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First Read: GOP tries to make hay on Lamont

GOP still trying to make hay from Lamont win. “First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit.

Thursday, August 10, 2006 |4:00 p.m. ETFrom Mark Murray

GOP still trying to make hay from Lamont win
As we suggested earlier this morning, the news of today's thwarted terror plot gave Republicans a possible opening to continue their coordinated attack portraying Ned Lamont's primary victory in Connecticut as a sign Democrats that are weak on national security. And they took it. Per a White House pool report, a senior Administration official -- you can try guessing who -- walked into the press cabin on Air Force One to discuss the Lieberman-Lamont race. With a caveat of not extrapolating too much from the results of a primary election, the official noted how much closer the contest got during the final days of the campaign. "And I think that's in part because at the end of the day, people look at the consequences of failure and the consequences of victory, the consequences of withdrawal and the consequences of finishing the fight."

The official continued, "So if you have Lamont Democrats who say, 'Bring'em home, turn away, and it will be all over,' the American people say, 'You're kidding yourself. We're in war and the only way you walk away from a war is as a victor, defeating the enemy.'" (Of course, that begs these questions: How, exactly, do you win the war on terror? And just who, exactly, is the enemy?)

Meanwhile, in today's White House press gaggle, spokesman Tony Snow was asked directly whether the Administration knew of this terrorist plot beforehand (he said yes), and whether they knew the news about it would break today -- just after they had whacked Democrats on Lamont's victory. Snow's answer raised our eyebrows. "Let me put it this way, I don’t want to encourage that line of thought. I don’t think it's fully accurate, but I also don’t want -- I know it's frustrating, but we really don’t want to get too much into who knew what, where, when."

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

In today's issue:
Bush takes to the air during the first red alert to campaign in Wisconsin
Heavy spinning by all sides in Lieberman vs. LamontHistory offers insight on both DemocratsMore on Tuesday's anti-incumbent theme

First glance
NBC's David Gregory reports that President Bush has been consulting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the just publicized terror plot for several days.  Although Bush's scheduled focus today is the economy, he may address the plot during his trip to Wisconsin, where he'll tour Fox Valley Metal-Tech in Green Bay at 12 noon ET and then make remarks at 12:45 pm ET.  His fundraiser for GOP congressional candidate John Gard will take place at a private home in Oneida and is closed-press.

The thwarted terror plot may add resonance to the latest, Connecticut-based stage of the GOP's argument that Democrats are less capable of pursuing terrorists abroad and at home.  At the same time, Ned Lamont's primary victory may tap into growing dissatisfaction around the country with the war in Iraq, similar to how Cindy Sheehan's Crawford protest and Paul Hackett's congressional bid did a year ago.  For that reason, as much as to score political points against Democrats, did Republicans mobilize yesterday to hammer in for the public that Lamont's win means the Democratic party can't keep them safe.  Vice President Cheney, Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, and White House spokesperson Tony Snow all stepped forward to argue that Lamont's victory is the latest sign that the Democratic party is captive to anti-war liberals and unreliable on security.  An RNC memo released earlier this week said that fighting terror is the party's best issue heading into the midterms.

The RNC also is sending around a memo observing how more affluent voters backed Lamont, while less affluent ones supported Lieberman.  "Ultimately," the memo says, "what was most notable was that Ned Lamont's anti-war campaign message resonated much more with the so-called 'limousine liberals' who have a higher median income and reside in wealthier localities."

Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, via an interview with the New York Times, is the first prominent party leader to call for Lieberman to get out of the race.  Others may now follow suit, but at least yesterday, those who came forward to endorse Lamont refrained from doing so.  Dean and Lieberman competed for the party's presidential nod in 2004, appealing to opposite ends of the party when it came to their positions on the war, and Democracy for America, the grassroots organization founded by Dean and now run by his brother, backed Lamont in the primary.  As party chair, Dean is acting in what he sees as the party's best interests, but for now, his call hangs out there echoing those from the netroots like MoveOn, whose representatives said yesterday that they plan to launch a grassroots campaign to persuade Lieberman to do the "honorable thing" and drop out of the race.

