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First Read: Incumbent losses foreshadow fall

Incumbent losses foreshadow fall. “First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 | 9:30 a.m. ETFrom Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

In today's issue:
A new concern for lawmakers: anti-incumbency
Lieberman stays in; McKinney gets ousted; House Republicans lose a moderate
The wardrobe in Crawford: suits and running shoes

First glance
Voters in three states rejected sitting lawmakers in nominating contests last night.  The losers are a centrist Democrat from the Northeast, an African-American liberal from Atlanta, and a socially moderate Republican from Michigan.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) and Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D) and Joe Schwarz (R) all lost under pretty particular circumstances.  But their losses come after more than a dozen state legislators in Pennsylvania were defeated in their primaries back in May.  Those defeats also were due to particular circumstances (anger over the lawmakers' votes to raise their own pay).  But the overall message is that voters are unhappy with the status quo, and the two parties, who went into yesterday's contests plotting how to spin the results in Connecticut, now find themselves confronting a bigger and potentially more threatening dynamic.

As we wrote here yesterday, incumbent losses in primaries are rare.  In 1998, just one member lost a primary; in 2000, three did; in 2002 (after redistricting), the number jumped to nine; and in 2004, it was two.  We're now at three this year, with more primaries still to take place -- including the Rhode Island Senate contest in which moderate Republican Lincoln Chafee may lose to a more conservative challenger.

As the majority party, the GOP is more exposed to possible losses in November, though Republicans point to Lieberman's ouster as a sign that Democratic incumbents must also watch their backs.  NBC/Wall Street Journal pollster Peter Hart (D) said yesterday, before the evening's results came in, that the Connecticut race sent a broader message to incumbents that "if you don't listen to voters and you're not in touch with voters, you're going to pay a price...  And it is more than the war.  It is a sense of, 'We are sorry and sad with the status quo and we are unhappy with the institutions.'"  Even Lieberman is now trying to turn this sentiment to his advantage, telling NBC's Matt Lauer that he's "fed up" with the way things get done in Washington.

As for the much debated meaning of the Connecticut result, whether the seat is occupied by Sen. Ned Lamont (D) or by Lieberman as an independent who caucuses with Democrats, it's likely to remain in Democratic hands.  Lieberman will file the requisite 7,500 signatures to run as an independent today.  Whether he'll follow through on such a bid remains to be seen as calls of "spoiler" build within his party.  Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger asserted to MSNBC's Chris Matthews that Lieberman's bid gives him a shot at the seat, but Schlesinger is a pretty uncredentialed candidate.  Barring some remarkable turn of events in which Republicans swap in a stronger nominee (but who?), or both Lamont and Lieberman become completely unpalatable to voters, Democrats probably don't have to worry about Connecticut going against a national tide and somehow costing them claim to a majority.

Democrats' next most immediate concern is the impact of the Senate race on their chances to oust three Connecticut Republicans from their House districts this November.  Three seats is one-fifth of the total Democrats need to net in order to retake the House.  Former GOP Rep. Tom DeLay's announcement yesterday that he won't run for his old seat and will instead support a write-in candidate, in some Democrats' eyes, virtually hands them another seat and narrows the gap to 14, raising the stakes for a Connecticut sweep.  The party's House campaign committee chair, Rahm Emanuel, will hold a press conference call at 9:45 am.  Diane Farrell, the party's nominee against Rep. Chris Shays (R), has announced her support for Lamont, noting how "Connecticut voters... have said they support change over the status quo."

And beyond that?  It's hard to predict the rest of the fallout.  Leaders of the netroots declared victory before the results even came in, based on their success in catapulting Lamont to frontrunner status in the polls.  But the 52%-48% outcome was close enough that Lieberman, as the underdog, is also claiming a victory of sorts.  MoveOn will hold a press conference call at 11:30 am.

One clear short-term cost for Democrats is the time and energy devoted to this ongoing, divisive race that could otherwise be focused on the President and the GOP at this crucial time less than three months before election day.  Democrats will try to heal the breach ASAP: The Connecticut party has scheduled a unity rally for 11:00 am.  Watch to see who shows up.

