Accountability: The Fall of Bill Clinton

Ch. 17: 2004 Primaries Begin
  • 2003 took a toll on the 2004 primary campaigns. As expected, multiple candidates had dropped out before the first real contest, the Iowa caucuses. Resources were limited – money, media, volunteers, but most of all time. This applied to both parties. Some candidates, like Governors Tommy Thompson and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, just did not have the money coming into their campaigns to sustain a real run. Other candidates, like Jim Gilmore and Bob Graham, could not compete for attention in the crowded field and failed to connect with the media or voters. As Iowa and the real votes started creeping up, both Republican and Democratic fields were still chaotic and unwieldy, and campaigns reacted accordingly. Stand-out debate performances were seen as an opportunity to break from the herd. The wide variety of candidates was matched a wide variety of strategies, like a strong online fundraising effort by Howard Dean or expansive mailing networks tapped by Helen Chenoweth-Hage.


    On the Republican side, the declared “frontrunners” were Newt Gingrich, John Kasich, John McCain, and Jeb Bush, simply by name recognition. Jeb was bolstered by his family while other governors, like Colorado Governor Bill Owens, did not have Washington press connections to get immediate recognition like the senators or the “previously ran”. Horse race polling showed different, rotating “frontrunners” but a large number of undecided voters persisted and many primary voters were actively considering more than one candidate at a time. Reaching the front of the pack proved dangerous for some as well, creating a target for others to snipe at. A quixotic campaign by businessman Herman Cain was gaining media attention with wild debate performances and interviews. After a week or two of increased scrutiny it quickly stalled after credible sexual harassment allegations came to the surface. Along those lines, Governor John Rowland’s campaign imploded after scandals broke back home in Connecticut, making it more likely that Rowland would see the inside of a federal minimum-security prison than the White House.

    But media attention did not always translate to votes or support. Kasich, nationally known after 2000, was widely covered but never broke away in polling. Meanwhile, some breakout candidates like Arkansas Governor Mark Huckabee saw organization and messaging happening outside of mainstream coverage. He also received some friendly coverage on late night television in part due to his story of successful weight loss over the past year, combining a self-help message with his campaign. By January 19, expectations were equally important. John McCain had deliberately messaged that he was sitting Iowa out again, focusing on New Hampshire, South Carolina, and other later states instead. When the votes were being decided in the multiple caucus rounds in gyms and meeting rooms around Iowa, everything was up in the air.

    There was no clear winner that night, but when everything settled the following day, Norm Coleman surprised a lot of people. The Minnesota Governor had not gained a lot of national coverage, but his proximity to Iowa turned out to be a bonus in the crowded field. He had been regularly visiting the state since his term started back in 1999 and had made a lot of friends with local party leaders. With the splitting of other candidates and negotiations in the causes themselves, the final counted vote showed him just 2% above second place Jeb Bush. In a blow, John Kasich came in a virtually tied third place with Senator Rick Santorum. Gingrich, McCain, and Huckabee also ended up around 10% but a little further back. The percentages were all extremely close, but when expectations were part of the game, the final rankings got overplayed compared to actual delegate wins.

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    With actual votes tallied, the Republicans had a real race.

    As the Republicans hashed out who their competitor would be, the first big decision on the Democratic side was on Vice President Dianne Feinstein. The Vice President had not cleared the field, with active conversation around other candidates happening after the 2002 midterms. Feinstein, despite her historic role as the first woman as Vice President, was not a darling of the party’s liberal whites or African-American bases. Her primary role in the Gore Administration as a key budget negotiator did not make her a visible icon. Additionally, her other role as a shepherd for Gore’s judicial nominees was hamstrung in the 108th Congress. By the time Pirates of the Caribbean was a box office hit, the Vice President announced what most observers already suspected – that she would not be a candidate for the 2004 election. With neither the current President nor Vice President running, the Democratic field was wide open without a serious front-runner.

    While starting out with fewer candidates than the Republicans, there also seemed to be fewer paths forward for Democrats. President Al Gore, whose saw tepid approval ratings by nation at large, was still generally popular within the Party. Candidates had to walk a line of both defining themselves separately from the current White House while also not being too openly critical the President. 12 years in the White House had redefined the Democratic Party too, constraining some of the positions a candidate could take. Directly supporting a ban on gay marriage, for example, was widely unacceptable for a presidential primary candidate in 2004. By the end of 2003, out of the over a dozen candidates that had originally tried to start up a campaign, only a handful serious contenders remained by the time Iowa rolled around – former Speaker Dick Gephardt, Senator Andrew Cuomo, Governor Gray Davis, Senator John Edwards, Senator Evan Bayh, and former Governor Howard Dean. Reverend Al Sharpton would actually win the first contest, the D.C. primary, but most of his coverage was as an activist, issue candidate, and not a serious contender. Reporting by The New York Times that his campaign was supported by Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone did not add any credibility to his motives for running.

    There were was a real sense of frustration by women’s groups. Maryland Governor Townsend, the only major female candidate struggled early in the campaign. She had a short tenure and was seen as ‘over-ambitious’ to run for President so quickly. Other high profile possibilities had sat out the chance to run in 2004. California Senator Barbara Boxer flirted with it but passed when it became clear that Govenor Davis was interested in running. Potential recruits like Governor Jeanne Shaheen simply seemed uninterested in the role, or maybe thought that 2004 was a hard election for Democrats to win. No matter the reason, it was still clear that despite some recent progress, the bench of Democratic women remained extremely shallow.

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    Despite the lack of diversity in appearance, each candidate had staked out unique lane. Former Speaker Gephardt was running as an old school labor Democrat, with focus on work and health care. He had a high floor with name recognition but low ceiling, and also lagged in fundraising. Major unions like AFL-CIO were holding their endorsement in the early primary Cuomo came in swinging, with heavy financial backing and media presence from New York. His focus on urban and affluent middle class issues seemed an odd mix for Iowa and was fixing on New Hampshire and later states. Howard Dean, despite coming from a small state, was seen as an early front runner. His campaign was using new internet-heavy organizational tools and fundraising, flexing grassroots enthusiasm. Dean tacked out the unabashedly liberal positions, calling for universal health care and a plan to end the War in Afghanistan. John Edwards focused on poverty elimination and college expansion, while leaning into a more media focused, telegenic campaign. Evan Bayh’s campaign was arguably the most moderate or conservative plank, depending on who was describing it. He touted balanced budgets from his time as governor and focused on American manufacturing, while also urging caution on gay rights and other social issues. Davis, coming off an expensive but strong reelection in California, was the last major competitor to hop in, waiting until September 2003. Davis’s fundraising was significant as well and came in as a pragmatic outsider who could be a spiritual successor to Gore, in particular on the environment.
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    Ch. 18: Contested Primaries
  • After Norm Coleman’s surprise win in Iowa, the Republican campaigns scrambled to pivot to New Hampshire just 8 days later. The expectations game played a critical role. John McCain won the state easily, having doubled down on the state and the rest of the candidates were effectively campaigning for second. Kasich’s second place result, however, reasserted his own campaign and regained some more momentum after his stumble in Iowa, slightly beating out Jeb Bush. Norm Coleman attempted to turn his Iowa boom into a more sustained effort but simply lacked the campaign resources to place better than fifth behind Gingrich.

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    Jeb Bush was also frustrated by his third place showing in New Hampshire. After his brother’s refusal to run in 2000, all eyes from the Bush circles turned to him. The nationally known “right to end of life” debate around Terri Schiavo had cemented him with social conservatives as a hero to some. Since taking office in 1999, Jeb Bush had been actively involved in the legal case. When the final case in the matter was dismissed and the feeding tube removed, Bush signed into the emergency session act “Terri’s Law” and forced the hospital to reinsert the tube in October 2003. He was seen as a “right to life” hero, even as the issue was appealed in the state court system.

    With New Hampshire behind them, the other minor candidates began to drop out and as the race began to nationalize, when connections and fundraising began more and more important. There was very little media coverage when, for example, Jim Gilmore dropped out and endorsed John Kasich. The contests on February 3 was dubbed “Mini Tuesday”. When other campaigns had pivoted away from these states to New Hampshire, Mike Huckabee saw a comeback with wins in Missouri and Oklahoma, two states bordering his Arkansas. McCain won South Carolina by just three points over Jeb Bush. Mostly ignored was Helen Chenoweth-Hage’s takeover of the North Dakota caucuses. Norm Coleman’s campaign failed to seize on any momentum out of Iowa and he endorsed Kasich after his flash began to fizzle, calling for a new generation of leadership. February 10 saw Kasich pick-up D.C. but Huckabee’s momentum continued with an extremely thin win over Bush in Tennessee. Wisconsin was McCain’s first real disappointment when it came back for Kasich. After coming in fourth in Wisconsin, Rick Santorum surprised some by endorsing his fellow senator McCain over Huckabee.

    The final debate before Super Tuesday proved to be a critical turning point. McCain, exacerbated by the long campaign and low on finances, no longer appeared as the reasonable maverick but cranky, snapping at the other candidates on stage. The once preferable media coverage McCain had been receiving quickly disappeared. His finance reform efforts had seemingly turned off big money donors. The months on the road had maybe worn down the Senator, and his famous temper started to show through. Super Tuesday was make or break, with over 20% of all the delegates on the line. It seemingly broke McCain. While Kasich, McCain, Huckabee, Bush, Gingrich, and the quixotic Chenoweth-Hage all remained in the race, some hoping for a miracle the next day.

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    The Democrats were having their parallel contests. It was the first time since 1988 that both major parties had seriously contested primaries for the same election. President Gore and DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe visibly stressed that the President and the Party were not playing favorites and wanted the process to work itself out. The early Democratic campaign showed that Iowa was a toss-up between Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean. Dean, assuming a win in New Hampshire, leaned in and spent heavily in Iowa to contest what former Speaker Gephardt hoped would be an easy win. Just a small state Governor, Dean’s grassroot efforts were a surprise attack on one of the most powerful players in Washington. The two battled and bloodied each other with negative ads, which in hindsight allowed other candidates to creep up. On January 19, Iowa was barely won by Senator John Edwards with a just a 4% lead over Governor Gray Davis. Expectations wounded Dean and Gephardt. The former Speaker fell the hardest, placing fourth in a race that some thought he would win back during the Iowa State Fair. Almost two weeks later Dean was caught flat-footed when he came in second to Cuomo in New Hampshire, who had never left the state to chance. Dean, a doctor running on universal health care, saw a slew of stories calling his campaign “mortally wounded.”

