang of 14’s agreement on the judicial filibuster. Even though the Gang of 14 likely won’t be the decisive issue in this race, and even though son Pat has distanced himself from the agreement, Amy Walter of the non-partisan Cook Political Report believes it could impact the contest, especially since this district is so conservative. “I think we can use [the primary] as a guidepost on this issue and see its political impact,” she says. “I think it is interesting for all the focus that’s been on the filibuster.” Polls open at 6:30 am and close at 7:30 pm.

The other key contest today is the GOP gubernatorial primary in Virginia, where Attorney General Jerry Kilgore faces a challenge from Warrenton Mayor George Fitch, who’s perhaps most famous for creating the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the 1988 Olympics. Fitch’s odds of beating the Establishment candidate Kilgore are probably as good as the Jamaicans ever winning gold in cross-country skiing. But observers will certainly judge the results to gauge Kilgore’s strength. Polls there open at 6:00 am and close at 7:00 pm. The winner in this primary faces Democrat Tim Kaine (who faces no opposition today) and Independent Russ Potts (who could play spoiler in November).

Even Bush’s visit to Pennsylvania today is tied to the horse race. At 10:50 am, he attends a luncheon fundraiser in Bryn Mawr, PA for Sen. Rick Santorum (R), whose re-election bid will be one of the most high-profile contests of 2006. Bush then travels to Penn State University, where he holds another Social Security event -- his 35th since his State of the Union address -- at 2:20 pm. And then he returns to DC to attend a fundraising dinner at 6:30 pm for both the National Republican Congressional Committee (which will rake in about $14 million) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (which will bring in about $9 million). One of the attendees: porn star Mary Carey, who ran for governor in the 2003 California recall. We’re not kidding. The papers also report that the musical guest will be Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. (Go Daddy-O!)

With Bush raising money for Santorum, the NRCC, and the NRSC, the Democratic National Committee will release a memo today noting that five of Bush’s big time fundraisers -- Thomas Noe, Sam and Charles Wyly, Jack Abramoff, and Ralph Reed -- have found themselves under federal investigations for illegal contributions, tax evasion, and various corruption scandals. (Of course, there’s been plenty of talk that the DNC may be having fundraising woes of its own, although not for nefarious reasons.)

Among the events on the Hill today, NBC’s Mike Viqueira notes that Al Gore will attend a closed-door presentation to House Science committee Democrats on global warming. In addition, Sens. Frist and McCain discuss John Bolton’s nomination at 10:30 am. NBC’s Ken Strickland reports, however, that the fundamental problem with that nomination still remains: The Democrats want to see classified materials about Bolton that the Administration has refused to share. Strickland also says the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gets an update on the six-party talks with North Korea regarding its nuclear ambitions. The Senate meets at 9:45 am; the House meets at 9:00 am.

It's the economy
The Wall Street Journal notes that an increase in tax revenue (because of hot housing markets and higher income) is helping states economically. "The latest numbers mark a healthy turnaround from just a few years ago when many states were struggling. After the tech bubble burst in 2000, followed by the plunge in the stock market and recession, tax collections fell sharply across the country. But how long states will enjoy the current boon is unclear."

The Wall Street Journal also says that, per a report to be released today, companies will continue hiring at stable levels in the third quarter.

The Christian Science Monitor writes that Fed chief Alan Greenspan has been voicing concerns about the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the United States. “America's powerful central banker hasn't suddenly lurched to the left of Democratic National Committee chief Howard Dean… But the fact that Mr. Greenspan speaks about this topic at all may show how much the growing concentration of national wealth at the top, combined with the uncertainties of increased globalization, worries economic policymakers as they peer into the future.”

Bush agenda
The Washington Post says that tonight’s fundraiser for the House and Senate GOP campaign committees will be attended by 5,500 donors who are ponying up $2,500 per plate. “Because of the new fundraising limits Bush signed into law in 2002, the parties can no longer rely on mega-donors who once gave by the hundreds of thousands. Now much of the money is raised by selling $2,500-a-plate dinner tickets, a laborious process that is consuming an increasing amount of lawmakers' time and creativity.”

