Robert Novak

Actor-politician Fred Thompson's unexpected expression of interest in seeking the Republican presidential nomination has attracted an equally unexpected favorable reaction, especially among social conservatives.

In Tennessee Republican politics, former Sen. Thompson was allied with Howard Baker and Lamar Alexander in the state party's more liberal wing. However, his voting record in the Senate was solidly conservative. He is viewed by the Christian right as more acceptable than any of the three Republican candidates leading in the polls -- Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Nobody is sure that Thompson really will run. He has been reported in line as successor to radio commentator Paul Harvey to fill one of the most prestigious and profitable broadcasting niches.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton raised eyebrows among Democratic insiders when Washington Post columnist Al Kamen reported that she dined last week at the 701 restaurant in downtown Washington with former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, his wife, Valerie Plame, and left-wing journalist Sidney Blumenthal.

Leading Democrats have stayed away from Wilson since a Senate Intelligence Committee report in 2004 discredited him. Blumenthal was known as a vicious attack man when he worked as an aide to President Bill Clinton late in his administration.

Clinton's choice of dining companions casts doubt on her attempted image modification into a centrist Democrat who wants to avoid the politics of personal destruction.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel was vexed when Sen. Chuck Schumer appeared to take credit for investigating the Justice Department's dismissal of U.S. attorneys. "At the very beginning, I was clear that something didn't smell right," Schumer told a Tuesday press conference.

Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, actually led all Democrats in focusing on the purge of federal prosecutors who had been pursuing public corruption charges. He and Schumer respectively led the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees last year as their party took control of Congress. Emanuel is now chairman and Schumer vice chairman of the party caucuses in their respective chambers.

While Schumer called for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Emanuel took the House floor with a different position. While "many are eager to debate" Gonzales's future, said Emanuel, "we must not lose sight of the real story -- what is happening to these ongoing public corruption investigations."

Reform Republican House members, expecting rousing pep talks in preparation for debate on the supplemental appropriations bill funding the war in Iraq, were disappointed how passive their leaders were at Tuesday's closed-door party conference.

Robert Novak

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

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