    By Mini Tuesday, Gephardt was effectively out of the game, demonstrated by the fact that he could not even win Missouri. Arizona, Missouri, and New Mexico went to Davis, South Carolina to Edwards, Oklahoma to Bayh, North Dakota to Dean, and Delaware to Cuomo. Davis’s and Cuomo’s campaigns continued to be flushed with cash as the grassroots support to Edwards and Dean started to dry up. Gephardt, despite his position of prominence, had never really taken off the voting base with a party that had changed since 1988. February 7, Bayh won Michigan but with a significant delegate split with Cuomo and Davis, while Davis walked away with Washington. The next day, Davis showed a robust organizational prowess, beating Dean in the Maine caucus. Edwards would win Tennessee and Virginia, but barely with again Cuomo and Davis sapping the proportional appointment of delegates. Davis’s twin wins in the weeks prior to Super Tuesday made him the candidate to beat come Super Tuesday on March 2.


    The Republicans were also splitting their victories. Gingrich would win Georgia and Kasich would win Ohio, easy home state wins. A pattern started to develop though as the results came in. Bush and Huckabee would split the socially conservative vote across the map with neither winning a state that night. McCain’s only win was in Maryland. Kasich ran the board outside the south, picking-up California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Gingrich, seeing no path forward, dropped out that night. A week later would show that Bush was down but not out, winning Texas, Florida, and Mississippi. Huckabee’s win in Louisiana shut McCain and Kasich out of the night. McCain was on his last legs. While getting respectable coverage in mainstream media, his fundraising still lagged. While the Republican contest was still an open question, the Democrats had effectively secured their nominee by mid-March, so the pressure was on.

    CNN scrambled to host an extra, final debate in Chicago on March 15, the night prior to the Illinois primary. Bush, McCain, Kasich, and Huckabee all agreed. Chenoweth-Hage’s longshot libertarian campaign complained about being excluded. The long campaign had extracted a toll though. Jeb Bush, now second in the delegate count, gave a performance mired by slurred words and a sluggish appearance. He was obviously fighting a malady, confirmed later by the campaign to be the flu. After the debate, Kasich had a decisive win in Illinois. The next big primary Pennsylvania was over a month away. Kasich’s pledged delegate count was barely half the needed amount to clinch the nomination, but his definitive lead was unignorable. Superdelegates, party officials who were not bound to state results, had been slowly coalescing around the former Vice-Presidential candidate as the primaries dragged on. After his win in Illinois, they quickly began to break towards Kasich. Gingrich, who had remained on the sidelines, made came around to endorse his fellow former House member. Then Elizabeth Dole happily endorsed her former running mate. Huckabee and Hage were furious, calling it a “rigged” primary but neither really had the strength left to hold on for any longer. Bush, who arguably did have enough resources to do so, saw the writing on the wall. Coverage of the race had started to hurt him in his home state. Somebody had pulled a clip of Bush promising to serve his full terms as Governor if elected. Ever the party loyalist and with grumbling in Florida, Bush dropped out and pledged his delegates to Kasich at the Republican National Convention in Dallas. Despite what some political junkies wanted, this concession put to rest what had been a growing chatter of any brokered convention. John McCain took some time to think about it. He had missed the filing deadline for the Arizona Senate primary. After a week away from the spotlight, he eventually suspended his campaign.

    John Kasich was the Republican nominee.

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    Ch. 19: Gore's Early 2004 and the New Candidates
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    While the primary season was ramping up then winding down, Gore felt the weight of his lame-duck term. Veteran Affairs Secretary Togo West and Education Secretary Jim Hunt had both stepped down just after the beginning of the new year. They weren’t the first to move on before the end of his Administration and they would not be the last. Minor bills were agreed to and signed, addressing issues like anti-spam email reforms and an Australian free trade agreement. He had given up on the Kyoto Treaty in everything but rhetoric while focusing on passing technocratic but expansive climate friendly changes in spending bills – changing how money was spent on transportation and electrical grids, expanding investment and research. The President took a tour over the winter to tout these new green jobs. Republicans on the Hill regularly gave interviews on how they were upset with Gore using executive actions, like empowering the EPA to punish climate polluters. It was not universal, but expanded some health access to children and those on the edge of poverty. More Americans had health care coverage than ever before, but 34 million still did not. The economy of early 2004 seemed poised for recovery, stopping at an unemployment rate of 5.5% and then slowly dropping. While the budget was no longer balanced with his stimulus and the war in Afghanistan, the tax rates for most Americans had shifted to a more progressive burden. Osama bin-Laden’s whereabouts were still unknown, but Iraq was contained and North Korea was denuclearizing, with intense international pressure. Early proliferation talks were on-going with Iran (who seemed concerned with military action at their doorstep) and Libya. To secure his legacy though, Gore knew he needed to do whatever he could to help another Democrat win the White House after him.

    With several potential candidates still in the race by the end of February, the Democratic primary was beginning to look like a war of attrition. The most memorable end came at the debate in Milwaukee two days before the Wisconsin primary. With the War in Afghanistan on-going, former Speaker Dick Gephardt attacked Governor Davis on his lack of foreign policy experience. It had come up before, but this time Gephardt called out Davis on that he had never had to vote on the authorization of force and make a ‘life or death’ decision. Davis reminded Gephardt that he had served in Vietnam and did so with distinction. Gephardt dropped out after Wisconsin.

    It had become the most expensive Democratic primary in history. Former Governor Howard Dean and Senator Evan Bayh were low on cash and in the polls, but still in the race. It was really a three way race between Senator John Edwards, Senator Andrew Cuomo, and Governor Gray Davis. Cuomo and Edwards were both younger and slicker than Davis, and their potential similarities led them to be prone to attack one another. The Leap Day debate on February 29 in New York exposed how heated the campaign had become between the two. Edwards attacked Cuomo for his politically privileged upbringing and connections, while Cuomo attacked Edwards for his trial lawyer connections and being all image and no substance. Davis was able to avoid being dragged down in the mud as his competitors wrestled with each other. MSNBC host Chris Matthews said Davis looked like “a responsible Dad trying to break up a fight between his two unruly boys.” Dean and Bayh struggled to be seen on stage.


    Super Tuesday set the terms for the rest of the campaign. Dean held out with a win in Vermont but it was the last gasp of his campaign. Edwards had a strong Georgia but struggled to establish himself far out of the south with one major exception. A late endorsement by former Senator Paul Wellstone pushed him just over the edge in Minnesota. Senator Cuomo won Maryland, with an endorsement from Representative Elijah Cummings, and in New York as expected. Cuomo’s endorsement by the Clintons did not have a registered impact though. With a deep war chest and able to afford New York ad prices, Davis placed second with a strong showing outside of the city where Cuomo was less popular . An endorsement by The Boston Globe and a rally with Senator John Kerry right after the debate likely helped Davis who saw firm wins in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. New England’s rivalry with New York probably hurt Cuomo as well. Those northeast wins and a slim one in Minnesota were overshadowed by Davis‘s dominating victory in delegate heavy California, where the other candidates could barely contest. Hollywood support for Edwards did not seem to translate into real votes.

    A week later on March 9, Cuomo and Edwards tried to make their last stand. Davis had built-up strong Latino support that took home Florida and Texas. Senator Antonio Villaraigosa, the only Hispanic Senator was an early endorser and visible campaign surrogate. Kind words from Mexican President Vicente Fox certainly did not hurt as well. Edwards won Louisiana and Mississippi, but the expectations game hurt his coverage and the delegate appropriation was starting to stack up. By this point in the campaign, Cuomo and Edwards were feeling the pressure from party officials. As the contests continued, primary after primary showed that Davis was out preforming Cuomo and Edwards among senior citizens. His primary message had been one of fiscal responsibility, and the Davis campaign made massive ad buys about protecting and expanding Social Security and Medicare. But it would take a dominant showing in Illinois that showed that the end was near. Davis secured an outright majority of the vote as Cuomo and Edwards failed to break above 20%. Superdelegates played a pivotal role in ensuring the Democratic primaries were wrapping up as well. Maryland Governor Kathleen Townsend, related by marriage to Cuomo who won the state, endorsed Davis, causing local complaints. Young and ambitious, the two Senators did not want to burn any bridges.

    Davis and Gore’s strong relationship, forged during the Enron scandal and subsequent energy crisis, had been hovering over the entire primary, even as Gore tamped down rumors that he was playing favorite. An early attack by Dean on Davis was that images of him and the President together featured too prominently in his ads, but it only served to highlight the connection they had. A rumor circled that Bill Daley had convinced his brother, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, to start a whisper campaign in support of Davis in Illinois. Daley had worked with Cuomo in the Clinton/Gore Cabinets and then with Davis as Gore’s “Energy Crisis Czar” during the Enron scandal. He may have made his work preferences clear to his brother. In the latter half of March, the writing was on the wall, and the President made discreet calls to Senators Cuomo and Edwards. They would both suspend their campaigns in the name of party unity. North Carolina would still go to their favorite son Edwards, but it would not change the final result.

    Governor Gray Davis’s position as the Democratic candidate was secure, and a week later it was confirmed he would face off against former Vice Presidential candidate John Kasich. The race was on.

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    Governor Gray Davis and former Rep. John Kasich had two very different rises to the top of their respective party’s presidential tickets. Davis had joined the ROTC to help pay for university and law school, then saw active combat in Vietnam. Seeing the disparate impact of war and inequity in the country, Davis left the Republican politics he was raised with and got involved with local Democrats. He turned campaign volunteering into a career, becoming executive assistant and Chief of Staff to Governor Jerry Brown. Davis then ran for State Assembly and worked his way up in state politics as Controller, Lieutenant Governor, and then elected Governor in 1998. Davis actually lost in the 1992 Senate race against Dianne Feinstein, which went extremely negative, but the two later reconciled. Pragmatic and detail orientated to a fault, Davis’s first term as Governor was rocky. As a former Chief of Staff himself, he had difficultly letting go of the day-to-day and got bogged down in micromanagement.

    The Enron scandal and energy crisis helped break him of that habit. It was during this crisis management that Davis developed a direct working relationship with the President, being in regular communication with Gore throughout 2001, and started to use the crisis as an opportunity. As the extent of Enron’s crimes were revealed, Davis appeared as a champion for his constituents against corporate greed. The dot-com bubble then hit Davis and California hard, forcing massive budget choices and tough decisions on additional taxes to make up the ballooning deficit. By spring of 2003, a consensus had been reached, although he had bothered some liberals in the state. This was somewhat mollified by his moves on gay rights. He had signed some of the most sweeping state laws on domestic partnership and hate crimes in the country. Davis’s connection with Gore had also helped him land the staff for a national campaign, including strategists like Chris Lehane and Michael Whouley. While Gore did nothing publicly to boost any candidates during the primaries, Davis’s image as a Washington outsider who had a good working relationship with the President certainly did not hurt.

