Clinton Discord

Robert Novak

12/22/2007 12:01:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy are privately blaming aggressive campaigning by Bill Clinton for her recent decline in Iowa's pre-caucus polls.

In their opinion, the former president's strong defense of his wife pushes the contest for the Democratic nomination toward what Hillary Clinton wanted to avoid: a referendum on the Clinton administration, making her a symbol of the past rather than an agent of change.

A footnote: Democrats close to Bill Clinton blame Mark Penn, Sen. Clinton's chief strategist, for her decline. They grumble that Penn, a professional pollster, relies too much on polls.

MCCAIN'S CHOICE

Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign strategists are openly boosting Mike Huckabee in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses as their candidate's best hope for winning the New Hampshire primary five days later.

Reports have been leaked that McCain personally likes Huckabee and dislikes Mitt Romney. Apart from personal preference, the McCain camp acknowledges that a Romney victory in Iowa may trigger a win in New Hampshire and a chance to sweep subsequent primaries. The McCain insiders feel Huckabee will not be a serious candidate even if he defeats Romney in Iowa.

McCain, who did not contest Iowa in 2000, never had a chance there this time. His long shot for 2008 depends on independent voters in New Hampshire, who gave McCain a landslide victory against George W. Bush in 2000. These independents had been written off as voting Democratic in 2008, but neutral Republicans now think they may return to McCain -- unless they feel Romney has wrapped up the nomination.

ROMNEY'S CONSERVATIVE

David Keene, one of the conservative movement's seasoned warriors, braved freezing temperatures in Iowa this month to campaign there for Mitt Romney.

Keene had been considered a strong prospect to support Fred Thompson for president. However, after meetings with both Thompson and Romney, Keene decided Romney was the more viable candidate.

Keene is the longtime chairman of the American Conservative Union. But that organization does not make presidential endorsements, and the choice of Romney is Keene's own. He has been engaged in presidential candidacies at a high level dating back to Ronald Reagan's in 1976.

JEFFERSON'S EARMARK

The omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress Wednesday contains $1 million in earmarks requested by Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, who is under federal criminal indictment for racketeering, money laundering and solicitation of bribes.

Jefferson got a $500,000 earmark to finance bus facilities for the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and another $500,000 earmark for speed rail corridors crossings in Louisiana and Mississippi.

A footnote: One of the largest among 12,000 new earmarks in the omnibus bill is $1,645,000 to purchase bulletproof vests for the city of Bastrop, La., though vests for the entire police department are estimated to cost only $700 to $800. The earmark was requested by Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Rodney Alexander, both Louisiana Democrats.

PORK PROBE?

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, an anti-pork crusader, is expected to face opposition from the congressional establishment next year in his demand for an investigation into a notorious earmark by a reigning prince of pork, Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska.

As the 2007 session ended last week, Coburn insisted on the investigation before granting unanimous consent for a routine bill cleaning up "technical" mistakes in the massive 2005 highway bill. Young is accused of inserting a $10 million earmark by secretly changing authorization of "widening and improvements for I-75" in Florida to "Coconut Rd. interchange I-75" after the 2005 bill was passed. The interchange was desired by Florida real estate interests who then contributed $40,000 to Young.

Although the final version of the "technical corrections" bill restored the original language, Coburn on Wednesday wrote Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell that "those who perverted and distorted the explicit will of the U.S. Congress must also be held to account." Coburn did not mention Young but clearly referred to the former chairman of the House Transportation Committee.