NPR logo How Iraq Helps, Hurts the Democrats

How Iraq Helps, Hurts the Democrats

Iraq has not been a slam-dunk issue for the Democrats in 2007.

Iraq has not been a slam-dunk issue for the Democrats in 2007. hide caption

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The first Catholic to run for president.  And the first Italian?

The first Catholic to run for president. And the first Italian? hide caption

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NYC Republicans in 1961 had the prototype of a balanced ticket.

NYC Republicans in 1961 had the prototype of a balanced ticket. hide caption

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Forty-seven years ago today, Florida Sen. George Smathers won all the Sunshine State's delegates.

Forty-seven years ago today, Florida Sen. George Smathers (D) won all the Sunshine State's delegates in the primary as a favorite son presidential candidate. hide caption

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Iraq, the issue that virtually gave the Democrats control of both the House and Senate in the 2006 midterm elections, is also widely seen as the ticket that gives them the White House as well in 2008. That may or may come to pass, but right now it seems to be an issue that's vexing the majority party in Congress.

Take the $120 billion Iraq funding bill that is likely to be passed before the Memorial Day break. In its first incarnation, the House defiantly passed it with troop deadline language in it. President Bush, as expected, vetoed it, daring the Dems to pass it again, suggesting that any delay in funding the troops will be the Democrats' albatross. On the other hand, antiwar Democrats, notably John Edwards, the former senator seeking his party's presidential nomination, implored Congress to keep sending the president a bill with the pullout date intact. He insists it's what the American people wanted and what they voted for in '06. Guess who backed down? Hint: Not Bush.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said with a straight face that his side had won, noting that significant benchmarks would be included in the bill that would put conditions on the Iraqi government. But many Democrats, who insisted that any bill brought up on the floor include language about a troop withdrawal date, were furious. MoveOn.org has threatened to run ads against Democrats who voted for final passage. Edwards said it was not a compromise but a capitulation.

In the end, the Democrats may not have had much of a choice. Party leaders made it clear that they wanted the Iraq funding bill completed by the end of the month. And they don't have the votes to override a veto. That combination has led to some bitter feelings – especially in a party that saw itself with a can't-lose issue.

Conventional wisdom says that Iraq will ultimately be the reason why the Democrats win the presidency next year. And there is widespread expectation that when Congress revisits the issue in September, the current united GOP front will fall apart if no measurable progress can be found in the conduct of the war. But for now, it's the president who is running the show, not the Democrats.

P.S. Given that opposition to the war in Iraq may be what put the Democrats in the majority in 2006, Clare Kinberg of Ann Arbor, Mich., wonders how the Senate Class of 2006 voted on the recent bill that would cut off funding for Iraq. "Since many were elected on the basis of the peoples' unhappiness with the war," she writes, "I'd like to know how they are voting now." Well, in that May 16 vote that called for a cut off of money for the war — a measure that was defeated by a 67-29 tally — four of the six Democratic pickups from 2006 voted no: McCaskill (MO), Tester (MT), Casey (PA) and Webb (VA).

Time for one question on the race for the White House:

Q: With this presidential campaign full of presidential firsts, here's one more: if Republican Rudy Giuliani won the nomination and the general election, he would be the first Italian-American to occupy the Oval Office. Before Giuliani, how many Italian-Americans sought the presidency? -– John Donahue, Baltimore, Md.

A: At least one, and this will surprise you. According to the National Italian American Foundation, Al Smith — the governor of New York who was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1928 — was Italian, or at least of Italian descent. His paternal grandfather was born in Genoa, Italy. Al Smith was born Alfred Emanuele Ferrara in 1873.

And speaking of Republicans, if you looked at our column last week, the first thing you probably noticed was there was no review of the South Carolina GOP debate, which was held on May 15. The next thing you may have noticed is that there was no column last week. In any event, you can read our debate synopsis.

And as long as you're clicking away, check out Bill Richardson's "job interview" ad, the cleverest and funniest one we've seen so far.

PRIMARY COLORS: Results in Kentucky (May 22), Philadelphia (May 15)

Here is a quick tabulation of the recent primaries for governor in Kentucky, where incumbent Republican Ernie Fletcher is seeking re-election, and for mayor in Philadelphia, where incumbent Democrat John Street is barred from seeking a third term.

Kentucky Republicans
Ernie Fletcher (i)                     50
Ex-Rep. Anne Northup              37
Businessman Billy Harper           13

Kentucky Democrats
Ex-LG Steve Beshear                41
Businessman Bruce Lunsford       21
Ex-LG Steve Henry                   18
House Speaker Jody Richards     13
Gatewood Galbraith                   6
Otis Hensley                             1

Fun fact: No Kentucky governor has ever been defeated for re-election, but that's not as impressive as it sounds: Incumbents were barred from seeking a second term there until 1995. No North Carolina governor has ever been defeated either; incumbents were first allowed to run for re-election in 1980. In Virginia, governors can only serve one consecutive term.