    John Kasich also showed political inclination from a young age. The son of a mailman, Kasich’s political lineage was founded in the Reagan Revolution. He wrote to and met President Nixon at 18, then at 26 ran for Ohio Senate and won in 1978. But while Davis had stayed in California, by 30 Kasich ran for and won a seat in the House of Representatives and went off to Washington. Kasich established himself early as a fiscal and defense hawk. Kasich’s deal-making and negotiation skills were honed over budget, health care, and gun control debates. Kasich introduced the 1996 welfare reform bill that Clinton signed and was considered a critical part of the balanced budget. It was in part these values and skills that led Elizabeth Dole to select him as her running mate in 2000. After that failed election, he had been out of office but making fundraising connections and prominent appearances on Fox News, now a national name. At 52, Kasich was no longer a young gun, but was a decade younger than Davis and definitely felt different and fresh after 12 years of Democrats in office.

    The first actions both campaigns had to take was repair the damage of the intense and occasionally bitter primary campaigns. Davis’s campaign, notably negative towards his opponents, needed to expand and accept outside help, as his town hall style campaign could not be successful alone through the general election. Once it became clear that Kasich was his competitor, the Rust Belt became a critical concern for the general election as well. Kasich, meanwhile, needed to pivot and gain more social conservative support, while also patching up relationships. While he had respected vote records on social issues, he did not naturally share the same evangelical language of Jeb Bush or Rick Santorum. Senator John McCain was particularly sensitive and available for media comment after the loss, having given up his Senate seat in an attempt to win the presidency. In an attempt to heal the division, Kasich and McCain had a widely reported meeting on the Senator’s Arizona ranch, although the content itself was kept private. Speculation about potential running mates, for Kasich and Davis, began almost immediately.
    Ch. 20: Veepstakes
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    Since long before there even voting in party primaries, a critical move of Presidential politics to help heal am internal division or broaden appeal was with the selection of a running mate. It seemed like the lists of potential running mates started earlier with internet commentary and speculation. The 2004 “veepstakes” had started even before the party contests were even concluded. Bloggers and online political commentators floated suggestions about who Senator Andrew Cuomo’s and Governor Jeb Bush’s running mates should be before they failed to clinch the nominations. Once the actual candidates became clear, it was inevitable that reporters would run with the assignment to gain readers, or now “clicks” on the internet. For the sake of party unity, selecting a former competitor as a running mate was an obvious way to go. Neither party had an easy road to their conclusion. 2004 was the first election since 1952 without at least one of the major parties running an incumbent or sitting Vice President. Both Davis and Kasich campaigns would face the pundit guessing game but had to carefully balance messaging and how to communicate their shortlist. Beyond the media game though, both campaigns took the idea seriously that they were picking what could be their closest political ally or biggest liability.

    The first options floated for Kasich were the other candidates who stuck it out the longest – Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, and John McCain. Helen Cheneworth-Hage were never truly considered, seen as a libertarian gad-fly. McCain and Bush both quickly declined any interest in the Vice Presidency. Bush said he was excited to finish out his term as Governor and McCain said he wouldn’t work well as “number 2” on a ticket, which made sense to everyone. Jeb’s brother, former Governor George Bush, was another name floated. He had been cleared of any real connection to the Enron scandal that hung over his decision to not run again for Governor in 2002, but said he was “flattered, but not interested.” Nor was Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, despite a push from Elizabeth Dole.

    Kasich’s team knew their primary concern was managing the religious right. Steve Schmidt, Kasich’s communication director, had already laid out a strategy for the general to win over the center, but Kasich still struggled with the activists. While he was firmly “pro-life" regarding abortion, the culture war up again and Kasich simply did not naturally speak the language. Republicans were openly concerned about the Supreme Court, given the health of Chief Justice Rehnquist and the known desire by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to retire. Kasich had managed to secure the nomination because of name recognition and the insurgent social conservative vote being split, but he would need to ensure their turnout in November. Raised Roman Catholic, Kasich admitted to having drifted away from organized religion, but then as an adult came back to faith and identified as Episcopalian. This was not typical for the majority of the Republican base. While he certainly followed the positions of his party (opposition to abortion and gay marriage, support of school choice) compared to Santorum and Huckabee he was considered a moderate and outside of the movement.

    Santorum would be a good choice for social conservatives but did not offer any real regional balance, coming from next door Pennsylvania. The move worked for Clinton/Gore in 1992 but was still a risk. Huckabee offered southern strength, but he and Kasich were not on good personal terms, having clashed on the campaign trail and in particular in the final debate. A different choice still checked those boxes of southern appeal and small government social conservatism.

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    Senator George Allen was another politician inspired by the Reagan Revolution. The son of an NFL coach and himself a high school quarterback, like Kasich he won races for state house then Congress. Allen was later elected Governor in 1993 and then Senator in 2000. His record was one of tough-on-crime positions, strict welfare reform, and fiscal restraint. In the Senate, he served on the Foreign Relations Committee, shoring up some of Kasich’s suggested weakness on international issues, and served as the Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2002 when they took back majority control of that chamber. Allen was considered a party star, had given the 2003 Republican response to the State of the Union, and was already being thought of for the keynote speech for the Republican National Convention that year before Kasich picked him as his running mate. Many questioned why Allen himself had not ran in 2004 for President, who only cited family reasons. The Kasich/Allen ticket was lauded by virtually the entire party and caused the Davis camp concern. Virtually all political commentary on news panels that week considered Allen to be a strong running mate that show a united Republican party ready to take back the White House after so many years out of the office.

    Gray Davis’s campaign waited for the Republican Party to announce their pick first, having more time to consider the choice since the Democratic National Convention was two weeks after the Republican event. His initial public short list were his former competitors - Dick Gephardt, Andrew Cuomo, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, and Howard Dean. Dean declined publicly, saying like McCain he would not work well on the bottom of the ticket. Cuomo, while adding youth to the ticket, would make both candidates coastal and from big, liberal states. A California/New York ticket, the concern was, would not appeal to the heartland. Edwards and Bayh were in the mix, but Davis continued to seek out other options. Edwards seemed like the obvious choice to the cable news set.


    Being a governor, there were of course concerns about Davis’s foreign policy appeal, although he had handled those question well during the primary debates. Senators Joe Biden and Bob Graham, names regularly floated in these discussions, could shore that up. Graham and his fellow Floridian Bill Nelson could also help in the swing state of Florida. Former Senator John Glenn might bring the fight to Ohio against Kasich or Governor Mark Warner to Virginia against Allen. Governor Tom Vilsack would add that heartland appeal. But there was also a strong urge to make sure the running mate helped with represent a party only growing more diverse. Davis met with leaders like John Lewis, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson to get their input. With a current female Vice President, there was pressure to keep the 2004 ticket representative. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas regularly topped the list of potential female running mates, but would likely cost the Democrats a Senate seat and had a voting record that was difficult to square with the national party. Davis, already pigeonholed as more fiscal moderate, needed to keep support on his left flank. Always inclined to make the prudent choice, Davis also wanted to ensure he picked a choice who was ready to take up the job of the presidency on day one if the worst was to happen. To cut into the Republican bounce after their convention, the Davis campaign rolled out their choice right after the Republican convention ended.

    If George Allen was a choice that all Republicans were immediately really excited about, when Gray Davis took the stage with Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois there was an initial surprise. After the news coverage started to roll out, the choice began to make more sense. Durbin was from downstate Illinois and had those working-class roots he needed to win over in the Midwest but with liberal appeal. While Illinois voted Democrat at the presidential level, Illinois was still a “purplish” state, having elected Republican Governors for several cycles in a row until a disastrous scandal. Durbin’s appeal in Chicago helped the ticket too. Durbin had robust African American and Hispanic support, for example being a visible ally to Jesse Jacksons (Sr. and Jr.) While not a national name, as Assistant Democratic Whip, he had the working relationships on Capitol Hill that Davis lacked. Of note, for the first time in American history, both candidates of a major party ticket would be Roman Catholic. Both Davis and Durbin would be barred from receiving communion due to their pro-choice policy stances. Early general election polling showed that Davis was behind Kasich and he knew he couldn’t make a safe choice. While Davis nor Durbin were the most magnetic orators, they compensated in different ways. Davis had honed his townhall skills and had the appearance of a thoughtful listener on the campaign trail. Durbin on his part was considered by many colleagues the best debater in the Senate. Durbin also got credit from good government observers for his denouncement and unequivocal calls for the resignation of Representative Rod Blagojevich during Ambassadorgate.

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    The choice of Durbin had surprised some because of his earlier comments. When considered in 2000 by Gore, Durbin had bordered on Shermanesque regarding the Vice Presidency. Early in the Davis search, he had given similar comments about how he was worried about never taking the Chicago L again. When Davis asked Bill Daley to lead his search for a running mate, more eyes probably should have looked back towards Illinois. Both Davis and Kasich engaged in major efforts to hide their choices from the news media until they were ready to name their choices. The candidates met with potential running mates in random cities on the campaign trails, never traveling on the same days. The vice presidential candidates on the short list were typically flown by discreet private jet and in casual, nondescript clothing. The New York Post, on the day before the real announcement, published a front page story with a leaked picture of a “Davis/Gephardt” campaign sign assuming it was the final choice. The Davis/Durbin campaign later said they had made four different mock-ups for various running mate choices.

    With both tickets set, the general race was off.

    While the election drove into full swing, the Gore Administration was looking to make changes. Afghanistan was still on-going without an end in sight. Defense Secretary Sheila Widnall had been grinding against the bureaucracy and submitted her resignation. Adding to the strain, Widnall had stalled in the effort to change or remove the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, an effort that was supposed to be championed by the Gore Administration.


