Promote Pence

Even more important to conservatives than what happens in next Tuesday’s elections is what happens later this month when Republicans vote to elect their new Congressional leadership. While the first election will determine what party is in charge, the second will signal what course the Republican Party will take in the future.

This election year, conservatives have been in agreement that the Republican Party has abandoned its principles to maintain its grip on power. The big disagreement has been over whether it would be better for the future of conservatism if Republicans lost the election and learned a lesson, or if they were put back in power, and then urged to change afterward.

Whether Republicans lose handily in next Tuesday’s elections or defy the experts and hang on to both chambers by a razor-thin margin, the party will face a choice. They can either remain the party of Washington, or they can once again become the party of limited government. There is one bold move that Republicans can make to signal to conservatives that they are ready to change for the better: make Rep. Mike Pence their House leader.

“I believe that as a movement we have veered off course into the dangerous and uncharted waters of big government Republicanism,” Pence is fond of saying, and he should know. The congressman was elected in 2000 along with President Bush and has been witness to the largest expansion of government since the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

Speaker Dennis Hastert may have publicly vowed to run for his leadership post again, but while it was one thing to stand firm and dismiss calls to resign in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal that broke so close to the election, after nearly eight years of presiding over runaway spending and a scandal-tainted House, he has become part of the Washington establishment. After Tuesday, it will be time for him to go. The House is scheduled to choose its leaders on November 15, but that could change depending on the outcome of the midterm elections (especially if the outcome of some races is still uncertain).

In his three terms in office, Pence has waged an often lonely battle to return the party to its roots by fighting the spending that has become the hallmark of the current group that calls itself Republican. He has stood by his principles even though it often meant a backlash from within his own party. Pence is one of only a few dozen Republican congressmen to vote against both the No Child Left Behind Act and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

When Republicans moved to respond to Hurricane Katrina last fall, the Pence-led Republican Study Committee proposed $800 billion in spending cuts over 10 years to help offset the cost of the relief efforts and rebuilding. But the Republican leadership blocked the move. It was in the midst of this debate that Tom DeLay made his now infamous statement that there was nothing left to trim from the budget because, “after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it down pretty good.” DeLay deserved to be indicted for that statement alone.

Though the proposal, dubbed Operation Offset, ultimately failed, Pence was still able to lead the push for $40 billion of cuts to entitlements over five years. It may be a mere trifle in the big scheme of things, but it was a rare example of fiscal sanity in the 109th Congress.

Although some would have us believe that Americans want big government, a new CNN poll found that 54 percent of the public “thought it was trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses,” compared with just 37 percent who said they “thought the government should do more to solve the country’s problems.”

With Pence, conservatives would have a spokesman who could eloquently defend the philosophy of limited government in a manner that’s much less polarizing than Newt Gingrich was in the 1990s.

Should the Republicans pull off an upset on Tuesday, a Speaker Pence would be the ideal person to rehabilitate the party. Should they lose, as minority leader, he would make quite a thorn in the side of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Rudy and NH

Rudy Giuliani’s scheduled appearance at New Hampshire’s “First in the Nation Forum” is a sell-out:

“After the response to our initial announcement, we expected strong turn out, but New Hampshire is so accustomed to national political figures paying us a visit, that you usually end up selling tickets at the door,” said Harry Levine, co-founder of Victory NH, “but when America’s Mayor comes to town to help protect America’s Primary, the people of New Hampshire know this is one event they don’t want to miss.”

The Conservative Vote

According to exit polls, President Bush received 84 percent of the conservative vote in 2004. A new NY Times/CBS News poll finds that just 59 percent of self-described conservatives plan to vote for the Republican House candidate in Tuesday’s elections, with 25 percent saying they would be voting Democratic and 16 percent undecided. It’s hard to know how seriously to take these results. For instance, perhaps some conservatives simply say they’ll vote Democrat in a poll just because they’re frustrated, even though when push comes to shove, they’ll vote Republican. But this could also be a sign that the much-publicized disenchantment among conservatives will indeed hurt the GOP.

Re: Running Against San Francisco

Paul, I think  the strategy of running against Nancy Pelosi, and by extension, San Francisco, says more about the sorry state of the Republican Party than anything else.  We wouldn't be hearing much about "San Francisco values" if Republicans had actual accomplishments to  run on and inspire their base. I doubt the SanFran strategy will work for Republicans this time around, but even if it does, it's still upsetting to me that it had to come to this.

