Political Ups and Downs in 2006

Washington's movers and shakers want to stay on top year round. But, especially in an election year, that's not always possible as the midterm vote and several other key events in 2006 proved that not everyone can be a winner all the time.

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FOX News contributors Jim Pinkerton and Juan Williams, Brookings Institution resident scholar Stephen Hess and University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato offered a crash-course on the year's political turmoil, intrigue, misery and success. They took a look at Bush administration officials, members of Congress, White House wannabes and a host of other figures in political news in the last 365 days.

The following is a list of Washington's elite who flew and crashed in 2006, and could have nowhere to go but up and everything to lose in 2007:

President George W. Bush.

Violence in Iraq continues to spiral out of control, threatening all-out civil war among sectarian lines, and putting the fledgling government to the ultimate test. The controlled chaos pushed down on the president's approval ratings and upended Republicans in favor of rival Democrats who were able to link their opponents to the unpopular president. Prospects for Iraq in 2007 continue to look grim.

"Bush this year painted himself into a corner. ... Now he has to, in a sense, come up against the tide of public opinion, and that's not easy to do," Hess said.

Dick Cheney.

The vice president shot a friend in the face, will likely get called to the stand in the CIA leak case against his former top adviser, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and continues to face criticism as one of the architects of the Iraq war. "It was not a good year for him," Hess said.

Nevertheless, Cheney's name was a top political fundraising tool for the GOP in 2006, and because he says he has no intention of running for higher office in 2008, he doesn't have to worry about making himself look good.

Karl Rove.

Rove was under the gun in the first half of the year when CIA leak special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald looked to file charges against Bush's chief political adviser. Rove was also unable to pull off another political victory for the GOP in November. But he was not indicted in the leak case and continues to play a major role behind the scenes in the GOP. That could be a critical spot from which to work as the GOP tries to exploit its narrow minority status, especially in the Senate.

"Also had a bad year, but strangely it wasn't really as bad as it sometimes has been painted," Hess said.

Donald Rumsfeld.

"Had the worst year of all of them," Hess said. As the official in charge of a failed Iraq war strategy, the defense secretary finally bowed in the face of the Nov. 7 congressional swing. Taking special note of the political heights he reached in 2003 during the initial "shock and awe" campaign, "Don Rumsfeld leaves town pretty tarnished," Hess said.

Robert Gates.

At the end of 2006, the slate starts clean for Gates, who barely made any waves during his December confirmation. He was opposed by just two senators in the end.

"We don't know anything about Gates. You could say it's a good year for Bob Gates if he prefers to be secretary of defense rather than president of Texas A&M University," Hess said. "His year will be 2007."

Condoleezza Rice.

The secretary of state spent much of 2006 treading water and her job isn't getting any easier. Like the Dutch girl with the finger in the dyke, Hess said Rice faced geopolitical groundswells in the shape of North Korea, Iran, unfriendly Latin American election outcomes and a cross-border shooting war between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel. The dykes didn't burst in 2006, meaning she did alright, Hess said.

Tony Snow.

The former radio show host took a pay cut after leaving the Capitol Hill offices of FOX News, but he gained big audience numbers by taking over as chief White House spokesman. He's made efforts to put the president in front of reporters more often, and "came in looking a lot more interesting, a lot more vibrant" the person he replaced, Scott McClellan, Hess said.

The 2008 Presidential Contenders

Barack Obama.

If Newton's laws of physics apply to politics, the Illinois Democrat has got to come down sometime, but no one knows when that will be. The freshman senator from Chicago "had a phenomenal year," Hess said, especially considering the fact that he only has completed two years in Congress. "He hasn't found a banana peel to slip on."

In addition to magazine covers and NFL commercials, Obama has a message on America that's catching — at least according to the sales figures for his best selling book.

Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The senator from New York now faces a top contender in Obama after initially staking out Democratic front-runner status at the beginning of the year. Pinkerton said it's only natural for serious challengers to emerge, but Clinton needs to do more if she wants to put them behind her. Pinkerton said Clinton hasn't alleviated any concerns outside of her political base that she's a "Manchurian candidate," either a screaming liberal in a moderate's clothes or Bill Clinton incarnate that would be a source of non-stop scandal.

John McCain.

The Arizona Republican probably is a better sell to the Republican conservative base than "America's Mayor" Rudy Giuliani or Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Hess said, adding that the 2008 nomination "is his to lose."