    Seeking to more firmly place the Department on a war footing while also getting the necessary reforms for a modern fighting force, President Gore’s administration was caught courting former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell as Secretary of Defense. Despite the attempt to be clandestine, perhaps election year pressures made the snooping more visible. Powell had been active in Republican circles after his retirement from the military but had supported the White House’s military actions while some other Republican talking heads had been detractors. Powell said he was willing to serve if asked but said he preferred private life. But it might all have been sleight of hand when the White House announced the appointment of Michigan Senator Carl Levin as Defense Secretary. Previously the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Levin was the Democratic Ranking Member with good working relations on the Hill. His appointment process would be swift. Levin promised in his testimony his goal on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was to set-up a working blue ribbon committee to determine its impact of morale and how it could feasibly be implemented. No change would be made without the support of the Joint Chiefs. Michigan Governor David Boinor appointed former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer to replace Levin. When Vice President Feinstein swore in Archer, he became the only sitting African-American Senator.
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    Ch. 21: Conventions and August Surprise
  • The first move of John Kasich’s campaign was to target Governor Gray Davis as an out of touch “California liberal”, despite Davis’s image within California and the primary as a moderate. His record and platform on immigration reform was labeled as “amnesty” by Senator George Allen. Kasich, not going as hardcore as Elizabeth Dole’s 2000 campaign, had in his platform a path to legalization for illegal immigrants but no possibility of citizenship. Kasich criticized California’s budget deficit, which had ballooned as tax revenues dried up during the recession. But one of the most sustained attacks on Davis came on the matter of gay marriage. California’s sweeping domestic partnership laws, which helped shore up his left flank in the primary, were a liability in the general election. Davis was still getting hits from the left on the matter as well. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was the most visible California Democrat to critique the Governor, saying that Davis’s candidacy was playing it safe. With under a year left, it was clear that Congress and the White House would not pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as Gore promised in the 2000 election. Gay rights advocates were further frustrated with the Gore Administration’s lack of action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” despite the reforms being supported by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Eric Shineski.


    The picture of Kasich meeting Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office was prominent in advertising before the former President passed on June 5, 2004. Like Clinton for Nixon, President Al Gore declared a national day of mourning. At the state funeral in the Washington National Cathedral, the massive crowd included all the living former Presidents and First Ladies since Ford. Kasich, and thousands of other national and international dignitaries, attend the funeral service. Kasich also attended the burial service in California, but did not speak at either. Reagan’s memory was invoked regularly on the campaign trail, though. The passing highlighted the changing political generation and helped link Kasich, as the Republican nominee, as an heir of Reagan’s Revolution in the party.

    During the general, the Davis campaign went negative as well. Kasich was attacked for his actions while out of office – having since worked for Fox News and Lehman Brothers as an investment banker, saying he was “owned” by Republican media and Wall Street. The hardest messaging came on Medicare and Social Security. Davis had established a strong defense of these programs in the primary and said that Kasich wanted to privatize Social Security. Since it became an issue, Davis also spoke on the trail about how his faith informed his work and public service, including stewardship for the environment. Climate activists had grown concern about how partisan the idea of global warming had been framed since 2000. Gore’s continued efforts have brought forward Republican contrarians. While Kasich himself had positions on tackling global warming, other candidates in the primary and the official party platform spoke very little on the matter, calling for “more research.”


    The Republican National Convention in Dallas happened under heavy security. Former Governor Bush seemed to enjoy the media spotlight as the convention chairman. Despite a minor revolt by some libertarian leaning delegates backing Helen Chenworth-Hage, the four nights went off without a hitch. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator John McCain headlined the first night. For McCain, not on a ballot that fall, the speech acted as a swan song, taking the lead as the default go-to for Republican foreign policy issues. With Kasich leading steadily in the polls, McCain was seen as shoe-in for his Secretary of State. Schwarzenegger talked about a positive vision for the Republican Party and about how Governor Gray Davis was “nice, but no man of action.” There was talk of Schwarzenegger running for Governor in 2006.

    The second night featured Governors Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee. Jeb gave a shout to his brother George in the audience. The governors focused on the low tax and social conservative platform that was standard for the Party and proved the states were models of freedom. The third night featured Senator George Allen who accepted the nomination to be the Republican candidate for Vice President and then Senator Zell Miller as the Keynote. Miller was a Democrat, former Georgia Governor and sitting Senator going against his own party. He denounced Davis as unable to keep our country safe and called for more vigorous foreign policy than Gore was showing, in particular on Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.

    The final night, John Kasich was opened for by Elizabeth Dole. She had done a lot of repair inside the party since 2000. Dole introduced Kasich by speaking about some of the reasons she had chosen him as a running mate – his values, intelligence, and dedication to the American people. Last but not least, up came John Kasich. Most Americans were familiar with his story by then, and Kasich double downed on the message. The son of a mailman, he promised to deliver for the American people. He criticized the growth of government under the Gore years and promised to rebalance the budget. He promised to restore “American values” to Washington, not to cater to special interests. At its end, he whipped up the stadium in a chant of “USA, USA” as he stood on stage.

    Kasich and Allen were riding high after the convention and went on a barn burner tour through the Midwest. The campaign had landed on “A Stronger America” for their slogan. Davis, meanwhile, had to still split time back in California as Governor. Those trips back were timed with fundraisers. President Al Gore also threw his weight behind Davis’s campaign, bringing the weight of the bully pulpit. Davis had attempted to cut into the RNC afterglow coverage with the announcement of Senator Dick Durbin as his running mate, but was still behind.


    Then America learned the name Jim McGreevey. New Jersey Senator McGreevy was already the target of some negative news coverage because of his connections to Charles Kushner during Ambassadorgate. On August 27, the Friday before the convention, McGreevy held a press conference and came out as a “gay American” and admitted to having an affair while in office. The timing was horrible for the Democrats. The story had been bouncing around Tri-state region and DC inner circles, getting some local notice. Senator McGreevey knew it was going to publicly break and wanted to get ahead of the event. Gay marriage was already a hot button issue. Now a sitting United States Senator admitted the an affair while in office. John Kasich himself said it was a “private matter, but hopes he would be truthful to the voters” but had enough surrogates to make the attacks for him. The Republican ticket had been hitting family values hard before McGreevey’s announcement, so it fit well in the campaign. Davis refused to comment but surrogates were not as disciplined in their messaging as Republicans were on television in advance of the convention. McGreevey’s convention speech slot was quietly scrapped as he said he was “taking time to consider” his future, with most assuming he would resign.

    Kasich’s lead was polling around 5 points ahead of Davis by the time of the Democratic National Convention in New York. In a pivot to the general, “For the People” was his message, playing off of his theme of community and individual reform. The DNC also featured extremely strict security, representing the new reality. Questions about heavy-handed New York Police tactics with a small number of anti-war protestors was a blip on the otherwise well-received presentation. The first night was headlined by Senator Andrew Cuomo then Governor Howard Dean, who both showed strong party support for Governor Davis after they suspended thier campaigns. The second night featured Vice President Dianne Feinstein and Senator John Edwards. Feinstein spoke about Davis’s achievements in California and Edwards spoke towards the more progressive parts of the Democratic platform. Edwards’ speech in particular was extremely well received and lead to many commentators wishing he was on the ticket. The third night, Senator Dick Durbin was introduced by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., who had lost a close primary race for the Senate in Illinois but still seen as a rising star in the party. Durbin accepted his nomination and reiterated inclusive Democratic values. The vice presidential candidate was followed by President Al Gore, who received an uproarious applause.

    al tipper gore.png

    Gore’s speech was an ode to his legacy. When he took the stage, the room was full of raucous applause for the outgoing President and a chant of “four more years.” An accidental President, Gore had worked hard to be accepted by the country and by his party. He spoke about the expansion of health care and environmental protections. He spoke about American resolve in the face of terror and standing with our allies abroad. He spoke of the might of American military, but also the strength of American diplomacy, calling out the successes of the State Department in the Balkans and North Korea. Gore said that he trusted Davis to keep the fight moving forward, no matter the challenge. Gore’s speech ended with his deepest thanks to the American people, and he took his time to leave the stage when First Lady Tipper Gore met him as he walked off, basking in the cheers.

    The final night was keynoted by Governor John F. Kennedy, Jr. before Davis spoke. Kennedy spoke of his father’s values and call to service, and how he saw that reflected in Davis. Commentators saw a bright future for Kennedy in Democratic politics and there was no doubt that one day he too would run for President. After Kennedy, California First Lady Sharon Davis introduced her husband who then joined her on stage. It was a softer approach than the sharp messaging of his campaign ads. It played to his strengths, avoiding bombastic language but attempted to have an earnest conversation with the stadium and audience at home. While not a thunderous effort, the earnest straight talk worked from Davis. While not universally applauded, it was favorably compared to George Bush’s 1988 acceptance speech with its earnest appeal to a better America.

    The show of a unified Democratic Party with a message for change, even after 3 terms in the White House, appealed to the public and provided a bounce after the convention, but only came to just neck-in-neck with Kasich and failing to take any lead. Kasich’s margins recovered in the next two weeks. Political conversation the entire year circled around how the country seemed tired of a Democrat in the White House after 12 years and ready for a change. While the economy had improved since the beginning of the year, the continual growth of the 90s seemed long ago. The first debate was coming up on September 30.
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    Ch. 22: Consequences and the 2004 Election
  • The debates always play an oversized part in the narrative of Presidential campaigns. Since Nixon’s sweaty 1960 performance, the primary directive of every campaign’s debate strategy was “do no harm.” If a critical eye was to observe their actual impact, one would have to conclude that debates do not inform the voters much or demonstrate the skills that might make an effective President. Partisans, the majority of those watching, come in with their minds made up. Nobody really remembers the 2004 debates. John Kasich and Gray Davis gave perfunctory performances. They did no harm. Senator Dick Durbin was declared the clear winner of the Vice Presidential debate, putting his sharp debating skills to good use. But that too is not regularly remembered much, highlighting the perhaps overblown circus around running mate coverage.


    What is remembered is Mark Foley and Dennis Hastert. Nobody knew it at the time, but the race changed in two days. On September 28, ABC News published explicit messages and emails that Florida Representative Foley had exchanged with an teenaged male Congressional page. Additional messages were quickly uncovered and made public of more blatantly inappropriate. By September 30, he was out of office, resigning is disgrace. At the first Presidential debate, Kasich dismissed it as the bad acts of one Congressman who should be held accountable. If the matter was just with regards to one Congressman’s behavior, it might have quickly disappeared. But this was a different era in Washington, post-Clinton resignation. The digging continued. Who else knew about it on the Hill? Republicans who had loudly condemned Senator McGreevy’s gay affair were hard to pin down on the record.

    Within weeks a larger picture was established. Pages were warning each other about Foley’s behavior for almost a decade. Other Congressmembers and Hill staff were swept in what was appearing to be a cover-up – Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona had been notified as early as 2000. Foley had once showed up at the pages’ dormitory after hours before, likely drunk. It was all out in the open and waws not really a secret to Republicans on the Hill. This was quickly tied to Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office and staff. With confirmations of this behavior being reported to Hastert, did anything happen?