But consider that one year ago this week, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was protesting outside Bush's Crawford ranch and Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, running as a Democrat, came close to capturing a traditionally Republican-held House seat in Ohio.  Both developments captured the attention of a bored national political press corps, and the result was that Bush's August got off to an uncomfortable start on Iraq.  Now Democrats are the focus of a storyline that's captivating the press corps and handing the other party something to shoot at while they fight among themselves over which Democratic candidate is being more faithful to whom.  Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, in a breakfast speech in Cleveland this morning, decried that the Democratic tent doesn't seem to be big enough to cover Lieberman.  The RNC is going all out with talking points and a new web ad criticizing the Democratic party as captive to the left and weak on security.  Meanwhile, Bush is in Crawford inducting new members into the 100-Degree Club.

Have you checked out's political calendar lately?

Lieberman vs. Lamont
"With 745 of 748 precincts reporting..., Lamont won with 51.78 percent of the vote to 48.22 percent for Lieberman.  Statewide turnout was estimated at more than 40 percent, 15 percentage points higher than the last major statewide Democratic primary, a gubernatorial contest in 1994," says the Courant.  "A Democratic establishment that had closed ranks around Lieberman... is expected to quickly shift allegiances to Lamont and tap into his energized base of support." – Hartford Courant

The New York Times notes that Lieberman's decision to stay in the race poses a dilemma for Democrats, who "will be forced in the days ahead to choose between publicly renouncing a Democratic fixture, one popular among moderate and Jewish voters across the country, and embracing a Democrat who won a clear primary victory and has come to represent the winds of change.  Although virtually every major national Democrat is expected to endorse Mr. Lamont as the winner of the party's primary ... that is different from coming to campaign on his behalf, against Mr. Lieberman."

The Republican Jewish Coalition is already working to try to pry Jewish voters (and donors) away from the Democratic party based on last night's result.  The group announced today that they'll run ads in Jewish newspapers around the country accusing the Democratic party of being taken over by anti-war liberals.

Sen. Barack Obama's PAC will be sending Lamont a $5,000 check today, an Obama spokesperson offered this morning.

The New York Daily News: "Lamont sent an e-mail to supporters saying he hopes 'Joe's friends, neighbors and constituents will prevail upon him to reconsider [staying in the race] and unite with Democrats.'"

While Lamont's victory gives "added momentum and confidence to antiwar candidates" and is a "signal to incumbents across the country that angry voters may punish them for backing the war or for supporting President Bush," Republican officials say that "Lamont's popularity win is not a bellwether for the fall elections, and that the GOP will benefit from its traditional strength on national security," reports the Boston Globe.

The Courant's analysis: "Experts saw the extraordinary rejection of a veteran senator who won the popular vote as his party's vice presidential nominee six years ago - and made a spirited bid for the presidency two years ago - as a blow to the center-left coalition that helped Bill Clinton win two terms in the 1990s and nearly got Al Gore and Lieberman elected in 2000."

Bloomberg: "Lieberman's primary loss may polarize the war issue even more within the Democratic Party nationally.  That may enable Republicans to make Democratic divisions as much a part of the debate as [Bush's] handling of the war and complicate the congressional campaigns of some challengers...  The anti-war faction of Democrats insists their efforts -- illustrated by the Lamont candidacy -- will be more energizing than divisive for the party."

"At a minimum, the Connecticut primary is likely to ensure that Democrats of all stripes -- those who initially supported the war and those who have opposed it -- take a more aggressive posture in combating the president and his policies at home and abroad," says the Washington Post.

"The Lamont victory represents a coming of age for the Democratic Party's online activists, who had yet to score a victory in backing antiwar candidates," says the Wall Street Journal, which also notes that Lieberman's decision to run as an independent should he lose the primary marked a "turning point" that "seemed to harden some voters' belief that Mr. Lieberman was more concerned with his position in Washington than representing his constituents."

