What? Me Worry?
I’m a partisan,
inside-the-beltway Republican who understands that conventional
wisdom isn’t always.
The scene was a steakhouse in Washington, a September
fundraiser with 25 Republican lobbyists paying a thousand bucks
a pop for a GOP stalwart House member. The visual was
predictable: a bunch of pin-stripers devouring slabs of
bleeding red meat with big, crystal glasses of red wine. The
legislator threw out the question to the group: Not who do you
want to become president, but who do you think will be the next
The winner, by a large plurality: Hillary Clinton. I raised
my hand in her favor.
If that prospect depresses you—and most insurance
brokers I know are depressed by it—that vote of hotshot
lobbyists may be a great harbinger. Conventional Washington
wisdom is almost always wrong at this stage of an election
Let’s go back. At this stage of the 1980 race, Jimmy
Carter was weak, but most lobbyists in Gucci loafers would tell
you Ronald Reagan was the one candidate Carter could overwhelm.
Reagan was too polarizing in his conservatism, too old, a
two-time presidential loser already, and everybody knew you
couldn’t be elected leader of the free world when you
took naps every afternoon.
1988? George Bush was mired in Iran-Contra, a
“wimp” who paled in comparison to the Gipper, and
lots of us Republicans couldn’t imagine he would be the
first sitting vice president since Martin Van Buren to win the
presidency in his own right. That’s why I campaigned for
In the 1992 cycle? The top-tier Democratic candidates, from
Mario Cuomo on down, decided there was no chance of beating
Bush, given his public approval ratings in the aftermath of the
Persian Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The
“seven dwarfs” who were running were led by a
former Arkansas governor with a big problem. At this stage of
the race, most of the rap on Clinton was in the context of
“bimbo eruptions,” to quote his former chief of
Flash forward. At this stage of the 2004 race, John Kerry
was a joke, losing badly to the Internet sensation Howard Dean.
Flip a few thousand votes in Ohio, and he would be the leader
of the free world; the Iraq War would be his; and Republicans
would probably still control Congress.
I truly believe, along with many if not most of my
Republican lobbyist colleagues, that Hillary Clinton will be
the next president. Detractors can probably take some solace in
that because you couldn’t have a worse
I also believe that 2008 is shaping up to be yet another bad
year for Republicans, particularly in the Senate, where
Republicans have 22 seats to defend and Democrats only 12. Even
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has gloomily
predicted that “holding our own is about all we could
The seats of three Republican retirees (Wayne Allard of
Colorado, John Warner of Virginia, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska)
are in great jeopardy given the popularity of probable
Democratic nominees (respectively, Rep. Mark Udall, former Va.
Gov. Mark Warner and former Neb. Sen. Bob Kerrey).
Arguably, two of the most endangered incumbents are
champions of Council-backed legislation to create an optional
federal charter: Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., who is running
behind in the polls to former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen; and Tim
Johnson, D-S.D., who may be challenged by Gov. Mike Rounds, an
independent agency owner. Though South Dakota is a deeply red
state, Johnson’s numbers look strong, especially after
his successful return to the Senate in September following
months of rehabilitation from a stroke-like event. Brokers
should want to see both Sununu and Johnson return to the
The magic number in the Senate is 60, not 51, because 60
votes are required to cut off debate on any subject. Looking at
the individual races, it’s very difficult to see the
Democrats getting there. Democrats would have to retain every
one of their seats and pick up the three GOP open seats, and
Republicans would have to lose a bunch of squeakers. My own
best guess is the Dems would need New Hampshire, Alaska (Sen.
Ted Stevens has legal problems), Minnesota (Lord forbid Gophers
go for comedian Al Franken over Sen. Norm Coleman), Oregon
(Sen. Gordon Smith—a blue state Republican) and Maine
(ditto for Sen. Susan Collins). The Dems would then need a
lucky break in one of two races where I just can’t see
the incumbents losing—either Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C.,
or Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Despite my partisan leanings, I’m delighted that Rep.
Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., are
chairmen of our key committees in the House and Senate. There
are just as many Democrats who are open to our agenda of
progressive insurance regulation as Republicans. But, while a
lobbyist can work both sides of the street, you are what you
are, and I’m a Republican worried about my party’s
Then again, what do I know?
Wood is the Council’s senior vp
of Government Affairs.