    In a press conference on October 2, Hastert denounced Foley’s actions and said he would have moved to expel Foley if he had not resigned. Hastert himself began to be the target of calls for resignation as well, with this behavior seemingly tolerated under his watch. Hastert refused, calling for a full investigation. A separate investigation was opened into Kolbe for his reported behavior with other pages. Majority Leader Tom DeLay struggled to provide any explanation for what was happening in his caucus and many Republicans struggled to give answers at the peak of election season The Speaker’s office was adamant that he had just informed of the allegations. It did not take long for it to be uncovered that his senior staff had certainly been informed of Foley’s behavior by 2003, if not earlier.

    Since it was a Presidential year, the candidates had to weigh in now. Davis and Kasich both called for investigations. Kasich, a former member of the House, tried to distance himself, saying he had been out of that office for a while and did not interact much with Foley. With the pressure mounting, he flipped from the stance he took in the first debate that it was an isolated event. For Davis, it was a tricky calculus. Trying to get involved might seem crass. The Democratic candidate message was that he would continue the Gore Administration’s record on accountability and visibility. Both candidates tried to keep their messages focus on the issues and ignore the circus. Davis figured they got a boost from the vice presidential debate. Kasich did well in the first debate against Davis, who seemed stiff. Republicans were bruised but weathering the storm. A single Congressman’s indiscretion wasn’t enough of a story to really move the needle in an election. Neither of them expected the real October surprise.


    Dennis Hastert used to be a high school wrestling coach. On October 11, two days before the final Presidential debate, ABC News broke the news of his own alleged crimes and subsequent cover-up during that time. The new allegations went well beyond anything Foley had been accused of. The first reactions were one of shock. Hastert was seen as affable and was respected as a competent Speaker, even Democrats would say so. He had championed several child protection acts in Congress, which was being made a messaging priority by the Republican Congress. Republicans up and down the ballot had been going into this election as the champions of family values. RNC Chairman Karl Rove regularly touted the multiple state efforts to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Kasich had effectively called out Davis as secretly wanting gay marriage to be legal in the first debate (he was running on a pro-civil union platform). The severity of the recently exposed claims against Hastert could not be ignored. On October 20, Hastert presided over the vote to replace him as Speaker, with the Republicans scrambling around Tom Delay as an interim Speaker, then resigned.

    Al Gore owed his Presidency to the infidelities and subsequent cover-up of another man. He knew it, but was able to win the 2000 election to earn the office outright as well. With the 2004 election, it would be hard to argue that Democrats would have won if it were not for the scandals of that cycle. Kasich had been maintaining slim majorities in most polls. Polling had been incredibly steady in the weeks prior to October. But there had been a steady number of undecided voters in the polling. When the final Electoral College win is 274 to 264, there was not much room for error.

    Gray Davis’s 2004 win was not as complete as Al Gore’s in 2000. He did not reach 50%, only beating Kasich by .5% nationally. Early in the night, wins in Florida and New Hampshire had given the Republicans hope. But a loss in Colorado allowed doubt to creep up. Florida would have to go to a recount in a few counties with close margins but was not the tipping state. While the final Florida results took several days to confirm, Kasich ended up being declared the winner in the Sunshine State. It was Iowa, the first state to participate in the election, that put Davis over the top that night. Although the candidacy had not gained major mainstream traction, Constitution Party candidate Alan Keyes did end up with more votes than Davis’s lead in several states, including Iowa, and was called a “spoiler.” Repeat Green candidate Ralph Nader received fewer votes than he did in 2000.

    With the House scandals, the reactions of individual members impacted the results more so than the national vote margin, but the vote had turned away from Republicans. Democrats ended up with a 13 seat majority, Nancy Pelosi was in line to be the first woman Speaker. Republicans kept the Senate with 52 total seats. Democratic wins in Alaska, Illinois, and Colorado were balanced by losses in South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida. The closest Senate race was in Illinois, where incumbent Senator Peter Fitzgerald was unseated by Comptroller Dan Hynes, which was determined only after a recount. Democrats also lost one gubernatorial race, with Republican David McIntosh winning in Indiana. About a month after Election Night, Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., who lost the early primary to Dan Hynes, was announced as the replacement to fill Durbin’s seat when he took the Vice Presidency.

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    It was a late election night. On the West Coast Gray Davis took the stage at his rally in Los Angeles around midnight local time. Somewhere in the middle of his victory speech, he thanked President Al Gore for his years of service and for restoring dignity to the Oval Office. The month after the election, the Nobel Committee announced their choice of President Al Gore for the Peace Prize, to recognize his efforts towards nuclear deproliferation and action on climate change. President Gore’s final executive efforts were in coordinating the American response to a massive tsunami in Indonesia. President-elect Gray and his transition time were closely briefed on operations as they prepared to exchange power.
    Ch. 23: 2005 and Damage Control
  • President – Gray Davis
    Vice President – Dick Durbin

    Secretary of State – Joe Biden
    Secretary of the Treasury – Tom Steyer
    Secretary of Defense – Carl Levin* (continuing role)
    Attorney General – Deval Patrick
    Secretary of the Interior – John Berry
    Secretary of Agriculture – Jim Doyle
    Secretary of Commerce – Norm Mineta
    Secretary of Labor – Linda Chavez-Thompson
    Secretary of Health and Human Services – David Satcher
    Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Saul N. Ramirez Jr.
    Secretary of Transportation – Jeff Morales
    Secretary of Energy – Mike Castle
    Secretary of Education – Gary Locke
    Secretary of Veterans Affairs – Charles Cragin*

    White House Chief of Staff – Susan Kennedy
    White House Press Secretary – Roger Salazar

    Trade Representative – Stuart Eizenstat
    Director of the Office of Management and Budget – Jack Lew*
    Ambassador to the United Nations – Susan Rice
    Director of National Intelligence – Claudia Kennedy
    Director of National Drug Control Policy – Tom Umberg
    National Security Advisor – Gary Hart
    Solicitor General – Eliot Spitzer
    Director of Environmental Protection Agency – Mary Nichols
    Director of Homeland Security – Tim Roemer
    Director of Central Intelligence Agency– Jami Miscik*
    Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – Jim Johnson*

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs - James L. Jones

    Chairman of the Federal Reserve – Roger Ferguson*

    President: Dick Durbin (D)
    President pro tempore: Ted Stevens (R)

    Majority (Republican) leadership
    Majority Leader: Mitch McConnell
    Majority Whip: Rick Santorum

    Minority (Democratic) leadership
    Minority Leader: Tom Daschle
    Minority Whip: Harry Reid

    House of Representatives
    Speaker: Nancy Pelosi

    Majority (Democratic) leadership
    Majority Leader: Bob Menendez
    Majority Whip: Jim Clyburn

    Minority (Republican) leadership
    Minority Leader: Tom DeLay
    Minority Whip: John Boehner

    It was grey but relatively warm day in Washington. Newly sworn-in President Gray Davis gave an acceptable speech to moderately sized crowd. Former Presidents Gore and Clinton were in attendance. While he maintained a mostly private lifestyle and was working on a book, his wife Hillary was more involved in activism, rumored to be the next President of Planned Parenthood. Former President George HW Bush was there as well. The most recent Republican President had left office 12 years ago. Although the margins had been slim, the Republican Party still seemed dazed after being shut out of the White House for 4 elections straight. How long ago the days of Reagan felt. Pundits, as they do, asked if there was a “permanent Democratic majority”, despite Republicans still controlling the Senate. This split in government became painful obvious in short order.


    On February 16, the Kyoto Protocol came into effect. The United States had not ratified the treaty, but was compliant and still a signatory. President Gray’s appointee for EPA Administrator had been one of the more grueling processes. His selection, Mary Nichols, was pilloried by Environment and Public Works Chair Jim Inhofe. She only passed the committee by one vote, with Lincoln Chafee defecting. Nichols was a prime example of the early struggles the Davis Administration faced. Most of them were appearance or messaging related. Despite her previous federal service, was also a member of what some media coverage had dubbed the “Cali Club”, of high ranking appointments going to Golden State figures. Most visible was Tom Steyer, hedge fund millionaire turned political activist/donor, who Davis appointed to be Treasury Secretary. Other members of the Cali Club included Norm Mineta at Commerce, Jeff Morales at Transportation, Susan Kennedy for Chief of Staff, and various deputy and lower positions. Susan Kennedy as Chief of Staff was the most concerning pick in Democratic circles. Early rumors were that Davis would pick Leon Panetta, former Congressman and Clinton Chief of Staff, who was well respected in Washington, but it did not come to be. With Kennedy as Chief of Staff and Garry South as Senior Advisor, the people closest to the President were new to Washington. Even with the White House remaining in Democratic hands, it felt like a massive transition of power to some people who suddenly found themselves on the outside.

    Women’s groups were frustrated by Davis’s initial process as well. As Vice President Feinstein left office, it felt like a step back in representation. 2004 saw a record number of women elected to Congress and then Pelosi became the first woman speaker, but the Davis Administration was found lacking. In particular, there was frustration that all of the “Big Four” Cabinet positions were filled by men – Joe Biden at State, Tom Steyer at Treasury, Deval Patrick as Attorney General, and Carl Levin was staying on as Defense Secretary. Patrick as Chief of Staff, arguably the second most powerful position in Washington, was little consolidation. Other prominent women appointments were also less visible compared to the Vice Presidency - Linda Chavez-Thompson as Labor Secretary, Nichols at EPA, Susan Rice as UN Ambassador, and Claudia Kennedy as Director of National Intelligence. Davis did gain support from LGBT groups, however. Chief of Staff Kennedy was openly lesbian, which certainly was part of her frosty acceptance on Capitol Hill. Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, was made Domestic Affairs Advisor. At the Cabinet level, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Director John Berry, who was openly gay, was appointed to be Interior Secretary and Davis basically dared Republicans to block the very qualified appointee. For those who hoped for more bipartisan representation from Davis than Gore, there was some disappointment when the only notable Republican appointed was Delaware Representative Mike Castle, a notable GOP voice on climate change, as Energy Secretary.

    kennedy davis.png

    In April, Pope John Paul II passed and it was poignant for American Catholics to see their Catholic President attend his funeral. While the 9/11 crash and War in Afghanistan had been the largest story of the past 5 years in the States, worldwide (and second at home) was the on-going revelations into the extent of the Catholic abuse scandal and cover-up. Davis was clear that he was only paying his respects to a world leader, not a subservient worshiper. It probably helped Davis and Durbin that they were refused communion, separating them from the institution. The imagery of a Catholic President at the Vatican spread rapidly in fringe, conspiratorial communities, mostly online.