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Convenience Voting

Regarding the panel I mentioned below, it’s also worth noting some of the comments made by John Fortier, author of Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises, and Perils, who discussed the evolution of the trend of so-called “convenience voting.” Up until the late 1970s/early 1980s, a voter had to either be in the military or give an otherwise compelling reason to vote by absentee ballot. In addition, absentee voters had to have a notary public watch them fill out the ballot and sign on to it. But those restrictions went away and in the 1980s absentee voting became more about convenience. The convenience voting trend grew in the 1990s with the expansion of early voting. In 1980, 5 percent of the public voted before Election Day, but in 2004, about 25 percent did. In Oregon, everybody votes by mail because the state did away with polling places altogether. Some voters send their ballots in as early as September, meaning that they miss out on a significant amount of election news, including candidate debates. Also, according to Fortier, there’s no evidence that convenience voting boosts turnout. Fortier argued that from a civics standpoint, we lose a lot from moving away from Election Day in favor of a system of convenience voting. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that the practice is here to stay, and believes that if we have to choose one or the other, a short period of early voting is preferable because at least if it’s done at a polling place there’s less opportunities for fraud, or for mistakes, such as ballots being lost by the post office. Either way, it’s definitely a discussion we should be having now, rather than when in the midst of a nasty disputed election.

Florida Redux?

Yesterday I attended an AEI panel on John Fortier's new book Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises, and Perils. John Fund spoke, and expanding on his OpinionJournal article from earlier this week, he argued that it's possible we may have a "November Surprise" in which the outcome of the election isn't known for days or weeks after Election Day. He pointed out that Congressional Quarterly, which has a solid track record of accurately predicting the outcome of midterm elections, has projected control of the House coming down to 18 tossups and Senate control depending on 3 tight races. Because of the prevalence of absentee voting, it could be a long time before we know the outcome. For instance, in Maryland, by law, they can't even start counting absentee ballots until the Thursday after the election, and they have 14 days to do so. With each party having thousands of lawyers deployed across the country, we could be in for a replay of Florida 2000, especially because absentee votes are more prone to fraud.

Though Fund paints a frightening picture, it would still take a dozen or so seats to be really, really, close in districts with a significant amount of absentee voting for a worst case scenario to occur. It is, however, worth preparing for the possibility. Obviously, we'll know more a week from now, but if Fund's nightmare scenario becomes reality in the current environment, it will be an even uglier scene than in 2000. While it didn't seem so at the time, we were living in a relatively benign political climate back then. After the memory of Florida, six years of the Bush presidency, 9/11, the Iraq War, the growth of blogs, the level of anger on both sides would be palpable this time around. If Florida in 2000 was a circus, a dispute over control of Congress this year would be a civil war.      

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Elections and Foreign Policy

Robert Kagan has a thoughtful piece in today’s Washington Post arguing that whether or not Democrats win, the U.S. probably won’t withdraw from Iraq or back off from international entanglements in general. Among the points he makes:

Indeed, the preferred European scenario — “Bush hobbled” — is less likely than the alternative: “Bush unbound.” Neither the president nor his vice president is running for office in 2008. That is what usually prevents high-stakes foreign policy moves in the last two years of a president’s term.

I have always taken that into account when considering whether or not the U.S. would take military action against Iran. Under the circumstances that Kagan lays out, it’s possible that with nothing to lose in 2008, President Bush would authorize air strikes on Iranian nuclear sites.

Re: Delay

Yes, the article I linked to described the write-in procedure as well, and you’re right, most likely it’s too complicated and Republicans will lose the seat. But the conventional wisdom has been that the seat is a sure pickup for Democrats, so I found it worth noting that a Gibbs win is within the realm of possibility.

Delay’s Seat Up For Grabs?

In other news, Perry said that he thought Republicans actually had a chance of winning the Tom Delay seat, and he cited the recent Houston Chronicle poll. That poll found that 35 percent planned to vote for a write-in candidate, which was statistically even with the 36 percent who said they would vote for Nick Lampson, the Democrat. Most of those saying they would support a write-in candidate identified Republican Shelly Sekula-Gibbs as their choice.

Gov. Rick Perry

In this morning's edition of The American Spectator's Newsmaker breakfast, Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke, and spent most of his time discussing his initiatives on border security, Operation Linebacker and Operation Rio Grande, which he called a "blueprint" for how to effectively patrol the border. Perry said that since beginning the initiatives last year, Texas has seen crime decreases of 60 percent in targeted areas and that anecdotal evidence suggested the impact of the crackdown could be felt in other states. For instance, he said that Texas has received calls from officials in Louisiana saying that they were also seeing reductions in crime. The strategy includes better use of technology, more intelligence sharing among sheriffs in different counties, more boots on the ground and periodic raids, or "surges" when sheriffs identify an increased level of criminal activity at a given place. He also, as commander in chief of the Texas National Guard, plans to take advantage of Predator drones, so that the pilots can patrol the border as part of their training on the aircraft. Perry traveled to DC today with 12 of the border sheriffs as part of a push to get federal funding to continue as well as expand these initiatives, arguing that border protection should not have to be the responsibility of states. He said the border fence law signed by President Bush could help, but should only be viewed as one part of a broader strategy to secure the border.

As far as his own re-election, he was confident that he would prevail in a crowded field that includes Kinky Friedman, and the polls back him up. He was also optimistic that he would receive the highest Hispanic vote of any Republican gubernatorial candidate in the history of the state, explaining that his border security initiatives have actually helped him in this regard by reducing crime in Hispanic neighborhoods.

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