GOP Loves Earmarks

Robert Novak

5/3/2008 12:01:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A recent secret survey of the House Republican minority by the party's whip organization showed a two-to-one margin opposed to imposing a moratorium on earmarks.

House Republican John Boehner, who personally sponsors no earmarks, has indicated the party's position should be based on what GOP House members want. That led to the whip check.

Reformers had contemplated calling for a vote on earmarks by a closed-door session of the House Republican Conference, assuming it would be difficult for many members to vote no. But the lopsided outcome of the whip check dissuaded reformers from requesting a vote.

OBAMA'S PALS

Conservative Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, who has declined news media requests for interviews about Barack Obama's comparison of Coburn with an urban terrorist, considers the Democratic presidential candidate's remarks offensive but not premeditated. He regards their friendship as still intact.

During his April 16 debate in Philadelphia with Hillary Clinton, Obama staved off questions about his relations with 1960s radical William Ayers by comparing it to his friendship with Coburn. Interviewed by Chris Wallace April 27 on "Fox News Sunday," Obama denied any "moral equivalency" between the advocate of violence and the conservative reformer. He said his relationship with Ayers "is far more tangential" than with Coburn, "who I'm working with all the time and who I consider a close friend."

Obama and Coburn each was elected to the Senate in 2004 and joined forces as battlers against pork-laden earmarks. The conservative Muskogee, Okla., obstetrician quickly concluded that the liberal Chicago lawyer was one Democrat sincerely committed to reform. But Coburn has been critical of presidential candidate Obama's refusal to answer tough questions on the campaign stump.

MCCAIN'S MISTAKE

Republican insiders, including some of Sen. John McCain's own staffers, criticize the presumptive presidential nominee for demanding that the North Carolina Republican Party stop running television ads attacking Sen. Barack Obama's connection with his former pastor.

McCain is told it is not the proper function for a presidential nominee to censor the party's TV advertising and that McCain's position should have been conveyed to the North Carolina party by Republican National Chairman Mike Duncan. McCain now says publicly he should not be a "referee."

The overriding problem, some of McCain's friends say, is that he has not adjusted to his altered status after so long as an independent back-bench legislator.

CASEY FOR VP

Sen. Bob Casey was considered a big loser in the Pennsylvania primary April 22, where his endorsement did not prevent Sen. Barack Obama from suffering a severe defeat. But the event has propelled him to Obama's short list for vice president.

Until Casey delivered his unexpected support, he and Obama had not known each other well. But Obama, 46, and Casey, 48, established a friendship as they campaigned together around the state. Casey, a social conservative who is anti-abortion and pro-gun, balances the much more liberal Obama.

Casey's endorsement was widely interpreted as part of his political feud with Gov. Edward Rendell, Casey's Pennsylvania intra-party rival, who worked hard for the victorious Sen. Hillary Clinton.

COMBAT CALIFORNIA?

California Republicans are divided over whether the GOP, for the fifth straight presidential election, should make a substantial investment of time and money in the nation's most populous state. Republicans have not carried California for president since 1988.

Sen. John McCain's campaign is inclined to make a serious effort in California, especially targeting the big Latino vote if Sen. Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee. But other Republicans in the state urge McCain not to engage in another costly but fruitless California effort.

A footnote: McCain's chances in California may depend on the popularity of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a strong supporter of McCain. Schwarzenegger, though still the state's most popular politician, faces a decline during a battle of the budget that may involve his asking for tax increases.