    Davis quickly found legislative success - the first bill to pass was a bipartisan intelligence community strengthening and reform act. He lost some liberal votes but found support among Republicans. A bipartisan Senate and House group called the “Gang of 8” was working on immigration reform. But these easy days were not here to stay. Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced his retirement in the spring of 2005 for the summer recess. To replace Souter, President Davis nominated Second Circuit Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor's appointment cause a great debate among Senate Republicans but her appointment was not blocked outright, mostly because it did not upset the ideological balance of the court. Sotomayor had originally been appointed a federal judge by President Bush and was considered a moderate on the bench. President Gray Davis deserved his nominees, despite the Republican Senate majority, the standard consensus stated. The center held firm and Sotomayor became the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. This consensus would soon shatter. While President Davis was handling the fallout from Hurrican Karen, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died on September 3, 2005, and all of Washington came to a halt.


    Rehnquist’s passing was not surprising but still shocking; the Chief Justice had been battling cancer for months but his decline happened swiftly. Unlike the comparatively painless Souter replacement, the moderately conservative majority on the Supreme Court that existed since Nixon was seemingly doomed if Davis appointed an outright liberal justice. But a candidate would still need to pass Senate approval. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knew that he had a powerful hand. Thankfully for Democrats, the hardliners were not in total domination. The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee was the collegial centrist Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. A Senate veteran, himself undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma, he could not be bullied into the party’s new hardline. He still believed in the old school style of Senate comradery, with friends of both sides of the aisle.

    Davis knew he was in a tough situation. White House staffers searched for independent and even liberal Republican nominees who could be acceptable justices. Despite speaking a hard line, McConnell knew there were enough Republican swing votes for cloture. Senate Republicans knew they had to fill the seat, ignoring some of the more radical suggestions coming from right-wing media voices to deny Davis any appointment. The current situation, with Sotomayor recently confirmed and without a Chief Justice, was untenable. Liberal bloggers meanwhile were suggesting that President Davis could theoretically make a recess appointment for Chief Justice. A new liberal majority would be potentially more transformational than any presidency. Outflanking McConnell, Specter negotiated a compromise. The Chief Justice role had considerable sway over the business of the highest court. It would be extremely concerning for Republicans if a young, liberal justice were to become Chief Justice and dominate for decades. Behind closed doors, Davis and Specter came to an agreement. Davis nominated current Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Chief Justice, the first woman to be in that role. Although liberal, at 71 years old, her tenure would not be expansive. To replace her as an associate justice, Davis would need to nominate a moderate choice. Democrats had reshaped the Judiciary after 12 years of owning the White House, and the Republican Party wanted to retain some influence over the Supreme Court.


    The idea of appointing a Republican Senator, either currently sitting or recently retired in an attempt to placate the institution gained some traction but the choices were limited. There were very few pro-choice, a pre-requisite for a Democratic nominee, Republicans in the Senate with the correct legal background. Tom Ridge, former Governor of Pennsylvania, did not have the right credentials for a Supreme Court seat. Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld did, but was considered too liberal for Senate Republicans, especially on gay marriage. It took some effort, but eventually President Davis nominated Pamela Rymer. Originally appointed to the federal bench by Reagan, then escalated to the 9th Circuit to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy by Bush, Rymer had a personable disposition and level-headed approach that was praised by her fellow justices. Her recent decision in Planned Parenthood vs. American Coalition of Life Activists, that death threats against abortion doctors were not protected by the First Amendment, gave Davis cover from the left. A Stanford graduate, Rymer had California connections which softened her to Davis. McConnell played hardball the entire process but Rymer’s confirmation continued slowly. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison was an example of the cooperative Republican wing - saying she did not think she would vote for the candidates directly but criticized those who wanted to “stifle debate”. After months of posturing and hearings, both Ginsburg and Rymer were approved with under 60 votes. President Gray Davis seemed like the master bipartisan figure he ran as in 2004. It would slip away.

    As the drama in Washington occurred, President Davis was dealing with the most active hurricane season on record. Even though it was not the most powerful of the season, Hurricane Karen had the largest impact on American soil. In coordination with Louisiana Governor David Vitter, a massive mandatory evacuation was ordered across the state, including New Orleans. Similar actions were taken across the Gulf Coast. Multiple breaks in the levees around the city led to massive flooding and damage. Swift recovery efforts only mitigated the damage. The sheer scale of the damage shocked the nation. Later, an independent commission established by President Davis and Congress put the official death count at just shy of 400 and the total damage caused at over $90 billion. In quick secession, Hurricane Karen was outpowered by storms Rina and Wendy. Both also struck the United States but with lesser consequences. In advance of Rina, Texas Governor Rick Perry ordered the largest evacuation in American history. The damage at home overshadowed the deadliest storm - Hurricane Seth had hit Central America, where over 1500 had died in Guatemala alone. Traditional pillars in the face of rapid tragedies like the Red Cross were overwhelmed. The warmer-than-average Gulf water temperatures were seen as an early effect of climate change by advocates.
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    Ch. 24: 2005 through 2006 Midterms
  • New to the world stage, President Davis had to prove himself to the Washington establishment and other world leaders. Russian President Sergei Ivanov, also elected in 2004, gained international attention for his aggressive comments and frosty stance towards the United States. Ivanov, known for his provocative statements as Defense minister, defeated Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in a surprise to some western observers. Since the 2002 Moscow Treaty, the enlargement of NATO and election of a pro-western government in Ukraine had provoked nationalist sentiment. In 2004, President Davis had explicitly ran on a platform to end the War in Afghanistan. Approaching its fourth year, America’s end goal was an open question, especially given the struggle to find or even confirm the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Insurgent attacks had spread to northwest Pakistan, and al-Qaeda aligned groups were more prominent in north and west Africa. Rather than pulling troops home, new Joint Chief Chairman James L. Jones and President Davis ordered a surge in Afghanistan, to win a war without a goal. Using the loose language of the 2001 Authorization of Military Force against Terrorists, US forces became directly involved in several of these African conflicts as well. Support and training missions were widespread, stretching from Mali to Somalia. Technological developments and practiced mission in Afghanistan had also proved the effectiveness of a new technology – armed “drones.” Flown remotely, these lightweight aircraft could provide hours of overwatch above a location and the ability to strike immediately if a threat was identified, without risking the lives of American servicemembers. It was a powerful tool that was in its infancy under President Gore. President Davis would oversee a significant expansion of its use, including in Pakistan and on African support missions.


    Conservative activist groups and conservative House Republicans, bitter after the Supreme Court fight, surged in a base revolt over the holiday season. Talk radio and Fox News chastised their wimpy Washington leaders. Republican Study Committee Chair Mike Pence decried the past year as a “surrender.” A crisis and opportunity offered salvation. The “Fannie and Freddie” scandal would slowly unwind from 2004 into 2006. As the clean-up from Hurricane Karen continued, the damage from the mortgage crisis would grow. For years, Democratic figures had been rotating in and out of the housing giants, taking big fat payouts as their quality of service and operation declined. This rot had been spreading in the private markets as well. Major names like Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns proved to be engaging in extremely risky behavior, misleading their customers and regulators about their financial products. President Davis’s new administration began to crack down on some of the worst practices, but the markets reacted negatively. Touting his efforts in taking on Enron and Arthur Andersen, the Davis Administration had come in with an undercurrent of holding corporate power responsible. As the weaker institutions struggled to avoid collapse and regulatory scrutiny expanded, loans slowed and housing growth collapsed for the first time since the early 90s. SEC Chairman Gary Gensler, when asked about the economic struggles, said he would not apologize for enforcing the law. Federal Reserve Chairman Roger Ferguson was likely a side causality of these economic struggles. Instead of reappointing him in 2006, President Davis elevated his deputy Janet Yellen instead.

    Congress began to act as well. Senator Chuck Hagel introduced the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act which was quickly made a priority given the on-going crisis. With Republican control of the Senate, sweeping hearings were opened and Banking Commitee Chair Richard Shelby became a household name. Unemployment peaked above 6% in December 2005. The off-year elections, reflecting the uncertainty of the moment, were mixed results. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine was reelected and Republican former state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore won the race in Virginia. While the race was national news in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 hijacking, New York Mayor Fernando Ferraro's reelection got little coverage elsewhere.


    Attempting to seize the moment, House Republicans wielded little power in the minority but compensated with a strong media presence. Their messages on good governance were soon undercut. House Minority Leader Tom DeLay stepped down from his leadership position as a wide lobbying scandal was exposed, involving several other members. Orange County Congressman Christopher Cox, as a compromise between John Boehner and Roy Blunt, was elected as interim Minority Leader. Cox had coordinated the Reagan White House’s response to the Saving and Loans Scandals of the late 80s. Cox’s expertise in the field was seen as an asset in an unfolding, complicated crisis. Cox was diagnosis of thymus cancer. He underwent surgery in January and took several weeks to recover, but was given a clean bill of health and the party selected him as leader for the remainder of the term.

    As the financial crisis unfolded, there was still movement by the Gang of 8 on immigration reform. Republican National Committee "autopsies” after the 2000 and 2004 elections both pointed to the need for a softer line on immigration by the party. John Kasich had moderated from Elizabeth Dole, but the party platform had changed little. Davis’s wins in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico were critical to his close victory. RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie’s emphasized the need for temporary worker visa reform as a pro-business move. Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who won his Florida gubernatorial election in 1998 with a majority of the Hispanic vote, and his brother George Bush, now President of the influential Business Roundtable, were leading advocates outside of Washington. Although it was of great interest to President Davis, he was already extremely busy with the surge in Afghanistan, Hurricane Karen recovery, and the mortgage crisis. Vice President Dick Durbin took the lead as a key negotiator. Durbin in 2001 had introduced the DREAM Act, a bipartisan move with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, which had a framework to provide residency to undocumented immigrants brought to America as children.

    Much of the groundwork had already been done prior to the 109th Congress in other proposed legislation, like the DREAM Act. 20 years after Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 was signed February 8th by President Davis. It combined residency for immigrants with specific paths to citizenship, massive increases in border security, pro-business “blue card” visa reform, and labor-backed crackdowns on unfair hiring practices. The Act was a compromise between a mostly Democrat House bill and bipartisan Senate bill. House Republicans were basically sidelined and were vocal with their frustration. The initial reaction applauded the compromise. As the country struggled with declining job numbers, the popular reaction began to turn negative. At town halls across the country, seemingly spontaneous “Minutemen” protests became to form and decry how it was hurting them, even though most of the provisions had not even taken effect. They were made for cable news events, with angry constituents shouting down their elected officials. Republican Senate leaders in particular felt the blowback, misjudging just how unpopular the immigration reform would be. Respected Washington figures, like Orrin Hatch and Olympia Snowe, were suddenly dealing with potential primary challengers. In a backlash to the backlash, pro-immigrant counter protests also sprung up in cities across the country, although many immigration advocates were disappointed the bill did not go far enough from their perspective.


