Robert Novak

 WASHINGTON -- Congressional leaders must agree on details of the independent 9/11 commission recommendations by Tuesday in order to pass an intelligence reform bill before the election and avert a late Democratic attack.

 John Kerry's campaign has angry families of 9/11 victims poised to blast George W. Bush for not acting promptly on the commission's recommendations. Republican strategists fear a damaging eleventh hour Democratic attack.

 At last week's Senate-House conference seeking a final version of the bill, the leading House Democratic negotiator -- Rep. Jane Harman of California -- appeared ready to end the talks. But her Senate Democratic counterpart -- Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut -- insisted on keeping the process going.

HILLARY'S COMPLAINT

 Sen. Hillary Clinton's public criticism of Sen. John Kerry's part in the Mary Cheney affair provoked speculation inside Democratic ranks about closing the books on 2004 and getting ready for Mrs. Clinton's presidential run in 2008.

 In an interview with an Albany, N.Y., radio station Monday, Clinton said that Kerry noting Vice President Cheney's daughter is a lesbian has "taken up a lot of space and time." The senator said she could "understand why some people might have been bothered" by Kerry's comments. Even such restrained criticism, when made two weeks before a closely contested presidential election, shocked party insiders.

 The recent influx into the Kerry campaign of Clinton operatives headed by Mike McCurry and Joe Lockhart signaled that Sen. Clinton was working hard to elect Kerry even though that would derail her in 2008. However, McCurry has told party insiders he urged Kerry to apologize for his comments about Ms. Cheney.

ERRANT SPEAKER

 House Speaker Dennis Hastert has infuriated Republican politicians by making dismissive public statements about two fellow GOP candidates engaged in close elections.

 In an interview with the Daily Herald in Chicago's suburbs, Hastert said "we are probably going to lose" Senate seats in Oklahoma and the speaker's own state of Illinois. While Alan Keyes trails by 40 points in Illinois polls, former Rep. Tom Coburn is running even in Oklahoma. Coburn, an independent conservative, tangled with Hastert and other Republican leaders when he was a member of the House.

 In an interview with the Elgin (Ill.) Courier News, Hastert said Rep. Phil Crane "hasn't taken care of his [Chicago suburban] district." The speaker said the 73-year-old Crane "hasn't been back to his district probably as much as a younger guy would be." The senior Republican in the House, Crane is considered one of the party's two most vulnerable incumbent congressmen.

LIBERTARIANS VS. BUSH

 The Libertarian Party, appealing to Democrats for funds, is targeting the battleground state of Wisconsin as a place where they could make the difference in preventing President Bush's re-election.

 Wisconsin Libertarians are asking money for their presidential candidate, computer consultant Michael Badnarik. Their appeal promises Democrats that "we will use 100 percent of your donations to run television and radio commercials that specifically target conservative voters who might otherwise vote for Bush."

  "We don't want Bush to win in Wisconsin any more than you do," says the Libertarian Web site. "As a Kerry supporter, you may disagree with our message, but you win and we win when you donate to this project and get your friends to do likewise."

UNHELPFUL SPECTER

 Sen. Arlen Specter, who was supported by the White House and the Republican establishment to win renomination in Pennsylvania against a strong conservative challenger, is not returning the favor.

 Although Specter is viewed as a cinch for re-election, he has not participated in rallies, fund-raisers or ads for Republican congressional candidates in Pennsylvania. In Specter's Philadelphia-area stronghold, he has helped neither open-seat candidate Melissa Brown nor endangered incumbent Rep. Jim Gerlach.

 According to the last filings at the end of September, Specter's Big Tent Political Action Committee has contributed only $10,000. That money went to Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who faces no trouble for re-election in Alabama.


Robert Novak

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

 
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