Dotty Lynch is the Senior Political Editor for CBS News. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points.
The summer of an off year in politics is supposed to be a snooze. No presidential campaign, no conventions, not even congressional elections to get the political blood churning.
The summer of '05, however, was filled with intense political activity. Here's my list summer stories that will still have legs in the fall:
1) The breakup of the AFL-CIO.
There has been dissent inside of the AFL-CIO for years but the disparate factions held together through the 2004 campaign. The dissidents, led by the SEIU's Andy Stern, have been champing at the bit to revitalize (or take over) the labor movement. This summer, they finally went nuclear with the inside fight. How this affects the state and local federations, the ability to stem the hemorrhaging of union members and what it means for Democratic candidates in 2006 is yet to be played out. But there will be an impact.
Tied to the break-up of the AFL is the demise of ACT, Americans Coming Together — the very well-funded, professionally run, grassroots arm of Democrats in 2004. One big money source, George Soros, decided to take his ball elsewhere, but labor was a big player in ACT. ACT's leaders say things are merely being rearranged and, in 2006, the Democrats will have sophisticated voter contact operations. But it is unclear if, where and how labor will use its resources.
A piece of that rearranging belongs to Howard Dean. He came in as chair of the Democratic Party with the claim that he could bring new people and new money into the party. So far, his record on fundraising is fair and he has shown a continued propensity for foot in mouth disease. But Democrats still seem ready to give him time. He is in lockstep with congressional Democrats, whom he once compared to cockroaches, as he tries to bring his outsider message to the inside. However, many say the jury is still out on whether he's the right guy for the job.
2) The War in Iraq
While Americans are grumpy about gas prices and President Bush's job approval rating has declined, perhaps the most significant shift in public opinion over the summer has been the turn against the war in Iraq.
In a special congressional election, the surprisingly strong showing by a Democrat — Iraq veteran Paul Hackett — in the solidly Republican district in Cincinnati, Ohio, sent a wake-up call to both parties that the war still has potential to galvanize voters.
The attention garnered in Crawford, Texas, by Cindy Sheehan rivaled that of the vacationer-in-chief while a strong op-ed piece by former Sen. Gary Hart, which called Democrats' silence on the war a cowardly act, touched a nerve with a number of activists. But it is unclear whether it will move Democrats who see national security as the new third rail of politics.
3) The Gang of 14
The potential for this group of seven Democrats and seven Republicans to control the Senate is great, but so far they haven't done much since they got together in May to stem the nuclear option vote. This group, six of whom are up for reelection, are targets of much of the advertising in the confirmation vote on John Roberts. Leaders in both parties are keeping an eye on them. Two Gang of 14 members, Lindsay Graham and Mike DeWine, are on the judiciary committee. They will be watched particularly closely. Their leader, John McCain, is a gang unto himself and will always be happy to stir the pot — and get reporters to notice.
4) Bill Frist and Stem Cells
Republican majority leader, Sen. Bill Frist, who seemed to be looking for ways to endear himself to the political right during the spring, suddenly lurched back to the middle when he said he would support funding for new embryonic stem cell lines. A few weeks later, he made it clear that he also supported teaching Intelligent Design in schools, so Frist hasn't exactly gone soft. But, while his move on stems cells won him some praise from the editorial boards, a group of Christian conservative activists have been running ads in Iowa putting him on notice that they want him to change his position.
5) The staying power of blogs
The power of the Internet was one of the big stories of 2004 but many in the mainstream media predicted that blogs were just a fad. In 2005 they have not only survived but have achieved greater legitimacy as credible voices of advocacy. Perhaps no better illustration is Dan Balz, the Washington Post chief political reporter, who has started using blogs to illustrate dissent inside the Democratic Party. While more establishment political players will say nasty things off the record or on some form of background, bloggers exist to tell it like it is. The anger on the left at Hillary Clinton's speech at the Democratic Leadership Council, as well as the division between the liberal blogoshphre and the Democratic Party in the special election in Ohio, were all played out on the blogs, as Balz reported.
We now know that Karl Rove was a source in the CIA leak case, although we don't know if he will be indicted, let alone convicted. And if he is convicted, will President Bush, who has gone out of his way to support him, decide he needs him so much that he will pardon him? The Grand Jury runs out in October and prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is up for reappointment just about then. We expect to know a lot in the next few weeks. We may even know why Judy Miller is in jail.
7) Republicans 2008 — the two H's
While most of the insider speculation about Republicans for the '08 Presidential race has focused on John McCain, George Allen and Rudy Giuliani, two long shots got a fair amount of national media attention this summer. Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a serious thinker on foreign policy, broke from the Bush administration on Iraq. And, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another man from Hope, received a lot of play for his book on obesity, "Quit Digging Your Grave With A Knife And Fork." He now heads the National Governors Association and plans to make health initiatives his hallmark.
8) Another H — that would be Hillary
The left is starting to get annoyed with her but, all in all, she has had a rather successful summer. Arianna Huffington, who has started a rather successful blog, has been after Clinton on her timidity on the Iraq war for a while. She, like less well known bloggers on the left, are keeping up the drumbeat on Clinton to speak out.
But Clinton dodged some big bullets. Ed Klein's book "The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President," was supposed to sink her presidential chances. However, it was widely discredited — even by some prominent conservatives — as being poorly sourced.
Clinton's former finance director, David Rosen, was found not guilty on a charge that he cooked the books to hide the cost of a fundraiser. And, while the Republicans were successful in recruiting their dream candidate, Westchester District Attorney Jeanne Pirro, to run against Clinton for Senate, Pirro's campaign kick-off was a disaster. Most of the press was about her husband, who served time in prison for cheating on his taxes and who had fathered a child out of wedlock. Then there was her gaffe during her speech when she uttered "Where's page 10?" and was stopped in her tracks during her opening press conference. However, Pirro is a tough cookie and could make the race interesting.
9) The State of Ohio
Ohio Republicans were preening so much for their success in putting George Bush back in the White House that they may have forgotten some housekeeping details. This summer, Gov. Bob Taft became the first Ohio governor convicted on criminal charges. Taft pleaded no contest to four counts that he violated ethics rules by failing to report 52 golf outings, diners and other entertainment gifts. Two of the golf trips were from Tom Noe, a Toledo Republican fundraiser and rare coin dealer who is at center a larger scandal involving the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, which invested approximately $50 million in rare coins through Noe. Investigators have found $10 million to $13 million were missing.
Democrats are scurrying to find strong candidates to run for all statewide offices, though Republican Sen. Mike DeWine still looks like he will be hard to beat. Charges of corruption have made Republican Rep. Bob Ney a target of Democrats for his association with indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
10) William Rehnquist
Rehnquist may have pulled off greatest surprise of the summer by staying put while Sandra Day O'Connor announced her resignation. "It's for me to know and you to find out," was all he would say about his possible resignation. But with John Roberts' confirmation appearing to be mostly a matter of how large the "yes" vote will be, the new parlor game is how it will impact the next fight and whether Roberts will be named chief justice.
We'll take a look at this list in a few months to see what we missed and just how strong these legs turned out to be.