    When Eliot Spitzer came to Washington, it was originally as Solicitor General. It was not a natural fit, his background was criminal and corporate prosecutions, not federal constitution debates. The New York media dubbed him the “Sheriff of Wall Street” during his tenure as New York Attorney General. Even in that role he had gained national attention to the point of being suggested as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2004. With the unfolding financial crises, Davis appointed him as Deputy Attorney General under Deval Patrick. While Patrick kept focused on terrorism and general business, Spitzer from 2005 into 2006 was the face of the Davis Administration for investigations into white collar crime, leveraging a masterful use of media relations to apply pressure outside of the courtroom. The drive that possess a man to reach such high profile and high pressure role though often come with other consequences as well. His bank was concerned with recent payments being made were potential fraud perpetrated against Spitzer and reported the matter to the IRS, which was then reported to the FBI in 2005 under the new provisions Davis signed into law the year before. When the findings were clear on March 7, 2006, FBI Director Jim Johnson directly informed Attorney General Patrick of the open investigation and Davis asked for Eliot Spitzer’s resignation immediately. Patrick publicly announced the investigation appointed U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as Special Counsel. The Eliot Spitzer scandal was a juicy story – as Solicitor General and Deputy Attorney General, Spitzer had solicited prostitutes. A panel on the DC Circuit Court upheld Fitzgerald’s appointment and confirmed his appointment as Independent Counsel. The investigation continued to get media attention through the 2006 midterms, much to the chagrin of Democratic candidates. Spitzer’s swift resignation did little to stop the media frenzy around the White House which went into full damage control. But Republican figures did not go unscathed. Louisiana Governor David Vitter, who was getting national praise for his handling of Hurricane Karen, admitted to being a customer of the same service. Vitter had dismissed similar rumors in his 2003 gubernatorial run as dirty politics. He did not immediately resign and asked for forgiveness. Republicans likely did not pressure Vitter further because his Lieutenant Governor was Democrat Mitch Landrieu.


    Positive job numbers had slowly been eating away at the unemployment rate, ticking to 4.9% at the end of October. Wages were down overall and few Americans gained any benefits from the Dow Jones Industrial Average rally. The slow and steady improvements were not great headlines though as the Democratic establishment had been fighting negative headwinds the entire year. From the Minutemen protests to frustration over the never-ending war in Afghanistan, the American voter was seen as reacting against overpromises made by Democrats, and Republicans hailed it as a reaction against big government. Republican majorities would control both houses of the 110th Congress. Christopher Cox was Speaker-in-waiting with a 19-seat majority, swinging over 30 seats. It was a mixed map, but Republicans add two seats to their majority. They were disappointed by Rick Santorum’s loss to Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, and unperformed in the Delaware and Illinois special elections. Appointed Senator Ted Kaufman declined to run in Delaware, but Democrats recruited US Attorney Beau Biden, Secretary of State Joe Biden’s son, clearing the primary field and easily won in November. Republican wins in Missouri and Montana were expected, but the biggest surprise of the night was California, the President's home state. Senator Antonio Villaraigosa admitted to longtime rumors of an affair and that he and his wife would be separating. This news came out after the primary, though, and Villaraigosa remained on the ticket. In a squeaker, he was defeated by moderate Republican Condoleezza Rice, Provost at Stanford University. Even with the Senate race victory, Republicans failed to unseat Governor Cruz Bustamante. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign never materialized when his own marital indiscretions were exposed, which allowed wealthy Congressman Darrel Issa to clear the Republican primary. Despite his massive campaign chest, Issa underperformed compared to Rice and came up short.
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    Ch. 25: 2007 Kicks Off
  • Senate
    President: Dick Durbin (D)
    President pro tempore: Ted Stevens (R)

    Majority (Republican) leadership
    Majority Leader: Mitch McConnell
    Majority Whip: John Kyl

    Minority (Democratic) leadership
    Minority Leader: Tom Daschle
    Minority Whip: Harry Reid

    House of Representatives
    Speaker: Christopher Cox

    Majority (Republican) leadership
    Majority Leader: John Boehner
    Majority Whip: Roy Blunt

    Minority (Democratic) leadership
    Minority Leader: Nancy Pelosi
    Minority Whip: Steny Hoyer


    After the midterm loses, President Gray Davis felt the pressure to make changes. In a postelection press conference, he shared that he saw the election was a “wake up call” and his administration would be “hitting the reset button.” DNC Chairman John Edwards stepped down at the end of the year, and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was elected, promising Democrats had not forgotten the American heartland. With both chambers gone, Davis was forced to work with an emboldened Republican Congress. Almost two years in the role, Tom Steyer resigned as Treasury Secretary. Davis’s first pick was former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who he tried to get appointed in the lame duck session. Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker-elect Christopher Cox were not content to “live and let live.” McConnell, who had not been asked ahead of time, said the partisan figure was a nonstarter and would likely not even get a hearing. It was a power move that surprised the Davis White House. Congressional Democrats were frustrated they didn’t see it coming and it proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. White House Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy stepped down. Kennedy, like Mack McLarty and Hamilton Jordan before her, struggled to integrate herself into the insular Washington . Leon Panetta, seeing the struggles, finally agreed to return to the role. In an Oval Office meeting before the Christmas recess, Republicans agreed to at least give a hearing to OMB Director Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary in the new session.

    The troop surge, after a negative public reception, seemed to getting results as Taliban-affiliated villages slowly but steadily opened to coalition government and IED attacks declined. It had largely faded from the public’s view by 2007. Vice President Dick Durbin was visiting Bagram Airfield when a suicide attack killed 23 people, although the Vice President was not in danger. The Administration was planning a troop drawdown from the peak of 120,000 combined coalition forces. As they looked to draw down in Afghanistan though, American forces were engaging in new theaters. The U.S. forces supporting the Somali Transitional Federal Government directly engaged in combat in January. Defense experts, remembering the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident, were wary of engagement in the region. As the Republican Congress began to ramp up to what was becoming a potentially heated budget fight, prospective candidates were announcing their 2008 Presidential campaigns to win back the White House after four losses in a row. President Davis, prepared to wield the veto pen in the upcoming sessions, also started laying the groundwork for his reelection.


    The first announcements were by politicians saying they were not interested in the running. Former Senator John McCain and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, both burned by previous primary loses, declined to run again. Potential first time candidates Utah Governor Mitt Romney and former Senator Bill Frist also declined. An effort to draft retired General Tommy Franks, who had endorsed John Kasich in 2004, into the race fizzled out. One of the first announcements came from California Congressman Duncan Hunter. Like many Golden State Republicans, his profile had been elevated being from the President’s homestate. As the Housed Armed Services Chairman, he was also a visible critic of the President’s Afghanistan strategy. Kicking off his campaign in South Carolina, he hoped to appeal to national security Republicans. His announcement was overshadowed in the state when its Governor, Mark Sanford, announced his own campaign as a budget hawk and social conservative. The south was well represented in the primaries, former candidates Governor Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush also announced 2004 campaigns. Joining them were former Vice Presidential candidate Senator George Allen and former Governor Jim Gilmore, both from Virginia. The sheer number of candidates from the region showed just how solidly Republican the south had become. Outside of the south, Nevada Senator John Ensign and former Minnesota Governor Norm Coleman formed exploratory committees.

    As the open Republican contest gained speed, there was a stirring of a primary contest against President Davis from his left. Anti-war Democrats were frustrated by Afghanistan and the expanded actions across Africa. At home, Davis was getting attacks from his left on civil liberties and the expanded security state, the compromises made on the immigration bill, constrained spending on social programs, and a litany of other disappointments depending on who was asked. Former DNC Chairman John Edwards, feeling scapegoated after the midterm loss, and recently elected Senator Bernie Sanders (nominally an independent) were making subtle moves towards a primary race without openly saying so. Reverend Al Sharpton also made moves to potentially challenge the sitting President, saying he had been failing on issues most critically impacting Black Americans. Davis responded by lining up a massive list of early endorsers from Democrats across the board and formally announced his campaign on April 9. Just the previous week, the Supreme Court had upheld a decision that the EPA was allowed to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. Senators Jesse Jackson, Jr., Andrew Cuomo, Bill Bradly, Russ Feingold, and Dennis Archer were all early to reconfirm their support for Davis in the primary. While President Gray Davis was comparably a weak candidate given the state of the economy, incumbency was still a formidable tool.
    Ch. 26: 2007 Struggles
  • jeb bush.png

    The 2008 Republican primary contests were looking to be extremely front loaded, with a calendar that awarded almost half of the total delegate count by February 5. That meant the 2007 debates, fundraising, and general politicking was more critical than ever before. Fundraising soon broke record numbers – mostly driven by the heavy hitters Jeb Bush, George Allen, and John Ensign. But with 16 primary debates in 2007, there was also room for other candidates to prove their worth. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California hosted the first debate in May. Almost every candidate referenced President Reagan’s record and compared it with the “disaster” of President Gray Davis. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a repeat candidate, failed to garner the same fundraising levels but his name recognition among social conservative groups like the Family Research Council buoyed him in early straw polls in Iowa and South Carolina. But new faces George Allen and John Ensign dominated the early front-runner stories. Cut out from Washington, Huckabee, Bush, and Mark Sanford struggled to gain national attention. Despite the early campaign fundraising domination, the campaign was struggling with messaging. Other than his family name, why was he running? Florida and 2004 veterans clashed with more recent hires.

    Senator George Allen also struggled to gain an upper hand on his competitors as well. Allen’s goal was to basically replicate what John Kasich had done 4 years earlier – use his running mate candidacy as a base to claim ‘heir apparent’ and establishment report. As the vice presidential candidate, Allen as the “commonsense conservative” candidate gained a lot of enthusiasm on the campaign trail. But, just before all hell broke loose in the Foley-Hastert scandals, many political operatives remember the Vice Presidential debate where Dick Durbin “took his lunch money.” It was a similar story that haunted Jack Kemp, who had joined the 1996 campaign to great fanfare but was almost dismissed in 2000. Allen’s low-key “common man” campaign was compared to fellow Senator John Ensign. Ensign had been a powerful Senate communicator and his organization’s rigorous message control helped him in the early months. Ensign’s history as a veterinarian and animal rights advocate also helped him put on a softer image than the cutthroat D.C. politics he was associated with. Ensign also got attention with the mainstream press on the matter of gay rights, saying that if the Joint Chiefs approved of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, then civilian leaders should not override them.


