Malaise has struck the Democratic Party in New Hampshire.
Yes, a Franklin Pierce College poll of 500 likely New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary voters found former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean nosing ahead of Sen. John Kerry in a primary race that's virtually deadlocked. But, surprising at this stage of campaigning in the crucial primary state, there is a "listless" pack of candidates lagging behind and a rising number of undecided voters.
In fact, according to the survey conducted by the college's Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication, voter support of candidates is "very soft," with only 31 percent definitely committing to their chosen candidate.
"At this time, the Democratic candidates are mostly focusing their daily attention and criticism on the president and his performance," opines Rich Killion, the Fitzwater Center's director. "Though this may be impacting the president's approval ratings, it is leaving little or no room to contrast themselves from the other candidates in this primary."
So what's a leading Democrat such as Kerry, Dean, Joe Lieberman, or Richard A. Gephardt to do?
"With a growing pool of undecided voters, those seeking to break out and stand out from the pack will need to start drawing differences between themselves and the primary leaders," he says.
Given the latest poll, here's how the top Democrats stack up in New Hampshire popularity: Dean, 22 percent; Kerry, 21 percent; Gephardt, 6 percent; Lieberman, 6 percent; Sen. John Edwards, 2 percent; and Sen. Bob Graham, 1 percent.
Even two individuals who have not declared candidacy registered in the results - retired Gen. Wesley Clark polled 2 percent, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. at 1 percent.
BILL VS. HILLARY?
Bill O'Reilly vs. Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2006?
While media speculation thus far has centered on whether New York's junior senator will run for president, Clinton still hasn't confirmed yet whether she'll seek a second term in Congress when she faces re-election in 2006.
That said, bona fide New York native Bill O'Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," was interviewed Wednesday (July 30) by his own network's "Fox and Friends" and revealed that "maybe someday down the road" he'll become a candidate for national office.
How high an office the Harvard-educated TV journalist didn't say, but he reiterated that he's a "registered independent."
The outspoken newsman, who now lives on Long Island (not surprisingly, his official bio says he spent most of his childhood "annoying teachers"), says he is turned off by the large amount of fund raising that accompanies a campaign and these days "you need a lot of money."
"At this stage," he says, his popular TV program provides an adequate platform for "terrorizing people in government."
GET WELL SOON
In our last column we told you about congressmen being required to provide a "personal explanation" of absences for mandatory roll-call votes.
Now we read in South Dakota's Rapid City Journal that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was forced to issue a speedy apology last week to freshman Republican Rep. Bill Janklow after issuing a news release admonishing the congressman for missing a vote on veterans' benefits.
Janklow couldn't vote because he was undergoing heart tests at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
We draw your attention to a unique if not downright dishonest Capitol Hill lobbying effort by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association: paying people to write to their senators.
Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) has for years been pushing a bill to allow small-business people to purchase health insurance through their trade associations, a plan known as Association Health Plans (AHPs).
"To make a long story short, Blue Cross has a monopoly on the small-group market," says Rich Chrismer, Talent's communications director. "They don't like the bill because, if signed into law, it would force them to compete and lower their prices."
Unfortunately for Blue Cross, which is said to have spent a pretty penny to stop the AHPs, the bill is gaining momentum on Capitol Hill. It passed the House 262-162 last month and enjoys the full support of President Bush.
But leading a coalition that opposes the bill, including the AFL-CIO, Blue Cross' latest gimmick is an anti-AHPs sweepstakes - providing a cash incentive to people if they send a Blue Cross form letter to their senator opposing AHPs.
The grand prize winner will receive $300 in cash and an all-expense-paid trip for four to Washington - a prize package worth $4,000.
UNDER OUR NOSES
Those ranting about the many weeks it is taking to find any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) should consider Spring Valley, one of Washington's most prestigious neighborhoods.
Eighty-five years ago, Spring Valley was the testing site for what are still some of the deadliest chemical weapons known to man. At the end of World War I, no one bothered cleaning up the WMDs, which were dumped into improvised, shallow holes.
"Sixteen presidents - about half of them Democrats - have failed to find these non-hidden and documented toxic materials within about 1 square miles of space," notes reader Frederick Hunt Jr., of Bethesda, Md. "The biggest breakthrough was made by children playing."
As a little boy playing there in the 1950s, Hunt says he used to occasionally find empty shells and other military equipment.
"I also have a vague memory of knowing where some of the firing sites had been - information 'discovered' by authorities 45 years later," he says. "The most recent major searches ... were made by the Clinton administration."
Meanwhile, hundreds of senior Democratic congressmen, past administration officials, party faithful and lawyers - even then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson - "have been so unconcerned about finding known WMDs that they have paid top dollar to live on this known toxic testing and disposal ground," Hunt points out.
And it's no wonder President Bush can't find Iraq's WMDs.
"His father, former President Bush, moved his family about 30 years ago to Spring Valley on or near one of the suspected deadliest areas," the area resident says.
STAKE YOUR GROUND
A Virginia congressman who sits in the same nightmarish traffic as other Washington, D.C. commuters has concluded that the transportation infrastructure of the national capital region has "reached the saturation point."
Rep. James P. Moran is warning that a "disruption on any single thoroughfare, be it rail or road, can overwhelm other roadways and shut down the entire region."
Already, the Democrat says, rush-hour conditions in and around Washington have become "a 24-hour phenomenon. For more than a decade we have suffered some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation."
The former mayor of car-choked Alexandria, Va. says that "unfortunately, as we look to the future, the traffic situation only grows worse."
Between now and 2020, he reveals, the Washington region can expect both a 43 percent increase in population and a 43 percent increase in employment.
Just before Congress recessed for August, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a member of the freshman-class group Washington Waste Watchers, introduced a resolution to term-limit members of the Committee on Appropriations.
"Since arriving in Washington, I have been struck by the casual attitude toward excessive federal spending," explains Franks. "Term-limiting the appropriators is no reflection whatsoever on the leadership of those that are currently serving on the committee. This is simply a preventative measure that will allow fresh idealism into the appropriations process."
His proposal would limit service on the appropriations panel to no more than three terms, or six years. Unless voters kick them out of the House first.