Robert Novak

 When the House hearing on China and the Falun Gong was held, the deputy assistant secretary's slot also was unfilled. Representing the administration was Gretchen Birkle, principal acting deputy assistant secretary.


 The Republican establishment, which mostly has struck out in recruitment of good candidates in key Senate races, also has failed to keep Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey from challenging liberal Sen. Lincoln Chafee in the 2006 Rhode Island Republican primary.

 After months of delay, Laffey has hired a campaign manager and will announce his candidacy in mid-September. Robert Manning, Republican National Committeeman for Rhode Island, last week blocked a $500,000 Republican National Committee contribution intended to help Chafee.

 Chafee is running well in polls against unimpressive Democratic possible opponents, but party leaders in Washington fear he would be roughed up in a September 2006 Republican primary, even if he wins it. Opposition researchers are probing Laffey's personal life in preparation for a bitter primary fight.


 Illinois Republicans are grumbling that former Gov. Jim Edgar, by keeping the door open for a possible comeback next year against embattled Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has closed down all fund-raising for the race.

 Edgar, who left the governor's office in 1998, is believed to be serious about trying to return to Springfield. The White House is anxious for Edgar to run as the best bet to end a Republican losing streak in Illinois.

 Backers of conservative State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger complain that Edgar's indecision has put their candidate's bid for governor on hold. Veteran Rep. Ray LaHood has bowed out, citing Edgar's peripheral presence as his reason.

Robert Novak

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

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