Friday, May 13, 2005


Is Voinovich looking ahead to 2008?

Why is Ohio Senator George Voinovich grandstanding on the Bolton nomination? Voinovich is normally a low-key, quiet type who goes about his business quietly and likes to resolve differences behind the scenes. He could have chosen to do so in this case, and simply abstained from the committee vote because he hadn’t been to the prior meetings and didn’t know what the issue were, but instead delayed the nomination by saying there were serious issues raised about Bolton’s qualifications. He chose to very publicly disparage the nominee and throw in, literally, with the Democrats trying to derail the nomination entirely.

He then took the same rather uncharacteristic tack in getting the nomination from the committee to the floor, again very publicly disparaging Bolton and his nomination, but claiming that he didn’t feel his judgment on the matter should prevent a vote on the Senate floor.

Well, if it’s a matter of principle, and you feel the nominee should not be approved, isn’t it your responsibility, as a member of the committee, to act on that conviction? And if you have misgivings about the nomination, but are not sufficiently doubtful to block the nomination when you could do so, why the big public presentation of your best impersonation of Pilate, washing your hands of the matter and making others responsible for the ultimate decision?

The common explanation has been to dismiss Voinovich as a “maverick”, as if that somehow explains his behavior. I wonder if there’s another explanation: Voinovich is positioning himself as a “moderate” for a run at the White House in 2008.

The other issue on which he chose to publicly display his “maverick” tendencies was his opposition to the Bush tax cuts, unless linked to spending cuts. That’s a pretty reasonable, fiscally responsible, moderate position: tax cuts good, spending cuts equally good and equally important. A pretty big chunk of the political middle would be willing to go along with that. And contrary to what most conservative pundits seem to think, the vast majority of Americans are neither “conservative” nor “liberal”, they are somewhere in a huge middle ground with opinions that range from conservative to liberal from issue to issue.

Exactly the constituency who might take a serious look at an Ohio Senator who favored tax cuts but insisted on spending cuts to go along with them, who showed loyalty in not blocking a nomination despite misgivings, who showed humility in allowing that the majority of the Senate, not one Senator, should have the final say.

Voinovich knows how to win an election in which he has to have votes from the entire political spectrum. Before he was a popular, and successful, Ohio Governor, and then Senator, he was a very popular, and successful, Mayor of Cleveland. For a Republican to be elected Mayor of Cleveland is remarkable. Cleveland is one of the rock-solid bases of Democrat domination in Northeastern Ohio, and the conventional wisdom in Ohio is that as long as he runs as a Democrat and isn’t an axe-murderer, a chimpanzee could get elected in most places in Northeastern Ohio.

So is Voinovich positioning himself for 2008? Time will tell. It’s certainly not a sure thing. But at this point, I wouldn’t bet against it, either.

UPDATE: If he's positioning, he's doing a good job in his home state. In addition to all the national coverage, Voinovich got the front page photo and story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today, as well as several other papers around the state. The more I look at this, the more I think he's got his eye on a run as a "centrist" candidate, a moderate Republican with a history of carrying moderate and even not-quite-so-moderate Democrats. "He's electable" can be a very important thing to have people thinking.

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