Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 11/4/2005 [Archive]

Election Report with Michael Barone

Election Report with Michael Barone

Interview with Michael Barone by Bill Steigerwald

Election season is the best time to catch up with Michael Barone, the Fox News Channel pundit and principal co-author of the "Almanac of American Politics," the definitive biannual guide to the people, places and issues of our greatest spectator sport.

Barone, a U.S. News & World Report senior writer and author of books like last year's "Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future," was somewhere inside the Beltway when I called him on his cell phone Thursday (Nov. 3)evening:

Q: Has President Bush pulled himself out of his own car wreck by giving conservatives Samuel Alito instead of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court?

A: Well, I think he's made a good start. Alito has obviously been greeted by jubilation by just about all the conservatives who have been writing about this and commenting, including those who were very distressed by his nomination of Harriet Miers. There are still a lot of conservative complaints about Bush on issues like spending and immigration that need to be addressed.

Q: Is Alito another perfect candidate like John Roberts?

A: I don't know for sure but it sure looks like it. They've pulled these guys both from the A-lists at some of the most selective law schools in the country. They've had sterling records in practice and public service and on the bench, so it's hard to fault those appointments.

Q: Do you see Alito being filibustered by the Democrats in the Senate?

A: No I don't. I don't think a lot of the moderate Democrats are going to filibuster him and I don't think some of the Democrats from the East Coast states with high percentages of Italian-Americans are going to be eager to filibuster an Italian-American nominee.

Q: Do you think Bush will be able to revive his presidency now, with Karl Rove not being indicted and again able to focus more on running the administration again?

A: I think the ingredients for a revival are there. He's already responded with the Alito nomination to the complaints about Harriet Miers. The White House and the congressional Republicans are taking steps on spending which are responsive to conservative complaints. I think they've made plans to deal with immigration in a way that has the possibility of appealing to conservatives, as well as addressing the problem which voters generally think is a problem. But they've got to follow through on these things. Success is not automatic. It has to be worked for.

Q: Is there any debate or White House scandal that is going on now that will become a major campaign issue in the 2006 congressional races or in 2008?

A: I think Democrats are going to try to argue that there's a culture of corruption and they are going to include references to multiple things, some of which appear to be genuine corruption, although one cannot be sure. The indictment of a White House procurement official, rather an obscure one, but nonetheless an indictment; the activities of lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- those appear to have some real problems. On the other hand, it is my own view that there is nothing to the ethics charges against Bill Frist, and the case against Tom DeLay is a weak one and is, in fact, an abuse of prosecutorial discretion. And I don't believe we will see additional indictments in the case in which "Scooter" Libby was indicted. If I'm correct about those things, I think the charges of a culture of corruption will tend to fall flat because some of those outcomes will be apparent by this time next year.

Q: Will the war in Iraq hurt Republicans in 2006 or 2008?

A: My own view is that both on the war in Iraq and on the economy, public opinion is more negative than the facts warrant -- at least as I interpret them. ... (M)y assessment is that when the political marketplace is having something (of) a market failure because opinion is not comprehending correctly what is happening, there tends to be a correction over time. Whether that's true in this case, and whether that correction would occur sometime before November '06, it's not clear.

Q: Is there anything going on in the special election in California next week that will cause any surprises or predictive trends?

A: The California ballot propositions, at least some of them, are really directed against the power the Democrat Party and its public employee unions have institutionally, not only in California but in many state governments. If Arnold Schwarzenegger is successful in getting voters to appeal to them, he will have struck a major blow against those powers in the nation's largest state.

Q: Union teachers and public employees?

A: Yeah. If he fails to prevail in those things, those entrenched powers will have won a significant victory. In both cases, I think those results reverberate beyond California and are important. Even if they did not, they are important because California is 12 percent of the population.

Q: Do you see any surprises in Pennsylvania for next year? We have Sen. Rick Santorum running against Bob Casey Jr., probably, and we'll have Gov. Rendell against somebody -- probably Bill Scranton III.

A: Rendell's ratings have been fairly good, but not so good that I would say that he is a sure winner. Santorum, well, he's the one incumbent senator who is running behind in the polls, so you'd have to say his seat is in considerable jeopardy. Again, I don't regard that as necessarily indicating the final result, but that's significant.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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