WASHINGTON -- The Senate Republican leadership is considering a two-year waiver to delay Sen. Orrin Hatch's removal as Judiciary Committee chairman because of term limits, thereby forestalling Sen. Arlen Specter's succession to the post.
Specter has almost entirely backed down from his exuberant post-election comments warning President Bush that no foe of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision would be confirmed for the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, pro-life activists and other conservatives still suspect what course Specter would take as chairman and want to keep him out of that position.
An argument for giving Hatch a waiver is the fact that while facing re-election in Utah in 2006, he would have no committee chairmanship or even a subcommittee chairmanship despite advanced seniority in the Senate. Although Hatch and Specter have had their differences in the past, Hatch has publicly supported Specter as his replacement.
The motive behind the unusual candidacy of Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to be the next Democratic national chairman is to keep former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean out of the job.
Being party chairman probably would hurt rather than help Vilsack's presidential ambitions for 2008, and the first word from his supporters was negative about seeking to head the Democratic National Committee (DNC). However, sources say Vilsack was alarmed by the prospect that Dean would pull the party's image far to the left. Vilsack is also reported to be interested in saving Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, endangered again after guaranteeing John Kerry's early nomination this year.
A footnote: Bill and Hillary Clinton, who dictated the election of Terry McAuliffe as DNC chairman four years ago, so far have stayed out of the contest for his successor.
Sources close to President Bush report he favors naming retiring Democratic Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana as secretary of energy to replace Spencer Abraham.
Bush would like in his Cabinet at least one legitimate Democrat who supported John Kerry for president this year. Breaux is a genuine moderate, with a 46 percent lifetime rating by the American Conservative Union and a 45 percent most recent liberal rating by the Americans for Democratic Action.
Abraham, a one-term U.S. senator from Michigan, is reportedly interested in becoming secretary of transportation but more likely will end up in the private sector.
Presidential prospects for Gov. Bill Owens, a leading conservative possibility for the 2008 Republican nomination, were not helped by this year's election outcome in his state of Colorado.
Although President Bush carried Colorado by five percentage points, otherwise the state was a rare disaster for Republicans. Democrats took away a U.S. Senate seat, captured one House seat and came close in another, and took over both previously Republican-controlled houses of the state legislature (the only such double switch in the nation).
Owens is blamed by Republican critics for supporting a state referendum that would have permitted the use of private contractors in Colorado, which now requires all work on government projects to be done by state employees. The state employees union mobilized a huge vote, defeating the referendum 3 to 2 and bringing many Democratic voters to the polls.
The loss for the U.S. Senate in Colorado by brewery owner Pete Coors continued a poor election record by rich self-financed candidates, particularly Republicans.
No self-financed Senate candidate was elected this year. The losers included Republicans Coors, Tim Michels in Wisconsin, Doug Gallagher in Florida, E.J. Pipkin in Maryland and Thomas Ravenel in South Carolina. Democratic self-funders Erskine Bowles in North Carolina and Blair Hull in Illinois also lost Senate contests.
Three Democratic self-financers won 2000 Senate races: Mark Dayton in Minnesota, Jon Corzine in New Jersey and Maria Cantwell in Washington (though she was later reimbursed by her campaign). No self-financing Republican has been elected to the Senate since 1998, when Peter Fitzgerald won in Illinois.