National party leaders are throwing Lieberman under the bus in another way, however, by arguing that his loss is proof that lawmakers who are viewed as being too close to Bush stand to lose their seats.  "As the Lamont victory over Lieberman showed, President Bush is a liability for candidates perceived to be too closely tied to Bush's policies; clearly this election will be a referendum on his failed leadership," says a DNC memo.  Other party chieftains, including Sens. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer and Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel, suggested the same.

"I know a lot of people have tried to make this a referendum on the President; I would flip it," Snow argued yesterday.  "I think instead it's a defining moment for the Democratic Party, whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party they're going to come after you."  Snow went on to suggest that "it is probably worth trying to trace through some of the implications of that position, because it is clearly going to be one of the central issues as we get ready for the election campaign this year, that is, the mid-term elections."

Meanwhile, if the Republican campaign committees are going to try to put Democratic candidates on the spot by forcing them to say whether they'll support Lamont or Lieberman, Democrats might start asking Republicans whether or not they support their nominee in the race, Alan Schlesinger.  Mehlman repeatedly declined to answer the question when asked by MSNBC's Chris Matthews last night.

First Read will be taking Fridays off in August, so we'll return on Monday, August 14.

Have you checked out's political calendar lately?

Lieberman vs. Lamont
The Wall Street Journal previews a possible anti-war tide that might swell from Lamont's win.  "Lawmakers seeking ways to criticize the current situation in Iraq, short of calling for outright withdrawal, may decide to step up oversight of contracting mismanagement and apparent fraud there.  A Senate proposal for tighter oversight of contractors has been stalled, but people familiar with the matter... now expect the measure to pass...  Mr. Bush will face pressure even from his allies in Congress to outline a clearer definition of victory in Iraq and to provide some indication of when the troops might come home."

Noting Cheney's criticism, the Chicago Tribune says, "It remains an open question whether Republicans, yet again, will be able to paint Democrats as weak on national security and less able to protect the U.S. from attack as they have done to varying degrees in the last three congressional elections."

Former and possible future Democratic presidential candidate Wes Clark says in a Journal op-ed, "if I were a Republican, I'd recognize this as the beginning of the end...  The Connecticut race and Republican spinmeisters will be troublesome for Democrats," but for "Republicans, it signals the end of using patriotism to cover up for persistent failures to deal effectively with pressing national security issues." – Wall Street Journal

As far as Lieberman's independent bid goes, the Washington Post reports that "Democratic officials gently signaled their desire that Lieberman abandon his independent candidacy but appeared reluctant to press him publicly.  A senior Democratic official in Washington said leaders had met and decided to put off confronting Lieberman at least for a few days."  Presidential candidate and Sen. Chris Dodd (D) "tried to approach Lieberman... to no avail...  Some Democrats believe it may take an external event... to persuade him to change his mind."  The Post also reports that Lieberman has fired his media consultant and pollster.

The New York Times, as mentioned, has Dean calling for Lieberman to get out:

Another New York Times piece notes how Sen. Hillary Clinton's first major day of campaigning for re-election was dominated by the news of Lieberman's primary loss.   "'I think there is a great deal of difference,'' Mrs. Clinton told reporters ... after being asked to distinguish her position on the Iraq war from Mr. Lieberman's.  'I have been a consistent critic from the beginning,'' she continued, apparently drawing a distinction between her repeated criticism of President Bush's management of the war and Mr. Lieberman's reluctance to criticize it."

The Washington Times, consulting history and academics, says "the state is unpredictable and not indicative of the rest of the country."  Another story in the paper observes that Lieberman's loss "pushed his party further to the left on national-security issues that could hurt its prospects in the 2006 and 2008 elections, analysts said."

The Boston Globe reports that with Democratic turnout on Tuesday "at about 43 percent -- a state record for a summertime primary in a nonpresidential election year -- Lamont appeared to benefit from the nearly 30,000 voters who joined the Democratic Party in time for one of the most intriguing political matchups in the state's history."   What also helped Lamont was "wins in liberal parts of the state's major cities, including New Haven, Hartford, West Hartford, and his hometown of Greenwich, overcame Lieberman's labor-driven support in places like Bridgeport, Stamford, and Waterbury."

The Hartford Courant considers how the Senate race could hurt Democrats' efforts to defeat three GOP members of Congress from the state.  "Suddenly the Democrats' nightmare scenario becomes plausible: They are a seat or two from gaining a House majority in November, but so many Connecticut Republicans go to the polls to vote for Joe Lieberman that the state's three vulnerable GOP incumbents win re-election."

