January 26, 2006
What Price Alito?
As the Senate moved this week toward the anticipated vote to confirm
Samuel Alito, a resident of far-off North Dakota was likely to watch
a heavily aired television ad. A female announcer read this:
with Democrats and Republicans, newspapers across America --
the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal,
the Fargo Forum -- are endorsing Judge Samuel Alito for the
U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, politically motivated liberal extremists
like Ted Kennedy continue to attack Alito. Sen. Kent Conrad
will soon cast his vote. Call Sen. Conrad and tell him to vote
yes on Judge Alito and stand with mainstream America, not Ted
a powerful figure in the Senate as ranking Democrat on the Budget
Committee, normally experiences no difficulty in making up his
mind to express firm opinions. But not on the Alito confirmation.
He scheduled an extra meeting with the judge on Friday, and his
staff said an internal meeting to decide his vote would be held
later that morning. Facing re-election this year in the very red
state of North Dakota, Conrad may be wondering what political
price he might pay to vote no on Alito.
leadership has made a calculated decision to follow Kennedy and
liberal pressure groups in opposition to Alito. Sen. Ben Nelson,
up for re-election in Nebraska, at this writing is the Senate's
only Democrat to endorse Alito. Regarding this opposition as a
political decision, conservative strategists are determined to
play politics themselves this year against Democrats -- particularly
red state senators who oppose Alito.
opened the door for conservatives to turn the Alito confirmation
into a political asset in the 2006 elections. Two unnamed donors
have contributed $100,000 for current TV ads in the Dakotas to
influence Democrats Kent Conrad and Tim Johnson. These same contributors,
who spent $4.5 million in the 2004 election cycle, have privately
committed $5 million against the re-election of red state Democrats
who actually vote against Alito.
his North Dakota colleague Byron Dorgan, Bill Nelson of Florida,
Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Ken Salazar of Colorado, Mary Landrieu
of Louisiana, and Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas are
red state Democrats who voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts.
While Roberts is no less conservative than Alito and was markedly
less forthcoming in answering Senate Judiciary Committee questions,
these Democrats who voted for the chief justice have been under
intense pressure from the Left to oppose Alito.
senators may be willing to risk a politically unpopular "no"
vote, partly thanks to disappointing Senate Republican candidate
recruitment this year. With party leaders unable to convince popular
Republican Gov. John Hoeven to run in North Dakota, Conrad does
not yet even have an opponent. Florida Republican leaders did
not get the candidate they wanted with Rep. Katherine Harris running
far behind, enabling Bill Nelson to surprise many colleagues by
announcing opposition to Alito. However, conservative money now
will pour into both Florida and North Dakota.
the confirmation vote also poses problems for prominent Democratic
non-incumbent candidates. Pennsylvania State Treasurer Bob Casey
Jr., the nominally pro-life opponent of Republican Sen. Rick Santorum,
is keeping quiet about Alito. He will be bombarded on this point
in weeks to come. In New Jersey, newly appointed Democratic Sen.
Robert Menendez does not have Casey's luxury of neutrality on
Alito. He is expected to vote no, threatening Italo-American votes
against him this year in favor of Republican Thomas Kean (son
of the former governor).
were delighted this week when "Friends of John Kerry"
dispatched over the whole country an e-mail signed by the 2004
presidential nominee. That facilitates the conservative tactic
of linking Conrad with Kennedy and Kerry in the minds of North
Dakotans if he votes against Alito.
can't trust [Alito] to defend mainstream American values,"
contended Kerry's letter. The contention that President Bush's
nominee is outside the "mainstream" is the major talking
point against Alito, but polls show support for him and his endorsement
of spousal abortion notification. That debate's outcome may determine
whether senators who vote against Alito will suffer at the polls
this year and in the years ahead.
2006 Creators Syndicate