You'd have to go back to 1835 to find the last Pennsylvania governor defeated for re-election; that was George Wolf (D). For Tennessee, the last time came in 1948, when incumbent James McCord was beaten in the Democratic primary. In Connecticut, it's John Davis Lodge (R), ousted by Democrat Abe Ribicoff in 1954.

Philadelphia Democrats
Ex-City Councilmember Michael Nutter     38
Businessman Tom Knox                         25
Rep. Bob Brady                                   15
Rep. Chaka Fattah                               15
State Rep. Dwight Evans                       8

The Republican nominee is businessman Al Taubenberger. Mayor John Street (D) was ineligible for a third term. The last Republican to be elected mayor of Philadelphia was Bernard Samuel, in 1947.

Speaking of Philly, Charles Markey of Jersey City, N.J., dutifully noted one House member who ran for mayor that we missed in our May 2 column: Bill Green of Philadelphia. He ran in the 1971 Democratic primary, losing to former police commissioner Frank Rizzo. Green, who gave up his House seat in an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1976, was eventually elected mayor in 1979.

And then came this more exhausting addendum of incumbent House members who ran for mayor from Daniel Fox of Reynoldsburg, Ohio (winners in CAPS):

RICHARD H. FULTON, Nashville, 1975
Ed Koch, New York, 1973 (withdrew)
Bill Green, Philadelphia, 1971
John M. Murphy, New York, 1969 (withdrew)
Martin L. Sweeney, Cleveland, 1941
WALTER CHANDLER, Memphis, 1939
Martin L. Sweeney, Cleveland, 1933
James A. Gallivan, Boston, 1917
Peter F. Tague, Boston, 1917
Theodore E. Burton, Cleveland, 1907

Back to the city of Brotherly Love, John Gizzi, the political editor of Human Events in Washington, D.C., took issue with our assertion in the May 2 column that former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo used racial appeals in his campaign. "Anyone who knew the late mayor knew this was a bad rap — as police chief, he moved blacks to high positions and in fact was popular with blacks until he got a very bad press treatment for his hard-line warnings against rioters ... although Philadelphia, thanks to Rizzo, was the only big city that didn't burn in the late 1960s."

BUTTON UP: Sometimes I wonder if this column is just an excuse to showcase some great campaign buttons we come across over the years. It certainly seems that a sizable contingent of our readership is of the button persuasion. Michael Rebain of Washington, D.C., wonders if the "Kennedy and Svetlana" button from the May 2 column was really an anti-RFK button, as we surmised. "Since Stalin's daughter was a defector from the USSR and pretty much anti-Soviet in her memoirs (if my 40-year-old memory serves me), could that button just be a novelty item of the type that always seem to pop up that combines a serious candidate with a celebrity of that moment? I'm reminded of people like Tiny Tim or Mr. Spock from Star Trek."

Another D.C. resident and well-known campaign item aficionado, Bob Fratkin, liked the button we showed of Robert Hannegan, who was President Truman's choice for Postmaster General. Bob notes he has an autographed photo from Henry Wallace "to my good friend Robert Hannegan" – which Bob notes is "ironic, since it was Hannegan who maneuvered Wallace off the ticket in 1944."

And speaking of buttons, Walter Shapiro, the former political reporter for Time magazine and USA Today whose stuff can now be found at Salon.com, writes that our May 2 list of House members who ran for mayor "reminded me that I have in my possession one of the greatest mayoral buttons of them all – from the 1961 NYC Republican ticket." The button, featuring Louis Lefkowitz for mayor, Paul Fino for City Council President and Jack Gilhooley for Comptroller "is almost a parody of the old-fashioned balanced ticket."

Actually, having a ticket comprised of Jewish, Italian and Irish candidates used to be par for the course in New York City. That same year the Democrats ran with Robert Wagner (Irish) for mayor, Paul Screvane (Italian) for City Council Prez, and Abe Beame (Jewish) for Comptroller. Four years later, the Democratic ticket was Beame for mayor, Frank O'Connor for city council prez, and Mario Procaccino for comptroller — a ticket that defeated, in the primary, one comprised of Screvane for mayor, Orin Lehman (Jewish) for comptroller, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Irish) for city council president.

WE'RE ON THE AIR: The "Political Junkie" segment can be heard on Talk of the Nation, NPR's call-in show, every Wednesday at 2:40 p.m. ET. Remember, if the online column leaves you craving more, then you should tune in to TOTN each Wednesday for your fix! And if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can still hear it on the Web. This week's show focused on the Iraq spending bill, Bill Richardson's official declaration of candidacy, and the Kentucky gubernatorial primary, with special guest Al Cross from the University of Kentucky.

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's our weekly podcast. A new edition goes up every Thursday afternoon.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: A slate of delegates backing Sen. George Smathers, the state's "favorite son" candidate, wins the Florida Democratic presidential primary without opposition (May 24, 1960).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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