A Teleconference With John Ensign

Last night I was in on a teleconference with Republican National Senatorial Committee Chairman, John Ensign.

Here are my notes, not quotes, from the teleconference.

Ensign’s opening statement

This is definitely going to be a tough election cycle, but it’s better than it looks on the surface.

Here are the Democrats’ top 4 challengers to GOP incumbents:

* Oregon, Gordon Smith. The Democrats have a 4th tier candidate and Gordon is a good fit for the state, so he should do well.

* Minnesota, Norm Coleman. The Democrats have been able to raise money in MN, but they have weak candidates. That’s especially Al Franken who could turn out to be a real embarrassment for the party. Coleman’s poll numbers look good and he should do well.

* Maine, Susan Collins. MoveOn has been attacking Susan Collins for 6 months and she still has a 70% approval rating. She shouldn’t be in any trouble.

* New Hampshire, John Sununu. Sununu will have the toughest race of the incumbents. It’s going to take a real battle to hold this seat.

Here are the open seats that the Democrats are targeting:

* Virginia: This will be the hardest state to hold. We don’t know who the candidate will be yet, but it will be tough for us to keep the seat.

* Nebraska: We are very confident we will hold the seat. Mike Johanns would win even if Bob Kerry were to get in.

* Colorado: They have a very liberal candidate who is a bad fit for the state, so we think we have a good chance of holding Colorado.

The Republican Party’s Two Top Targets

Louisiana, Mary L. Landrieu: She is very vulnerable. A lot of people who undoubtedly voted for her last time have left the state because of Katrina and she wasn’t that popular to begin with. She is our #1 target.

South Dakota, Tim Johnson: We are praying for him to recover his health, but we’re still going to go after the seat — and he is very beatable. It’s a very red state, we think we will have a good candidate, and we believe we have a good chance to win this one.

The Q&A portion of the Teleconference

Q:What about Pete Domenici? If he retires, what then?

A: I can’t speculate until there has been an official announcement.

Q: What candidates might run in Virginia?

A: Gilmore and Davis are mentioned most often, but other candidates have been discussed as well. Either way, it looks like there will be a primary and that will make things more difficult for us.

Q: How big of a deal will the SCHIP veto be in 2008?

A: I think our position is defensible and winnable. Do the American people think a program designed for poor children should be used to pay for the health care of people making $85,000 a year? People don’t want their tax dollars used that way.

Q: Will we embrace a health care alternative like the Mel Martinez proposal? Tax credits for people 200-300% over poverty.

A: We should be going in that direction anyway — tax credits, tax deductions that allow people to stay in the private market. If you have a government run plan, there is no incentive to shop around and keep costs down.

Q: What about New Jersey? How do you think that race will play out?

A: Frank Lautenberg will be more than 90 years old and we think that if our candidate there can raise money, it could turn into a winnable race for us.

Q from me: What can we do to move towards parity with the Democrats on fund raising?

A: 1: We have to cut expenses dramatically.

2: The Dems have done a better job of raising money, but over the last few weeks, more money is coming in. I think that’s because people are starting to see the true colors of the Democrats.

3: Once we have a defined candidate on both sides, it will help out fund raising — (Hawkins’ Translation: If Hillary wins, it will make our fund raising explode.)

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