The Hill notes that the NRSC-NRCC fundraiser comes amid “low congressional approval ratings and uncertainty about President Bush’s strength on Capitol Hill.”

And the New York Daily News writes about porn star Mary Carey’s appearance at tonight’s fundraiser. “‘I'm going to show Washington that a porn star is more than someone who just flashes her boobs,’ the bubbly buxom blond told the Daily News. ‘In real life, I'm proper, quiet and demure, but nobody sees that… We can show Washington that we're normal people, too.’”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, meanwhile, previews Bush's twin stops in Pennsylvania today -- to raise money for Santorum and also promote his Social Security plan.

In other news, the AP says that Senate Majority Frist wants a vote on John Bolton’s nomination this week, but it also notes that Republicans still might not have the 60 votes required to end debate on the nomination.

The Wall Street Journal says that Republicans, facing poor poll numbers on Social Security and Iraq, are lobbying the White House to push for voter-friendly bills, which might help them in the 2006 mid-terms. "Though White House aides maintain that Democrats have more to lose if Washington devolves into gridlock, some administration officials agree that passage of a few bread-and-butter bills might be the perfect tonic for both the president and Republican lawmakers who face election next year."

Roll Call examines the one obstacle to passing a Senate energy bill: Sen. Bill Nelson’s objection to the bill’s measures on offshore drilling. “Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) may have successfully avoided the traditional Senate land mines, opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and giving the makers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether immunity from lawsuits, but it looks like Nelson is going to try to turn the issue of offshore oil and natural gas drilling into this year’s ANWR and MTBE.”

Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Times notes there are several reasons why the bill might pass this year. “Lawmakers from both parties are eager to show that they feel the public's pain at the pumps, even though the bill would do little in the short term to reduce gasoline prices. [The bill] also includes a number of measures that enjoy bipartisan support.” Yet the paper also says that the House’s demand for liability protection for producers of the fuel additive MTBE could doom the final legislation.

The Boston Globe details the three proposed amendments to the energy bill that will be discussed in the Senate today. "The proposals vary considerably in the severity of actions they would require of greenhouse gas producers, and each would have to overcome fierce opposition from both the Bush administration and House leadership to become law."

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, representatives from environmental and public interest groups voiced mixed opinions about the energy bill. David Hamilton of the Sierra Club, which sponsored the call, criticized the bill for failing to adequately address energy efficiency. Anna Aurilio, legislative director for US PIRG, said they'll release a letter signed by 300 groups, which will pinpoint key solutions to global warming -- by reducing America’s dependency on oil, emphasizing energy security, and defining energy efficiency standards.

The Democrats
Is a strategy developing here? Yesterday, we received three different Republican emails comparing DNC chair Howard Dean to other prominent Democratic leaders. The first was a release from the NRSC linking Minority Leader Reid’s statements with Dean’s. The second was a release from the RNC arguing that Hillary Clinton was drawing Dean comparisons. And the third, from South Carolina’s GOP, linked Dean to state Democratic Party chairman Joe Erwin. “Erwin Echoing Dean,” its release said.

The Boston Herald reports that Dean will host a fundraiser next week in Boston, where he'll give a speech on the future of the DNC. Sens. Kerry and Kennedy will be noticeably absent from the event. The paper adds that Dean will also host fundraisers this weekend in Houston, Dallas, and Austin.

The Hill reports that the Democratic 527 group America Coming Together has raised nearly $6 million since January and will spend approximately $30 million this year and next. The paper notes this expenditure is about half of what ACT spent last year, but the money is still anticipated to make a major impact in the mid-term elections. “One GOP campaign expert said he expected so-called ‘527’ groups, named after a section of the tax code, to have a bigger impact on the midterm elections than they had on last year’s presidential race because he predicted their spending would make up a greater percentage of total political spending.”

