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Picking At Tea Leaves

(CBS/The Early Show)
'Tis a banner day for the endless reading of election tea leaves, and plenty of the usual analysts are offering their perspectives – particularly with regard to the most recent little surprises that the last week has brought.

This past weekend was ushered in with news that National Association of Evangelicals' spokesman Ted Haggard was resigning his post following accusations from a male prostitute who claimed to have had numerous meth-fueled trysts with the pastor. Haggard later admitted to buying meth and receiving a massage from the prostitute, and then on Sunday told members of his church that he was guilty of "sexual immorality."

The predictions of how this might affect Republicans at the polls are, predictably, mixed. One "conservative activist who describes himself as a former homosexual," Stephen Bennett, told the Kansas City Star: "Will this affect the elections next Tuesday? ... You better believe it. The more and more hypocrisy I see each day, the more I realize next Tuesday we are going to get exactly what we deserve." In a shocking twist, a Republican pollster disagreed, arguing that conservatives are indeed put off by such news, but not that much: "Are they so discouraged they're going to participate in any movement to have Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi run the country? No."

If Haggard's woes are affecting your vote, John Dickerson suggests that you e-mail him explaining why (slatepolitics@slate.com) because, writes Dickerson: "I don't think you really exist or exist in large enough numbers to change much on Tuesday." So take that.

And how about that verdict in the Saddam Hussein trial? The one that some critics have derided as being timed specifically to occur before the midterm elections. Sneaky! Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole said she didn't think it would have too much of an effect on the elections. Democrat Joe Biden agreed on "Face The Nation," in characteristically inflammatory terms: "There's a special place reserved in hell for Saddam. That's the only thing I think will matter. But I don't think it will have any impact on the election." And The Washington Post's Peter Baker learned pretty much the same from "key strategists in both parties." One Republican lobbyist, Ed Rogers, told Baker: "It reminds everybody of why we were there in the first place. I don't know that it drives any votes at this point. I wish it did, but it doesn't."

Everyone seems to agree that Sen. John Kerry's words of wisdom that he dropped last week will effectively screw up Democratic prospects in one way or another. Writes Time's Karen Tumulty: "Kerry has managed on the eve of what could be a watershed election to remind pretty much everyone what it was they didn't like about the Democrats, and especially what they didn't like about him." Much of the same from Newsweek: "For the moment, at least, Kerry is simply radioactive among Democrats." That can't be good.

An editorial that appears in the Army Times, Marine Times, Air Force Times and Navy Times today that calls for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation has been bandied about all weekend. While the editorial says it wasn't timed to be released so closely in advance to the mid-term elections, White House Spokesman Tony Snow calls that a bunch of hooey. "You've got to be kidding me," he said during the White House briefing. "I mean, if they didn't want it to influence the elections, they could have published it Wednesday."

How much of an effect is it likely to have? Fred Kaplan of Slate thinks it should count for a lot. "The key fact for American citizens is not that Rumsfeld has terrible judgment—we can't do anything about that—but rather that Bush says he has terrific judgment. Since the United States doesn't have a parliamentary system of government, we can't do anything about this directly. The one thing we can do indirectly, but dramatically, is to hold Bush's party accountable. We can do that on Tuesday." That sounds more like a call to arms than an actual prediction, but I suppose we'll all have to hold on to our hats until tomorrow.

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