Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- With nothing less than his powerful role as Senate majority leader at stake, Sen. Tom Daschle finessed President Bush's visit to South Dakota to his own political advantage. Bush visited Daschle's home state for the sole purpose of boosting the Senate candidacy of Republican Rep. John Thune, whom the president talked into challenging Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. The majority leader originally was not asked to attend any of the presidential appearances in South Dakota but wangled an invitation for himself and Johnson. The result: Bush recognized Daschle, though not Johnson, at a "non-political" event. Daschle is critical to Johnson's hopes for survival. While polls show Thune barely leading Johnson in what looks like a tossup, the state's political insiders feel Thune would be more comfortably ahead were it not for one factor: the fear that Johnson's defeat could turn the closely divided Senate back to Republican control and deprive South Dakota of its first majority leader ever. LABOR VS. LABOR Labor unions who support President Bush's bid for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) are furious with United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard for contributing to the proposal's defeat in the Senate. The Teamsters, Longshoremen, Carpenters, Laborers and other blue-collar unions put out the word that Gerard's backing of environmentalists on ANWR sold out jobs for his union's members that would be created by oil drilling. Gerard is one of the labor movement's most faithful Democrats. Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska had hoped to win backing from the Steelworkers union by proposing the "legacy" benefits for retired steelworkers could come out of ANWR drilling revenue. Gerard instead backed a plan by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia to pay the legacy bill from the U.S. Treasury -- a plan which has no chance of becoming law. ENDANGERED DEMOCRAT Sen. Paul Wellstone, seeking a third term from Minnesota, is shown by current private polls taken by both parties to be the most endangered incumbent Democratic senator in 2002. A Republican survey has Wellstone's Republican opponent, former St. Paul Mayor Norman Coleman, nine percentage points ahead. A Democratic poll shows Wellstone four points behind. Although it is too early in the year for such surveys to be conclusive, it is always dangerous for a well-known incumbent to be trailing. Wellstone is perhaps the Senate's most liberal member, but that has not proved a problem in Minnesota previously. Wellstone had pledged to limit himself to two terms but changed his mind, he said, because of George W. Bush's presidency. Coleman, a former Democrat and moderate conservative, was narrowly defeated for governor in 1998 by independent Jesse Ventura. MITT'S BUCK-RAKING Mitt Romney, the Republican businessman who leads all candidates for governor in overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts, dropped into Washington last week to pick up an estimated $100,000 for his campaign. Admission to the unpublicized Romney fund-raiser in a private room at the Occidental Restaurant was $10,000 apiece. Donors were told they could get around the $500 state limit on contributions by bundling 20 such contributions. Massachusetts Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman arranged the fund-raiser for Romney A footnote: National Republican strategists want Romney to release his tax returns, but he refuses. When he ran against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994, Romney unsuccessfully challenged the senator to release his tax returns. HOLLYWOOD FOR MAX Actor Martin Sheen, star of NBC's "West Wing," has written a fund-raising letter for Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia with a liberal tilt that runs counter to the moderate tone of the senator's campaign. Asking for contributions from $30 to $250, Sheen says that Cleland's Republican opponent -- Rep. Saxby Chambliss -- is "a perfectly respectable man" but adds he votes with "the right-wing conservatives over 90 percent of the time." The actor depicts the campaign in terms of a win or loss for Georgia Republican Chairman Ralph Reed, described as "Pat Robertson's former protege and one of Enron's top lobbyists."

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.
 

 
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