George W. Lobbying

Robert Novak
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Posted: Jul 30, 2005 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush, usually early to bed, was on the phone past 10 p.m. Wednesday talking reluctant Republican House members into voting for CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). GOP congressional leaders credit President Bush with doing more personally to pass this measure than any other proposal.

 Bush did not begin his lobbying Wednesday night. For weeks, House members have been brought to the White House to talk about CAFTA with the president. When GOP congressmen arrived at the Capitol Wednesday morning, they were told Bush would address them on the trade agreement at the weekly 9 a.m. closed-door caucus.

 A footnote: House Republican leaders had hoped to give Rep. Robin Hayes freedom to vote against this bill, but they ultimately needed his "yes" to pass CAFTA by two votes. The agreement is not popular in Hayes's North Carolina Piedmont district, which contains a heavy textiles presence.

HILLARY MOVES RIGHT

 Democratic insiders worried about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's electability for president were cheered by her speech Monday to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
 
While Clinton's call for an end to internal Democratic strife did not specify who was at fault, it was generally interpreted as hitting the party's left wing. That was seen as a shrewd move, reaching out to Clinton's right. She is considered immune from any presidential rival squeezing in on her left.

 A footnote: Clinton's vote against CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) did not signify a break from the DLC. Out of 43 House members who belong to the DLC, 38 voted against CAFTA.

S.D.'S ENDLESS CAMPAIGN

 The 2004 Senate victory in South Dakota of Republican John Thune over then Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle did not end the bitter election campaign. Since the election, at least five South Dakota blogs have appeared with the only apparent purpose of attacking Thune.

 Former Daschle staffers openly run two of the blogs, and two others are anonymous. A fifth is run by Todd Epp, who did part-time legal work for Daschle's campaign. Epp told this column that Steve Hildebrand, Daschle's campaign manager, learned from Thune's use of paid bloggers in 2004 and now "is kind of behind some of this."

 A footnote: In its July quarterly report, the Daschle campaign reported more than $1 million in post-election spending, including a $2,000-a-month salary for Hildebrand and thousands more for his consulting firm. The campaign still has $545,000. Because Daschle has exceeded $5,000 in spending, the Federal Election Commission under its rules asked him if he is a candidate against Thune in 2010. Daschle replied officially that he is not.

ROVE IN MARYLAND

 Bush political adviser Karl Rove told a closed-door fund-raiser for Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele in Washington Tuesday that Steele's campaign for the Senate is a top White House priority for 2006.

 Steele is running for a Senate seat left empty by retirement of Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes. The capital lobbyists who attended the event were urged to exert more effort for Steele than they usually do on an empty-seat contest. Steele, an African-American, fits in with Bush's emphasis on raising the Republican share of the black vote.

 Democrats sent around 35 protesters to the National Republican Senatorial Committee building on Capitol Hill to demonstrate against Rove's presence. Several police cars were lined up to deter trouble.

TAXING REPUBLICAN

 Conservative Republican interest in Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as a dark horse 2008 presidential candidate, rising since his election in 2002, has dropped sharply because he accepted a tax increase as part of the state's budget.

 Pawlenty, who had signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge against new taxes, signed into law a 75-cent cigarette tax. Trying to sell this to conservatives, Pawlenty attached the tax increase to a bill containing an anti-abortion provision.

 A footnote: Although Pawlenty faces a 2006 re-election challenge in a state that is difficult for Republicans, his potential presidential candidacy has been quietly discussed among some key New Hampshire Republicans.