The air was a little brisk in Washington this week but the political thermometer hit code red. The CIA leak investigation has mesmerized beltway insiders and headlines in the Washington Post and Bloomberg that the focus was now on VP Cheney's office set off a nuclear reaction. Some fanciful speculation from US News and World Report.com 's Paul Bedard that there was a "buzz" that if the Vice President were indicted (something that had never been suggested) Condi Rice would take his slot, made the rounds faster than a speeding bullet.
One Republican consultant, who I called about a mundane, local off-year election, kept steering the conversation back to the CIA leak case, saying he had gotten a bunch of calls about this rumor and wanted to know what I thought would happen. The skittishness over this and other problems —- the President's poor poll ratings, the investigations of Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, the Harriet Miers confirmation troubles, not to mention the high price of gas and the war in Iraq has come to be labeled by Republicans as a "difficult political climate," as in "the difficult political climate that we are operating in is not very favorable."
That unfavorable climate for the GOP is somewhere between a tsunami and a monsoon and those who are working in elections this fall are feeling particularly battered. Sure-fire draw Karl Rove had to pull out of a fundraiser for the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia last Saturday because of the "climate." And Republicans working in Virginia worry that swing voters in the Washington media market are hearing more about the CIA than about the gubernatorial campaign.
Polls show that while the race is close in the red state, Democratic voters are far more energized than Republicans. And, for Democrats the climate in the state is pretty good. Democratic Gov. Mark Warner is very popular and by a 2-1 margin Virginians say the state is on the right track.
National polls released this week show voters feeling pessimistic about the country. The Diego/Hotline poll found that by 60-26 percent voters believe the country is on the wrong track. The CNN/Gallup poll found that suburban voters' dissatisfaction has gone 56 percent to 69 percent in the past few weeks. The President's rating overall is now under 40 percent and among those suburban voters it has dropped 10 points from 51 percent approve to 41 percent approve.
Ironically, in New Jersey the DCP (difficult political climate) may be hurting the Democrat, Sen. Jon Corzine who had a huge lead in the gubernatorial race this summer. Recent polls have shown the race to be close and Corzine's Republican opponent, Doug Forrester, is running ads trying to associate Corzine with corruption in the state. A new Quinnipiac poll indicates that almost two-thirds of the voters believe that the corruption is serious and associate it with Democrats 50 percent to 22 percent.
Then there's the DPC in California where Gov. Schwarzenegger has a package of ballot measures he is trying to pass. Schwarzenegger's approval ratings have plummeted to 36 percent in one poll out this week. His idea of putting a series of ballot initiatives on the ballot this year has drawn millions of dollars in negative advertising.
This week the unions shifted gear from a scatter shot approach to each individual measure to an uber-negative ad campaign against Schwarzenegger. A new spot begins with Schwarzenegger on the Jay Leno Show in August 2003. "I do not have to bow to any special interests I have plenty of money. No one can pay me off. Trust me." A firefighter then says, "But now he's taking millions from developers and big business."
Along with Schwarzenegger's proposals the pharmaceutical industry (not a particularly well-liked group) is spending over $80 million to defeat a measure that would penalize them for not offering a good deal on drugs. Over $200 million has already been spent on TV ads on the eight referenda.
A number of national Republicans have said the one silver lining of the DPC is that it is happening in 2005 not 2006. And despite the Republican woes the Democrats have yet to benefit. It looks like it may take more than the wind at their backs to take advantage of the climate.