Inside Report: Democrats on South Carolina death w

Posted: Feb 17, 2001 12:00 AM
Senate Democrats are stalling on agreeing to a legislative budget, noting that the declining health of 98-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond could result in giving them a majority in the Senate, and consequently, a much bigger share of the legislative funds. Republican critics call it a deathwatch. Old friends say they have never seen Thurmond in such poor shape. His physical condition seems to be deteriorating, with diminishing hope for a recovery. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, in conversations with colleagues, has been particularly concerned that he will soon be minority leader. South Carolina's Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges has promised he would name a "caretaker" rather than an active candidate to any Senate vacancy, but his chosen replacement will surely be a Democrat. That would be enough to turn the Senate to a 51-49 Democratic edge, at least until the 2002 South Carolina Senate election, in which Republican Rep. Lindsey Graham is the early favorite. No more impeachment The widely publicized remarks of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) that Bill Clinton can be subjected to a second impeachment as a former president have generated outrage among Specter's fellow Republicans, particularly the House managers of the 1998 impeachment. They complain that Specter's comments tend to eclipse Clinton's post-presidential antics and make the former president an object of sympathy rather than scorn. The senator's impeachment talk hit the front pages of many newspapers. Former House managers compare Specter's conduct with a basketball referee's makeup call to compensate for a past mistake. In 1999, Specter abstained on the vote to convict then-President Clinton. All-GOP budget talks The first meeting of Mitch Daniels, the Office of Management and Budget's new director, with the Senate and House Budget Committee chairmen was reported as difficult and contentious, with many problems aired. The mere meeting of Daniels with Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa represented a big change in itself. For the previous six years, the budget chairmen were at bitter odds with Clinton administration OMB chiefs and did not meet with them. Daniels plans future talks with longtime Senate Chairman Domenici and rookie House Chairman Nussle. A footnote: House Republican leaders regard Daniels as an ally against the freer-spending Senate. Under President Clinton, they saw the White House as aligned with the Senate. Sen. Sununu? The highly regarded Rep. John Sununu Jr. is being urged by national Republican leaders to run against Sen. Bob Smith in the New Hampshire Republican primary next year, in order to save the Senate for the GOP. Smith, who barely was re-elected in 1996, has dipped in popularity since dropping out of the Republican Party during his disastrous 2000 presidential bid and then returning. He is intent on a third term in the Senate, but is viewed as a hopeless case against Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. The 36-year-old Sununu would be a good prospect against both Smith and Shaheen. But Sununu is not inclined to challenge an incumbent Republican senator, and would prefer to run for governor or--better still, from his standpoint--stay in the House. A Republican alternative for the Senate could be former Gov. Steve Merrill. Gov. Schwarzenegger? Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a naturalized citizen who has never sought public office, is regarded by many California Republicans as their only viable prospect against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis' re-election next year. President Bush is being urged to help recruit the Austrian-born actor, who has been an enthusiastic Republican and friend of the Bush family for many years. Davis, sitting on a huge war chest, once was considered invulnerable, but has been hurt politically by the energy crisis. A footnote: Former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is teaching at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, but plans to return to New Mexico to run for governor in 2002. With Republican Gov. Gary Johnson barred from re-election because of term limits, former Rep. Richardson would be favored to win.