Who Needs a TV?

Posted: May 15, 2008 10:27 AM

That was a fly on the wall of the greenroom of the Fox News Channel in Washington listening to Frank Luntz, the former Republican Capitol Hill strategist-turned-Fox pollster-pundit, tell network associates that House Republicans are headed for a 20-seat loss in November based on their "inability and unwillingness to drive an effective message."

Mr. Luntz, who was exiled by the current Republican minority leadership, but still has close ties to many members, said off-air that congressional Republicans are in even more trouble now than they were in 2006, when he went public before the election to warn that their majority was in real danger.

Asked before a taping of the show "Hannity & Colmes" whether things could turn around for the Republicans between now and Election Day, Mr. Luntz's response was emphatic: "When the wrong people say the wrong words at the wrong time to the wrong constituency, you'll never ever get it right, and the members — the rank-and-file — will suffer."

He then reminded his greenroom audience that former House Minority Leader Bob Michel of Illinois, who failed to lead House Republicans to a majority, didn't retire voluntarily. Instead, he was "pushed out" by future House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republicans won the majority the very next election.

"There's a lesson there," Mr. Luntz said.

All of this was spoken before election results Tuesday night showed Republicans dropping yet another House seat — in Mississippi's 1st Congressional District, a previous Republican stronghold — to the Democrats.

NASCAR terror

Readers will recall the uproar among Republicans and sports fans alike last autumn when Democratic House staffers were immunized against a host of major illnesses before attending NASCAR races during a public health fact-finding mission.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who at the time was conducting a study of homeland security measures at mass gatherings, considered the immunizations — including hepatitis A and B, diphtheria and tetanus — before the NASCAR races in Alabama and North Carolina solid preventive policy.

"I am sure you would agree that providing immunizations to personnel involved in public safety is good public health policy, and there is no need to exclude staff from taking the preventative measures that the public health community recommends — regardless of why and where mass gatherings are taking place," Mr. Thompson explained.

"Since committee staff members are visiting hospitals and other health care facilities available at or near these venues ... I believe that the recommendation that our congressional staff receive these same immunizations was sound."

This week, his party issued its report, "Public Health, Safety, and Security for Mass Gatherings," which one Republican operative, who asked not to be identified, called a failed attempt to give Democrats some political cover for last fall's "NASCAR cooties" incident.

The Republican said the report fixates on examples from NASCAR events, including a scenario in which a white supremacist disperses a biological agent over an event in a small plane.

Not connecting

Once upon a time this columnist was news director of Bee Broadcasting Inc., which owns a number of radio stations in the Rocky Mountain region of Montana.

When it was learned that former President Bill Clinton would be making an appearance there this week on behalf of his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, we asked an old colleague, Curt Shugart, to attend and provide some color. Now a jewelry craftsman, here's what he filed:

"Along with 3,000 other Flathead Valley residents, I went to see William Jefferson 'Bubba' Clinton last night. It was definitely a Montana affair. They had Bubba standing in the back of a pickup truck parked in a field behind the community college. It was pouring rain.

"It seemed that no one in the crowd was a Hillary supporter. I think there were more Ron Paul people there than Hillary people. Bubba stood in the pouring rain and read Hillary's West Virginia victory speech. I'll say this for Bill, he sure had a pretty necktie. It was electric blue. Probably cost more than I make in a week."