The Washington Post notes "key differences" between Lamont's campaign and Howard Dean's 2004 bid.  "Despite the national implications of Lamont's candidacy, his campaign retained a distinctly local flavor, staffed by veteran state operatives and a homegrown volunteer corps.  As the hype grew, the campaign stuck to the basics."

Perhaps it's not too surprising that this primary ended with a controversy involving the Internet as the Lieberman campaign accused Lamont supporters yesterday of hacking into their website, effectively shutting it down and crippling the campaign's outreach and communications efforts.  Sean Smith, Lieberman's campaign manager, called on Lamont to denounce the actions and "demand whoever is responsible to cease and desist immediately."  Lamont's campaign denied having anything to do with it; spokesperson Liz Dupont-Diehl issued a statement: "We strongly condemn whoever is doing this and urge them to stop.  It certainly isn't the Lamont campaign."  Lieberman's campaign filed a complaint with the US Attorney and the Connecticut Chief State's Attorney, who announced they will investigate the matter and "will seek civil and criminal penalties, where appropriate."

So what happened, exactly?'s Bob Sullivan reports that according to the "man responsible" for the site, " was overwhelmed by traffic generated by hackers early Tuesday morning, forcing him to take the site off-line."  Dan Geary of Geary Interactive said "attackers toppled the Lieberman site with requests...  He couldn't offer specifics... other than to say it involved multiple requests for Web pages, FTP files, and e-mails -- enough to effectively kill any functions involving the domain.  So the Web site troubles also affected campaign workers' e-mail, blunting last-minute, e-mail get out the vote efforts."  More: "Lieberman critics faulted the campaign for not buying enough bandwidth to handle election-day traffic, hinting that Geary confused widespread interest in the campaign with a denial-of-service attack.  Geary responded by saying the campaign had 'a very robust hosting solution,' and was paying for more than enough bandwidth to support campaign efforts."

The other contests
In Colorado yesterday, Ed Perlmutter defeated Peggy Lamm to win the Democratic nomination in what will be one of the most competitive House contests in November.  Perlmutter's opponent will be Republican Rick O'Donnell.  The Denver Post: "Signaling the fierce battle to come, Perlmutter's campaign indicated it would link O'Donnell with President Bush...  On a TV screen at Perlmutter's party was an image of Bush and O'Donnell coming off of Air Force One together, waving.  Below it was a computer with alternating images of Homer and Bart Simpson, Gilligan and the Skipper, and the Bobbsey Twins."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers McKinney's defeat in Georgia last night to former county commissioner Hank Johnson.  McKinney didn't talk to reporters until after midnight.  "Before she spoke, McKinney played 'Dear Mr. President,' an anti-President Bush song by artist Pink.  Her remarks were less a concession speech than a protest of the war in Iraq."

The Los Angeles Times says, "Some political analysts saw McKinney's defeat as a sign that African American voters in Georgia were becoming less enamored with bold civil rights-era rhetoric and instead favored a new breed of moderate politicians."

The Detroit Free Press writes up conservative Tim Walberg's victory in Michigan over more moderate incumbent Schwarz.  "Walberg... became the first Michigan congressional challenger to beat an incumbent... since Rep. Guy Vanderjagt lost to Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland, in 1992.  Schwarz's fate may have been sealed two years ago, on the night he won a six-way primary as five more conservative candidates split 71% of the overall vote.  This year, Walberg was the only one of those candidates to run again."

The AP notes that Schwarz, "who was backed by President Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, was forced to defend his views on social issues along with taxes, immigration and spending."

Also in Michigan, with 81% of precincts reporting, sheriff Mike Bouchard defeated minister Keith Butler, 60%-40%, to win the GOP nomination to face Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D).  The Free Press: "Stabenow has $4.3 million in campaign cash.  Bouchard in contrast, has virtually no money..., having spent almost all of the $2 million he raised.  He also had to take out a $200,000 home loan to get through the primary." – Detroit Free Press

In a statement yesterday, former Rep. Tom DeLay (R) said that Virginia is "where I now legally reside, pay taxes and vote;" tried to cast his actions as being in the interest of giving Texas voters a choice; tried to cast the courts as denying voters that choice; noted that the "ruling allows a Democrat - who just moved into this community - to have his name appear on the ballot;" and said that he "will take the actions necessary to remove my name from the Texas ballot."

