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News from the Votemaster

Kennedy's Death Leaves HELP Committee Chairmanship Vacant     Permalink

Ted Kennedy's death creates a vacancy at the top of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, which he previously chaired. Next in line is Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). However, to take this chairmanship, Dodd would have to resign as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. So he has to choose which committee he wants to run.

His choice is complicated by his own electoral predicament. His approval rating in Connecticut has fallen in recent months due to a widespread perception that he hasn't come down very hard on the bankers who caused the economic crisis, and has done nothing to reign in outlandlish salaries. Many people feel that having the taxpayers give hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks and then have them spend billions to give bonuses to the bozos whose incompetence caused the crisis is intolerable. It is one thing to lavishly reward successful executives for outstanding performance but something else to reward them equally well with taxpayers' money for abject failure. As a consequence of Dodd's lack of action, he is facing his first serious election challenge in 2010, possibly from former representative Rob Simmons (R), although Simmons will face several primary opponents. And Dodd has been in the news for getting a sweetheart deal on a mortgage from a company his committee oversees, although the Ethics Committee has cleared him of any wrongdoing. In addition, Dodd has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

As a result of all this, Dodd may prefer running the HELP committee, which will allow him to take credit for a successful health insurance reform bill although he will have to butt heads with Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which is drawing up its own bill. Dodd is fairly liberal and Baucus is fairly conservative so it would be a bad start for Dodd to lose his first fight as HELP chairman.

If Dodd indeed chooses for HELP, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) is next in line to chair the Banking committee. However, Johnson suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in Dec. 2006 and may not feel up to the job of taking on the banking industry. If he wants the job, majority leader Harry Reid said he can have it. However, if Johnson declines, next in line is Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), one of the most liberal members of the Senate and someone who might well take on the banking industry.

Of course, Dodd also has the option of staying put at the Banking committee. If he does that, then next in line at HELP is Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). But to accept that chairmanship, Harkin would have to give up his chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee, something he would be hesitant to do given the importance of agriculture in his home state of Iowa. If he passes, the new HELP chairman would be Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a feisty liberal from Maryland. So depending on what Dodd, Johnson, and Harkin do, we could have quite a different lineup in the Senate shortly.

Melancon Running Against Vitter     Permalink

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), has announced that he is running for the Democratic nomination to take on Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the only Republican ever elected to the Senate from Louisiana since direct election of senators began almost 100 years ago. He is also the only senator ever to appear on the D.C. Madam's list of frequent flyers. In most states, visiting prostitutes does not affect your political career for the better (see: Spitzer, Eliot), but Louisiana has a famous live and let live attitude. Still Melancon is a serious challenger. In the category of less serious (but much more fun) challengers, we have porn star Stormy Daniels, who is toying with the idea of running. She has no problem with Vitter's extracurricular activities, but is incensed by his hypocrisy in campaigning on family values but not applying them to his own life. She hasn't announced a formal candidacy yet (but she did set up an exploratory committee and is touring the state). She also hasn't said if she is a Democrat or a Republican. If her goal is to inflict maximum damage on Vitter, declaring as a Republican and forcing him into a primary that will get a lot of news coverage is clearly the way to go. There is little point in challenging Melancon, but who knows. As an aside, in the election to replace the recalled Gov. Gray Davis (D-CA) in 2003, another porn star, Mary Carey, came in 10th out of 135 candidates. But that was just a PR stunt. If Daniels runs, she is doing it for a clear political reason: to embarrass Vitter. If she somehow were elected, Louisiana would become the fourth state with two women senators (after Washington, California, and Maine).

Melancon will thus not run for his current House seat in LA-03. The district is R+12, which means that it is a virtual certainty that the Republicans will pick up the seat.

Douglas Bows Out of Gubernatorial Race in Vermont     Permalink

While the Democrats will probably lose LA-03, they will now probably win the governorship of Vermont, a reliably blue state, now that Gov. Jim Douglas (R-VT) has said that he will not run for a fifth two-year term. The Democrats have a very deep bench here and there could be a primary to determine who the nominee will be. The Republicans have almost no bench and have little chance of winning unless the Progressive Party puts up a very strong candidate and siphons off enough Democratic votes to prevent the Democrat from getting 50%, in which case the legislature elects the governor. But any Democratic candidate can counter this threat by moving to the left. That does no harm in Vermont. After all, one of the state's senators, Bernie Sanders, is an avowed Socialist.

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