    Horserace polling vacillated back and forth in 2007. No single candidate had a firm grip on the race. There were also lulls where media attention was drawn to new candidates who floated entering the race. Former New York Mayor Rudy Guliani took full advantage of his city’s dominance in the national media, but never actually jumped in the race. Despite statements that he stood behind his brother 100%, when Jeb Bush was struggled through the summer months, George Bush seemed like a potential lifeboat for pro-business donors. Again, this never materialized and helped to fill the gaps of 24/7 media coverage. This phenomenon was replicated on the Democratic side. John Edwards never filed any paperwork, but somehow was consistently a subject of speculation.

    The speculation around a legitimate primary challenge against President Davis certainly spiked during several round of heated budget and authorization bills. Most public were the arguments over the Defense and State Department authorization bills. President Davis vetoed both bills produced by Congress, leading to political grandstanding about how the President didn’t want to fund American soldiers, or as the Democrats argued the President was still the Commander-in-Chief. Disagreements over the State Department came to a compromise conclusion. Since Ambassadorgate, Republicans had been hammering the drum against Democratic political patronage through executive appointments. Republican House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen managed to negotiate a compromise on State Department funding. Effective 2009, there was a drastic reduction in the number of State Department positions the President could directly appoint where the appointee did not have experience as a Foreign Service Officer. The negotiation got deep down into the minutiae – if the UN Ambassador was exempt but not others to international organizations, for example. Defense authorization was a higher stakes struggle. The Republican Congress wanted to write into law that the President had to formalize an anticipated “end of mission” date. The AUMF in Afghanistan had just been reauthorized for another 3 years in 2006, but this was way to force the President to go on record that there was no clear end in sight. With media coverage turning against him, Davis signed the bill and denoted the AUMF’s expiration as America’s targeted withdrawal date.


    Jeb Bush reset his campaign staff in August. Steve Schmidt, who had steered Senator Condoleezza Rice’s victory in 2006, was brought on to manage day-to-day operations. It was fortunate timing. Rick Davis, George Allen’s campaign manager, resigned after news stories broke about his extremely profitable contract work for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Any associations with the organizations, now under federal stewardship, were toxic this campaign cycle. Allen also struggled to step away from Jim Gilmore, who continued to raise Virginia specific issues at every debate. Originally considered a long shot campaign, Duncan Hunter won the Texas Straw Poll in early September. But his coverage was eclipsed by another House member – Ron Paul. Running as an ideological libertarian, Paul positioned himself as the candidate best positioned to oppose “big government” Davis. His strongest support and fundraising came from online organization, setting a single day fundraising record in October.

    While there were still lingering doubts about liberal support for President Davis, he got a boost in October. House Republicans, left out of the negotiations last year, passed a 2008 appropriations bill that included a delay of the reforms in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. The Senate was unable to pass anything close to the House bill without destroying the filibuster. Already dead over judicial and executive appointments, McConnell knew killing it for all legislation was a bridge too far for his caucus. President Davis said any bill that delayed the hard won reforms would be vetoed. On October 1 and without a continuing resolution, the federal government shutdown for the first time since 1996. Ironically, efforts to lessen the damage done by a shutdown by increasing the number of “essential” workers probably made a shutdown more likely since it was less widespread than the shutdowns of the 90s. Speaker Christopher Cox knew he could pass a budget to match the Senate bill with a Republican minority and Democrat majority, but it would potentially cost him his gavel. Trying to call the bluff of conservative members, led by Joe Barton, Cox did not anticipate they would take it to the point of shutdown. Senator Allen was particularly concerned about the shutdown, which impacted thousands of workers in northern Virginia. He also got hit for missing key budget votes while on the campaign trail. In a closed-door session, Cox laid out the options on the table. He would bring the Senate proposal to the table to an open floor vote. If there was a leadership challenge, he would not step aside and any challenger would split the Republican vote and allow Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to win the Speakership. Their bluff called, the House passed the Senate proposal with Democratic and Republican votes. Davis swiftly signed the budget and ended the 12 day shutdown. Pundits who claimed this victory secured Davis’s reelection forgot how long an election can last.

    The Iowa caucuses were just around the corner on January 3.
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    Ch. 27: The 2008 Race Begins
  • If it had not been so tawdry, the Louisiana gubernatorial race probably would not have been national news. Steve Beshear’s win in Kentucky and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s reelection certainly did not get wide attention. But Governor David Vitter had a prostitute sex scandal, which certainly got people’s attention. Widely praised after Hurricane Karen, Vitter thought he could weather the media storm. He had several challengers in the unique jungle primary system. He had two major Republican challengers – State Treasurer John Kennedy (who switched parties just before the election) and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Both focused on the moral failings of the Governor, especially Perkins. Democrats meanwhile united behind former Senator John Breaux. Breaux was considered the most popular Democrat in the state and cleared the field for his party, with Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu and his sister former Senator Mary Landrieu both declining to run one Breaux’s intentions were clear. Vitter, Perkins, and Kennedy all argued about which one of them could beat Breaux in a run-off, but apparently did themselves too much damage. Breaux won the November election with over 50%, avoiding any run-off.

    huckabee 08.png

    The Louisiana race was soon forgotten by political spectators as the Republicans came up to the Iowa caucus. The Des Moines Register held the final debate before the contests on December 12, before the holidays. Given the proximity to Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the narrative out of that debate was the one that lead into January 3. Mike Huckabee seemed to dominate the stage, comfortable with appeals to middle class Midwesterners. George Allen had made a splash with major news coverage and was considered the likely runner-up to Huckabee. MSNBC and CNN polls even showed Allen with a slight lead in Iowa in some polls just after Christmas. After that, it was difficult to trace how the other candidates placed in the horserace. When the results came in, there were some surprises.

    As expected, Mike Huckabee won with a little over 30%. But it was Senator John Ensign that came in a surprise second at 21%, with Jeb Bush and George Allen tied for third at 12%. It was covered as a surprise win for Ensign and surprise loss for Allen, but roughly aligned with the Des Moines Register poll the same week as the MSNBC and CNN polls. New Hampshire was only 5 days after Iowa, with a debate in between, as the campaigns pivoted. Ensign had been catapulted to the front of media coverage and was the primary target of the debate. But the Senator seemed unprepared to fend off such constant rebukes, and the narrative changed again when the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed Allen. With the endorsement bump, Allen eked out a victory over Jeb Bush, with Ensign and Sanford following. While the Wyoming caucus went unnoticed, the Michigan primary dominated a week away. It had moved up its vote earlier than Nevada and South Carolina, violating a Republican National Convention rule which led to half its delegates being stripped away. But with even half the delegates, was still the largest contest until Florida in two weeks, which was in the bag for Bush. Ensign’s media appearances had recovered after New Hampshire and his campaign hoped Michigan would be the contest to bring him back into the lead. They were sorely disappointed. It all came crashing down when an Ensign staffer's husband accused the Senator of having an affair. Beyond that, the Senator and his wife were close personal friends of the staffer and her husband. While Ensign denied it the same day, the high profile coverage of the primary turned the heat up on the candidate. Photographs from the campaign trail, of Ensign and the staffer in close quarters, surfaced immediately. Nothing was definitive but the implications were enough. Governor Mark Sanford, a close friend and even former housemate of Ensign’s, said the Senator should take time to sort his personal matters out. It was clear that his campaign was over.

    ensign resign.png

    With the endorsement of Governor Dick DeVos, Bush got his first campaign win in Michigan, but split the delegates with Sanford and Allen. The win was a good bump for a campaign that seemed listless and forgotten in the wake of juicy scandal coverage. But just four days later was Nevada and South Carolina. Sanford had an easy win in his home state, but with the sudden exit of Ensign, Nevada was wide open. Governor Kenny Guinn, considered a moderate, had some sway with his endorsement of Allen but he still came in second to Huckabee, whose campaign worked the caucus and had nurtured grassroots organization. The next and final major event before Super Tuesday was Florida. Everyone knew Bush would dominate the winner-take-all contest. In the Boca Raton, the debate stage got heated when the candidates moved to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. Senator Allen was the only one on stage who had actually voted on the bill, and said he now “regretted” his vote. Huckabee and Sanford both said they opposed the bill’s final form and would not have passed it. Only Bush said it was a good compromise, and as President he would strictly enforce it. The question was after the debate would come in second to Bush in the Sunshine state, who was still generally ahead in national polling as well. Huckabee’s grassroot ‘get out the vote’ team seemed to give him an edge, leaving both Allen and Sanford almost 10 points behind. Once again, a candidate who was flying under the radar of major news coverage got a boost in attention. Sanford, after coming in fourth place, saw two rough weeks ahead until Super Tuesday and was low on funding. After Florida, he dropped out and endorsed Allen.

    Meanwhile, the night prior to the Florida primary had been President Gray Davis’s final State of the Union address before the election. Davis, never heralded as one of the great presidential orators, had grown more comfortable in the role over the past three years. It was an opportunity to lay out his accomplishments and set a new agenda that would be the blueprint for a second term. Off the record quotes said that President Davis was frustrated that he was not getting enough credit for his accomplishments. He had been underwater or close to it in approval polls for some time. His nadir had been on his 1000th day in office, polling as low as -10 approval. In the address, Davis listed his accolades and touted compromises he had made with Republicans. Domestically, immigration reform and the (slow) economic recovery were his biggest wins. Neither were very popular currently but approval polls were trending in the right direction. On the horizon, Davis hoped to pivot in his second term to grander foreign policy accomplishments. The Afghanistan surge was showing results. The North Korea agreement was continuing to show slow results. America, Davis said, was strong enough to “build democracy abroad.” While the majority of the speech was devoted to how Republicans and Democrats could accomplish great things together, near the end of his speech Davis hammered “Republican obstruction” for holding up appointments to the federal judiciary. Davis had only one Court of Appeals nominee approved since the midterm elections. For court watchers, it was a notable break from norms. The line saw major applause from Congressional Democrats and total silence from Republicans. As it was the previous year, the Republican response was given jointly by Speaker Christopher Cox and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as not to highlight any favored figures during a primary process.

    davis gore 2004.png
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