AMONG THE MOST ENTHUSIASTIC people in Washington when news of Justice O'Connor's retirement surfaced had to have been North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole. Senator Dole is chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and she is following two blockbuster cycles for the committee under the leadership of Virginia's George Allen in 2003-2004, and Majority Leader Frist in 2001-2002. The Center for Responsive Politics credits Allen's team with raising $78,980,487 in his 24 months, for an average monthly take of about $3,300,000. Previous cycles are pre-McCain-Feingold and thus difficult to compare, but the data available for the first five months of 2005 from the FEC suggest that Senator Dole is exceeding the performance of Allen, with $16,867,661 raised--a monthly clip of more than $3,373,000. And that was before the NRSC added more than $9 million in proceeds from the "President's Dinner" in mid-June.
A solid majority in the Senate helps the GOP, of course, as does President Bush's willingness to help raise the funds. But in a cycle including raising money for Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee--who voted against the war, did not vote for President Bush, and has voted against many solid judges--Dole cannot count on grassroots enthusiasm to keep the small checks coming.
The coming Supreme Court showdown changes all that, which is why I expect some combination of Judges Garza-Luttig-McConnell-Roberts to provide the two nominees that will probably be needed. Time and again President Bush has proven that his political and policy judgments are exactly the sort to rally the grassroots, and a double SCOTUS vacancy would provide not just the perfect opportunity to follow through on his campaign pledges concerning judges, but also to energize a somewhat sullen group of activists disappointed by the Senate's glacial pace.
Joining Dole in hoping for the sort of nominees that can awaken enthusiasm for increasing a Senate majority are front-running GOP candidates for various Senate seats: Mark Kennedy in Minnesota, Dino Rossi in Washington State, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, West Virginia Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, and a couple of Florida challengers to incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Would-be Republican senators in New Jersey, Michigan Tennessee, and Nebraska are also hoping for the right set of Supreme Court nominees, as must be incumbents Rick Santorum, Jim Talent, Jon Kyl, and John Ensign, among others who will benefit greatly from a defining set of hearings on the future of the Supreme Court.
The first half of 2005 saw the Democrats embark on a Thelma-and-Louise ride with Howard Dean at the wheel, and any number of senior Democrats taking turns riding shotgun, most recently with Nancy Pelosi announcing that the war in Afghanistan is over. Any hope of corralling the party's furiously flapping left wing went out the window with the announcement of O'Connor's retirement. The party would be best advised to quietly and responsibly pose the ordinary questions and find a way to quickly confirm the nominees as they tack their long way back to the center. But interest groups such as People for the American Way, Alliance for Justice, and MoveOn.org will have none of that, and the lefty blogs will fuel their collective frenzy.
Another center-stage appearance of the Michael Moore Democrats is on schedule. The GOP candidates in 2006 could not have hoped for a better opening act to the campaigns ahead. The Judiciary Committee proceedings will be broadcast from start to finish, and though the Democrats will think this a boon to their cause, it won't be long until the reality of prolonged exposure to Leahy, Kennedy, Biden, Schumer, and--especially--Durbin sinks in.
It is going to be a wonderful summer and early fall.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.