A write-in campaign for any Republican here could be a tough go.  Democratic House campaign committee spokesman Bill Burton says it would require a multimillion dollar effort to get a candidate the exposure necessary to grab enough votes.  Billy Moore, a former Hill aide to Texas Democratic lawmakers, points out to First Read that the counties in which the "vast majority" of 22nd district voters live "use Hart Intercivic voting machines.  These use a dial tool for choosing ballot entries; it is universally panned as the most difficult to use for a write-in."

The Houston Chronicle: "First, the party will have to persuade straight-ticket Republican voters to individually select candidates in each race.  And if there are several write-in candidates, the statistical probability for success also declines.  There's also a question of how much money a candidate can raise in a shortened campaign cycle.  Democratic nominee Nick Lampson has had all summer to campaign and has $2.1 million in the bank."

DeLay "has until Aug. 25 to formally withdraw...  He said his decision to leave Congress 'was and is irrevocable, which I made clear from Day One,' although he apparently spent Monday night and Tuesday morning huddling with aides and family before deciding not to run again." – Dallas Morning News

It's the economy...
Thanks to the BP problem, add pipeline reliability to the list of known reasons -- hurricanes, strife in other nations -- to worry about oil supply disruption. – USA Today

The Wall Street Journal looks not only at the energy proposals Bush is pushing -- but at those he is not pushing.  "Whether Mr. Bush is moving rapidly enough to promote alternative energy is a subject of debate.  Critics believe that by shying away from major new federal initiatives, he won't be able to achieve the goals he talks about.  But supporters say things have gone well...  They say that by giving ethanol a high-profile boost, Mr. Bush has begun to create a new national consensus on alternative fuels.  At the same time, they say, the administration's new research spending will ensure an adequate long-term supply."

The Bush agenda
The Los Angeles Times covers Bush's induction of new members from among his staff into his 100-Degree (running) Club.

The Financial Times notes the oddity of Bush appearing at his ranch "dressed in a suit...  Mindful of the potential negative publicity of taking a holiday in the midst of the crisis in Lebanon, Mr Bush has cut short his traditional August break to just 10 days and is avoiding the traditional photo-opportunity of clearing brush in his trademark cowboy hat and jeans...  But Republican consultants doubt Mr Bush's industrious vacation schedule will have an impact on his low approval ratings, which have remained below 40 per cent for most of the last year."

The American Bar Association's House of Delegates, which is the "policy-making body for the world's largest organization of attorneys," called on "Bush and future presidents not to issue 'signing statements' that claim the power to bypass laws, and it urged Congress to pass legislation to help courts put a stop to the growing practice," reports the Boston Globe.

State Sen. Joy Padgett, Republicans' leading candidate to replace retiring Rep. Bob Ney on the ballot, may be ineligible due to "an Ohio law that barred politicians who lose one primary from entering another one during the same year...  Gov. Robert A. Taft is expected to set a date for a primary to fill the ballot vacancy." - AP

The Hill reports on GOP Sen. John McCain's efforts to court House Republicans for a presidential run.  (Unfortunately for McCain, he just lost one likely supporter in the key state of Michigan, after McCain-endorsed Rep. Joe Schwarz lost his primary last night.)

Sen. John Kerry (D) calls for an end to global warming in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, in which he addresses the three steps that are "imperative" to addressing the issue.  Continuing with his new "boldness" theme, he writes, "No more bite-sized ideas that tinker at the edges of outdated policy.  It's time to put global-climate change at the top of the national agenda."

And McClatchy suggests that with back-to-back conventions in 2008, the TV networks might substantially change the way they cover them.

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