Lieberman vs. Lamont: History lessons
Bloomberg points out that "Lieberman will face a historical tide in American politics that isn't kind to third-party or independent candidates.  Since 1940, only three candidates running outside the major parties have won seats in the Senate."

As most have heard by now, it was six years ago when Al Gore tapped Lieberman to be his vice-presidential running mate.  But now that some Democrats believe Lieberman's independent bid could hurt the party's chances of picking up GOP-held House seats in the state, another storyline from six years ago is about to resurface: Lieberman's refusal to give up his Senate seat in 2000, which could have cost Democrats the seat had Gore won the presidential election.

In 2000, Lieberman ran both for vice president and for re-election to the Senate.  Some Democrats publicly urged him to quit the Senate, which would have allowed state party leaders to replace him with Richard Blumenthal (D), the popular attorney general, and avoid the possibility that the Republican governor would appoint a Republican to replace him if he and Gore won.  Lieberman refused, and Democrats and political commentators pounced on his decision.  "It would be an irony if Al Gore wins the presidency and we lose the Senate by one vote," said former Sen. Bill Bradley (D), per the Los Angeles Times.  A New York Times editorial lambasted Lieberman for his "selfish behavior."  The Hartford Courant said the same: "He wants to be vice president, but he wants to hedge his bet in case the Gore-Lieberman ticket loses.  That's scarcely a profile in courage."

Of course, Lieberman wasn't the first vice-presidential candidate to simultaneously run for the two offices; Texas' Lyndon Johnson did it in 1960 (although with a Democratic governor in Austin).  Lieberman argued at the time that giving up his Senate seat, and allowing party leaders to pick a possible replacement, would produce chaos and would be un-democratic.  On election day, George W. Bush won the presidency but Democrats picked up four Senate seats, bringing the chamber to a 50-50 tie, with new Vice President Dick Cheney holding the tiebreaking vote.  Yet if Gore had won, as the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg recently wrote, Republicans still would have held control of the Senate by a 51-49 margin, since a Republican would have likely replaced Lieberman.

Another history lesson: Lamont is not the first member of his extended family to launch a quixotic campaign against a Democratic member of Congress, NBC's Andrea Mitchell notes, though so far, he has been the most successful.  In the spring of 1970, reformer Nicholas Lamont challenged veteran Rep. James A. Byrne in the Democratic primary for the Philadelphia-based 3rd district. The 31-year-old, patrician Lamont was the socialite grandson of famed JP Morgan partner Thomas W. Lamont -- who was Ned Lamont's great-grandfather (making Nick and Ned second cousins, Mitchell says).

Running in some of Philly's ethnic wards, Lamont offered a startling alternative to the city's traditional ward politics, Mitchell says.  Why would a rich guy like him want to take on the Establishment?  He told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time, "My grandfather was a staunch Republican who nonetheless supported many Democrats.  And since that time, most of my family has turned to the Democratic party."  He also said that he'd learned while serving on the city's school board that "the generation in power is not going to give anything to my generation unless we take it at the ballot box."  Lamont lost to Byrne by 5,100 votes.

More Tuesday fallout
USA Today channels First Read in looking at the anti-incumbent sentiment that ran through Tuesday's primary contests and resulted in the ousting of three sitting lawmakers.

"[T]aken together," David Broder says of the three losses, "they are the strongest signal yet of voter dissatisfaction with the status quo in Washington."

The Wall Street Journal, also noticing, lumps in how Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) "got a scare when he won his primary with just 54% of the vote.  And in Kansas, the Board of Education was widely revamped this summer when primary voters kicked out several incumbents who had pressed mixing religious messages with the teaching of evolution."

Vice President Cheney might not see any connection between the losses, as he said yesterday, but the AP notes that moderate GOP Rep. Joe "Schwarz and Lieberman shared a connection that crossed party lines.  Both are moderates in their parties who sought to survive in an era of intense political division.  Both were targeted for defeat by activist groups from outside their states, and both fell to rivals offering a harder edge."

The Los Angeles Times says Lieberman's loss suggests that "[m]any Democrats are hungry not for independents but for junkyard-dog fighters...  That sentiment now suggests that a partisan Washington may become even more divided."  The story notes that Schwarz's loss indicates that "Republicans also may be in a mood to reject candidates who don't meet the expectations of the party's most partisan voters."