Ethics and institutions
Roll Call writes that Democrats are calling for an investigation into Rep. Duke Cunningham’s (R) sale of his San Diego home to a defense contractor, “who lost nearly $700,000 when he resold the home more than eight months later. As a senior member of the House Appropriations and Intelligence committees, Cunningham helps oversee contracts awarded to [this contractor’s firm]… In a statement released Monday, Cunningham denied any wrongdoing [and] … insisted that the house he sold … went for a price that was in line with other home sales in the area.”

Roll Call, celebrating its 50th anniversary, also recounts the top scandals since it began covering the Hill -- which include the House banking scandal, the Keating Five, and the House Post Office scandal.

“Caulifornia”
A day after he called for a special election, Schwarzenegger hits the road to campaign for agenda. His first event, at a private residence in Santee, CA, at 1:30 pm ET, will focus on the importance of California’s Prop. 13, and will also emphasize the Democrats’ attempts to raise property taxes. Then, at 9:00 pm, he gives a commencement address at Santa Monica College.

The Los Angeles Times on Schwarzenegger’s call last night for a November 8 special election: “Though the governor cannot call off the special election, he and lawmakers have until the end of August to place any compromises they negotiate on the November ballot and urge voters to choose them over the initiatives. That is what they did last year when they hammered out a deal on aid to local government.” The article also notes that Schwarzenegger’s speech was “bypassed by many television stations consumed by the Michael Jackson acquittal.”

The Washington Post points out the risks for Schwarzenegger in this special election. “The governor's once-soaring popularity ratings have dropped in recent months, and some surveys have shown that … many voters oppose a special election, which could cost the state $44 million to $80 million, according to various estimates. If his issues lose with voters in the fall, said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, ‘it makes his reelection prospects lower, and will make it harder to deal with the legislature.’”

The San Francisco Chronicle also paints the special as a "referendum" on Schwarzenegger's leadership, saying the vote will launch a "political war for control of Sacramento" with "national ramifications."

And the Chronicle provides a handy Q&A on the special election's key players and high stakes, noting it'll be the fifth special election since 1973.

2005
In the congressional primary to succeed Rep. Rob Portman, conservatives’ anger at Sen. DeWine’s role in the Gang of 14’s agreement on the filibuster isn’t the only thing that will influence this contest. So will values. Pat DeWine left his wife shortly before his third and youngest son was born in 2002, and he began a relationship with another woman who happens to a GOP political activist. However, the other frontrunner -- Bob McEwen -- is also being criticized for his role in the House banking scandal from the early 1990s. Indeed, the Cook Political Report’s Walter says that someone other than DeWine or McEwen has the chance to slip in and win the GOP nod. And in this conservative congressional district, whoever wins this primary will most likely win in the general.

Roll Call previews the primary in Ohio. “Although DeWine appeared to have all of the advantages at the outset of the special election contest - including his last name and the vast fundraising network to which it provided access - it has become increasingly difficult to determine who will emerge victorious from today’s GOP primary… Many already count DeWine out of the picture and predict that Portman’s successor will be either former Rep. Bob McEwen (R), former state Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) or state Rep. Tom Brinkman (R).”

The Hill notes that while sons and daughters of prominent Hill members often triumph in their own bids for Congress, “several sons who have tried to succeed their fathers have failed, including Scott Armey, son of former Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), and Bradley Smith, son of ex-Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.).”

Meanwhile, the Virginian-Pilot looks at the battle between Kilgore and Fitch, noting that Kilgore doesn't see his opponent as much of a match-up. "Few doubt that Kilgore will get his showdown with Kaine this fall. But a strong showing by Fitch in the primary could raise questions about whether the GOP will unite behind Kilgore."

The Washington Post: “Kilgore is running what his campaign calls ‘Operation Dry Run,’ which targets 100 precincts for intensive get-out-the-vote efforts… That will allow the Kilgore campaign -- if it wins Tuesday -- to fine-tune turnout plans for the general election Nov. 8 against Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D)…”

The Richmond Times Dispatch says voter turnout will be low -- at around 10%.

The RNC has endorsed Kilgore, and chair Ken Mehlman is in Richmond today for the primary. Tomorrow, he will participate in three unity events in the state, celebrating the slate of GOP candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments