Tuesday, December 16, 2008

True, we're even further than we've been from knowing who's going to sit in THIS Senate. Still, it's never too soon to be thinking about the NEXT one


Senator Hutchison and Governor Perry with, I dunno, some old guy

by Ken

It seems as if day by day we know less rather than more about who exactly's going to be in the Senate when the 111th Congress convenes next month.

Of course we're still waiting for a final count in the Coleman vs. Franken race in Minnesota. And we're still no closer to any resolution of the questions, in Illinois and New York, as to who will replace President-elect Obama and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton -- though in New York note is being taken of the Politico report that Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg has hired "major Democratic fixer" Josh Isay as a consultant, apparently (a) to show she means business about being considered for the job, (b) to plug the large gaps in her New York political connectedness, and perhaps (c) to scare off some lower-power contenders.

[UPDATE: On FireDogLake, Jane Hamsher points out that in 2006 Isay did ads for Joe Lieberman which helped persuade Connecticut voters that His Holiness meant business about bringing the troops home from Iraq.]

Meanwhile, the impending designation of Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as interior secretary will create yet another opening to be filled by gubernatorial appointment followed by a special election in 2010, when Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., a Democrat, will presumably also be running for reelection.

While we await the scramble for that appointment, we're already looking ahead to the 112th Congress. We have news of two currently Republican seats, in Texas and Missouri, that may be more competitive in 2010 than Democrats would have thought.

Let's take them one at a time, starting with --

seat currently held by Kay Bailey Hutchison (R)

If Senator Hutchison decides to run for reelection, I doubt that anyone gives any potential Democratic opponent a serious shot at defeating her. But as has been widely reported, the senator has apparently been giving serious thought to running for governor instead -- even if that means a primary challenge to her fellow Republican, two-term Gov. Rick Perry, widely considered a serious contender for the title of Dumbest Human in Electoral Politics. The talk is serious enough that it includes the possibility that Senator Hutchison might actually resign from the Senate to make the race. Clearly, if she decides to pursue the governorship, the Senate race changes complexion..

One of our online go-to guys in matters of finance and economics, Bonddad, happens to be a Houstonian, and a big fan of Mayor Bill White, who now seems prepared to make the race in the event that Senator Hutchison does step down from the Senate to run for governor. Passing this Houston Chronicle story on, Bonddad didn't even try to curb his enthusiasm:

I am so incredibly excited about this. Bill White has been a fabulous mayor for the city. He has been especially good during the two hurricanes we have been through here. He is plain talking, straightforward and just simply a good guy. Most importantly, he gets the job done. Houston has worked under his leadership.

Now other Texas progressive sources are more cautious about White, whom they describe as a conservative Democrat. But my Houstonian sources, while conceding that White himself can't be described as a progressive, insist that the man inspires confidence and gets things done.

Here's the story:

White eyes Hutchison's U.S. Senate seat
Houston mayor plans to run if she vies for governor


Mayor Bill White has decided to seek the U.S. Senate seat held by Kay Bailey Hutchison, should the two-term Republican resign next year to challenge the sitting governor, the Houston Chronicle has learned.

Ending months of speculation about his political future, White plans to announce his intentions at an event next week, according to several sources close to the mayor.

White declined to confirm his intentions during an interview Friday evening, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss his political future on the day the city buried a police officer. He said he plans to make an announcement next week.

He also said that it's "possible, but unlikely" he will change his mind over the weekend.

In considering his future in recent weeks, White said a number of Texans have indicated he should "try to shape policies that can result in secure and affordable and cleaner forms of energy, both for this community and for the country. That's been a big part of a lot of conversations."

White, a third-term mayor and former state Democratic Party chair, has been discussed for years as a possible gubernatorial candidate, in part because of his appeal as a popular, moderate leader from the state's largest city.

The mayor joins another moderate Democrat seeking the seat -- former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, who announced earlier this week that he plans to get into the race.

"I know that he's been concerned that Texas does not have sufficient voice in Washington, and he feels that he can fill that gap," said Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg.

Hutchison has filed paperwork allowing her to explore the idea of challenging current Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican.

Perry, already the longest-serving Texas governor in state history, has said he intends to keep his job, setting up a potential primary battle between two well-funded and known Republicans.

That potential contest was highlighted Friday when the Hutchison team released a poll conducted for the senator by Voter Consumer Research, based in the Houston area.

The Hutchison team said a poll of GOP primary voters found Hutchison with 55 percent support and Perry with 31 percent, with the rest saying they did not know or choosing another option. The Hutchison team also said she would top either White or Sharp in a general-election race, but did not release figures.

Perry pollster Mike Baselice, while declining to release figures, said the governor's team has its own poll showing that in a Republican primary, "He beats her like a drum."

Neither White nor Sharp has filed documents with the Federal Election Commission, establishing a Senate campaign committee for 2010, according to commission spokesman Bob Biersack.

A spokesman for Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the incoming chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said to his knowledge White had not spoken to Menendez about support for a prospective campaign.

If Hutchison resigns her seat, which she has said she would do late next year, Perry would appoint her temporary successor pending a special election.

That would spark a multi-candidate special election which, if held in November, could coincide with city elections in Houston influencing statewide turnout -- a potential benefit to White.

Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, also a Republican, said Friday he plans to explore a run. At least three other Republican prospective candidates have filed for the seat: Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, insurance sales manager Scott Nichol and state Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano.

Other rumored possibilities are Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Willliams and U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth -- all Republicans.

Prospective Senate candidates exploring campaigns are permitted to accept donations and use the money for polling, travel, telephone calls and lodging without immediately reporting the donations and expenditures to the commission, Biersack said.

Only when they decide to become full-fledged candidates do they have to report donations and spending.

The prospect of a special election for a Senate seat could be a tantalizing one for candidates, said Southern Methodist University
political scientist Cal Jillson. The 1961 Senate race drew more than 70, he said.

Nor would a surprise winner be unheard of, Jillson said, noting that the late Republican John Tower emerged the winner in 1961.

"Special elections bring out large numbers of people," he said. "They have unpredictable outcomes."

A successful Senate bid would allow White a chance to return to Washington, D.C., and, perhaps, pursue one of his passions: national energy policy. He worked as a U.S. Energy Department undersecretary during the Bill Clinton administration, and as a U.S. House aide on natural gas policy during the 1970s.

Still, the odds of a Democratic victory could be long.

"Bill is one of the brightest people I've ever met," Birnberg said. "He doesn't decide things unless he believes in his heart of hearts that he can win."

Reporters Janet Elliott, Alan Bernstein, Carolyn Feibel, Stewart Powell and Bradley Olson contributed to this report. Fikac reported from Austin.

[Up next: MISSOURI. At 70, will Republican Sen. Kit Bond run again? What effect will third parties have in 2010?]

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