It's the economy...
One silver lining to the terror threat: a drop in the price of oil (and perhaps consequentially, gas) based on an expected drop in air travel. - Bloomberg

Even so, USA Today reports on the possibility of spike in gas prices out West "in a couple of weeks.  Price shocks could rebound from Washington state to the Mexican border and hit Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Hawaii, too...  With little pipeline capacity over the Rockies, the far West is isolated from the rest of the nation's oil supplies.  Crude must be brought in by tanker from other states or abroad."

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace (R) announced his write-in campaign for former Rep. Tom DeLay's House seat yesterday, offering a statement that clearly sought to reassure skeptical Republicans that a write-in candidacy can succeed.  "There is too much at stake to allow the liberals to win and the differences between Democrat [Nick] Lampson and I are crystal clear...  We intend to build the largest grassroots army ever assembled for a Texas congressional race...  We will have the financial resources and the grassroots organization to win."

"Austin political consultant Bill Miller called a write-in campaign 'ludicrous.'  'It is handing the seat to the Democrats,' he said.  'Republicans cannot win this seat with a write-in candidate, I don't care what name they write in.'  What a write-in candidate gains is a leg up in the next primary, Miller said." – Houston Chronicle

The AP adds: "Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs said today she also might run as a write-in candidate.  She was considered a possible DeLay replacement."

More on the midterms
Previewing Bush's campaign stop in Wisconsin today, the Chicago Tribune says he will be "campaigning in similar electoral hot spots over the next three months, [and] the president will attempt to show that he still can be an asset for his party, as the White House insists, and not 'an albatross around the neck of any Republican,' as one Democratic operative predicts."  The recipient of Bush's help today, John Gard, insists that Bush isn't a liability.  "'Anytime the president wants to come, he is welcome,' said Gard."

Bloomberg reports on a very busy House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who "plans to appear at 42 fund-raisers just in August and visit 200 of the House's 435 districts by Election Day."  The story notes that Hastert "has raised $125 million for the party since becoming speaker...  No other Republican leader has matched that, including former Majority Leader Tom DeLay or ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich."

Per a release, Florida gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher (R) "will make a campaign announcement" in Orlando at 10:00 am.  There has been speculation Gallagher might pull out of his primary against Charlie Crist (R), which would leave Crist in the clear to begin his general election campaign long before Democrats select their nominee.

But the Miami Herald reports that Gallagher has no plans of dropping out of the race, despite reports yesterday that he was considering it.  Gallagher trails Crist in the polls and fundraising.  "The elements Gallagher needs to pull off a victory: Conservatives will have to come out and vote for him in large numbers; turnout must be high in Miami-Dade County -- where his campaign polls show he has an edge -- and turnout in the rest of the state must be low, as many election supervisors have predicted..."

The general election in Maryland's hotly contested gubernatorial race effectively has begun, making this week's testimony by GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich's former chief of staff about Ehrlich's firing of numerous state officials somewhat inconvenient.  That said, the former aide doesn't seem to be giving Democrats the evidence they were looking for -- that Ehrlich supposedly was firing state employees based on their party affiliation. – Washington Post

Presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards (D) campaigns with Minnesota Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar in St. Paul at 1:00 pm ET.

Covering the New York GOP Senate primary that just won't go away, the New York Times writes up last night's debate between KT McFarland and John Spencer, which "centered far more on questions of marital infidelity, nepotism and other personal attacks than on what either candidate would do if elected."

Bob Novak focuses on last week's showdown between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  "Clinton's performance was more a campaign tactic than a Senate hearing procedure, trying to immunize her from anti-Iraq voter rage aimed at Sen. Joseph Lieberman.  Clinton planned the confrontation, picking and editing Rumsfeld quotations to upgrade her anti-war credentials."

A fellow at a Stanford University think-tank pokes some holes in Al Gore's pro-environment rhetoric by noting that Gore has not taken some steps on a personal level to reduce energy consumption. – USA Today

And it's that time of year again.  A half-dozen candidates who are thinking of running for president are expected to be in Iowa over the weekend.  Most are coming in to attend the state fair, reports the Des Moines Register.

“First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit. Please let us know what you think.  Drop us a note at   To bookmark First Read, .