Bennet slams inside deals, lays out a blueprint for vulnerable Democrats
1. Appointed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D) took to the Senate floor on Monday to explain his vote in favor of the health care measure and, in so doing, worked to paint himself as an outsider to the insider political process playing out within his own party. "I am not naive about politics, but I expected more," said Bennet. "I will vote for health care reform because it is a step in the right direction. But I will not go home and defend the actions of a Washington that is out-of-touch." Bennet also walked right up to the line of speaking ill of his Democratic colleagues -- a Senate no-no -- but making clear that he purposely didn't ask for any special deals for his home state. "Just because others choose to engage in the same tired Washington rituals, doesn't mean that I have to," said Bennet, referring to, but never naming, people like Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.). The National Republican Senatorial Committee was watching Bennet's speech too and quickly put out a release condemning his attempts to distance himself from the vote he had just made. "Now that the sun has risen, Colorado's un-elected Senator apparently wants his constituents to believe that this vote never happened," said NRSC spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson Marchand. The strategy being employed by Bennet, a major target for national Republicans in 2010, is an interesting one -- justify your vote for the bill by citing the good it will do for your state while condemning the sort of legislative sausage-making that made the bill possible. It's a delicate dance but one that recognizes the political dangers of running as an incumbent -- of either party -- in this sort of environment. Outsiders are in for 2010.
2. Speaking of health care, President Obama sent an e-mail missive to the massive list he built during the 2008 campaign seeking to convey the import of the current health care debate and explain away the criticisms from the liberal left that the legislation amounts to a sell out to the insurance industry. "After a nearly century-long struggle, we are now on the cusp of making health insurance reform a reality in the United States of America," Obama wrote -- echoing the "appeal to history" argument put forward by senior adviser David Axelrod on the Sunday talk shows. Obama went on to note that insurance companies who try to "jack up their rates do so at their own peril" and emphasizing that insurers will no longer be able to turn people away due to preexisting conditions. "These are not small changes," concluded Obama. "These are big changes. They're fundamental reforms. They will save money. They will save lives." Republicans were also out in full rhetorical force on Monday against the bill. In a conference call with reporters, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele referred to the bill as a "boondoggle," adding that the legislation is "excessive in the spending, excessive in its government controls and bureaucracy, excessive in the tax burden that is laid upon individuals and small business owners." Arizona Sen. John McCain calling the legislation "one of the great Bernie Madoff gimmicks" and noting that Democrats "don't have the American public" when asked by Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos(!) why Republicans continued to use procedural measures to postpone a vote until Christmas Eve. Health care is the rare issue where smart strategists in both parties believe they have the political edge and, rather than hedging their bets, are doubling down instead. It's going to be a VERY interesting next 11 months.
3. Speaking of Steele, a Washington Times story posted late last night details the fact that the RNC chairman has continued to give paid speeches since assuming the post in January. It features a series of tut-tutting quotes from past RNC chairs including major D.C. players like Frank Fahrenkopf and Rich Bond. RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitcho called the story "silly," adding: "Michael Steele has been giving inspirational speeches based on his personal story long before he was elected RNC Chairman and will long after." Steele defenders will chalk this latest controversy up to the adversarial relationship that many longtime Washington GOP power players have with the chairman. And, it is true that Steele's strength comes far more from the far-flung grassroots of the GOP than the establishment party structure in the nation's capital. Still, stories like this provide Steele's GOP foes -- not to mention Democrats -- with a major chapter of a building narrative that the chairman is, first and foremost, looking out for his own personal interests. And, that's not a good story line for Steele as the party heads into 2010.
4. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has decided against running for any office in 2010 and will make that announcement today, according to a source close to the mayor. There are two practical effects of Giuliani's decision: 1) Hizzoner's political career is almost certainly over and 2) appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is a heavy favorite to win the special election for the final two years of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's (D) term next November. With Giuliani not running -- and, let's be honest, no one ever expected him to run -- there are now only two major go/no go decisions as it relates to the Senate playing field next year. One is in Delaware where state Attorney General Beau Biden (D) is seen as very likely to run for his father's old seat but the fact he hasn't announced yet has some Republicans thinking he might take a pass. The other is in North Dakota where Senate GOPers continue to aggressively court popular Gov. John Hoeven to run against Sen. Byron Dorgan. If Hoeven runs, which still seems unlikely, it is a major recruiting coup for Republicans and ensures the most competitive Senate race that the state has seen in more than two decades.
5. Much was made of a statement from Rep. John Spratt's (D-S.C.) press secretary that the South Carolina Democrat, a much-rumored retirement possibility, was going to be running again in 2010. And, while this has to be considered a step in the right direction for Spratt, there are still those who wonder whether, ultimately, he will decide to run again until he himself goes on the record to dismiss the rumors. Spratt faces a serious challenge in the form of state Sen. Mick Mulvaney (R) and has made no secret of his plans to retire in the (somewhat) near future. Spratt still has plenty of time before the Palmetto State's March 30 filing deadline. Here a handful of states with earlier filing deadline to keep an eye on as members will need to make decisions about their futures either over the holidays or soon after they return to Washington: Kentucky (Jan. 26), West Virginia (Jan. 30), Ohio (Feb. 18), Indiana (Feb. 19) and North Carolina (Feb. 26).
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