McCain's position on the Iraq war to send more troops is a double-edged sword — it's unpopular with the newly empowered Democrats but it seems to be gaining strength with the "decider" on military affairs, George Bush. "Now it's gotta work," Pinkerton said.

Mitt Romney.

The soon-to-be-ex governor of Massachusetts overall had a good year, Pinkerton said, but the Republican closed on a down note by sending mixed signals on a number of issues, including positions on gay marriage and abortion. He will need to settle if he wants to wrest the conservative base from McCain for the nomination.

Rudy Giuliani.

Without having done much politically in 2006, the mayor who remains in the hearts of Americans as the one who set New York back on its feet after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks also remains the prospective No. 2 in the running behind McCain. Pinkerton said Giuliani continues along with Romney to line up a steady stream of financial supporters to help keep 2008 looking interesting.

Tom Vilsack.

The Iowa Democratic governor was out front in declaring his candidacy after the Nov. 7 midterm election, but in not much else, Pinkerton said. He was a minor figure at the beginning of the year and remained so at the close. Burning questions remain to be answered, Pinkerton said: "What does he look like? What does he stand for? And, why should he be president?"

John Edwards.

The former senator from North Carolina with a telegenic face needs to remember he's going to be running for the Democratic nomination in 2008, not 2000, Pinkerton said. As one of those running closely behind Clinton at the beginning of 2006, Edwards has slid further behind with no foreign policy positions — something demanded even by Democrats in the post Sept. 11 world. It remains to be seen if a photo op and early announcement will help his electability.

Bill Richardson.

The New Mexico governor doesn't seem to have emerged as a serious presidential candidate, Pinkerton said, but the Democrat isn't looking bad for a vice presidential candidate in 2008. "He's a major figure in American politics going back a decade now" and has a serious resume that's tough to beat including positions in Congress, the State and Energy departments and a turn at the U.N. as chief U.S. diplomat.

Newt Gingrich.

Pinkerton said the former House speaker has the distinction of being "the smartest and most compelling" of the candidates who has been on an upward trend all year and found himself on the right side of big issues like health care and the military.

Dogging Gingrich, though, isn't this year but the years between 1994 and 1998 when he started off like lion, leading the House as speaker through the "Contract With America," and went out like a lamb losing seats to Democrats and taking defeats from President Clinton, the GOP's loathsome foe and punching bag for his eight years in office.

John Kerry.

Kerry started off 2006 as a minor candidate, and ended even worse off. It didn't help that the Massachusetts senator had to explain himself after what he termed as a "botched joke" aimed at the president but was interpreted by many as a slight against troops. "Nobody wants him. He's just an embarrassment to the Democratic Party, and they all know it," Pinkerton said.

Congress and the Midterms

Nancy Pelosi.

Sabato said the first woman speaker of the House and "arguably, the most powerful elective office position" for a woman ever, Pelosi is on the rise. But knocking down the otherwise stellar year for Madame Speaker were the stumbles after Nov. 7 that included her staunch support in the House majority leader race for the loser, Jack Murtha, who's mug appeared in FBI file video tape as part of the 1980 Abscam scandal

Pelosi also rode a bumpy road in deciding who would take over the House intelligence committee post, where she spurned the more tenured member, fellow Californian and political foe Jane Harman; nearly picked an indicted former federal judge, Alcee Hastings and finally tapped a former Border Patrol agent, Silvestre Reyes, who had trouble in a news interview distinguishing between warring groups in Iraq.

Steny Hoyer.

The Maryland representative entering his 14th term in office beat the above-mentioned Murtha for the second-most powerful House seat — held recently by Tom "The Hammer" DeLay (more on him later) — in a landslide vote. Hoyer "managed to buck one of his parties icons," Sabato said, referring to the heavy lobbying against him by Pelosi.

Rahm Emanuel.

Known as much for his political savvy as for his coarse tongue, this former ballet student turned House brawler came on the scene this year wielding a heavy whip to get into shape on-the-ground efforts to win House seats.

"It takes that kind of energy and dedication to win. It's all consuming. It may not be good for the human being but it's great" for the political world, Sabato said. More is expected of the Illinois representative, even though he has now given up his seat as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Harry Reid.

"Anytime you go from being the minority leader to being the majority leader in the United States Senate, it has to be counted as a good year," Sabato said. But the Nevadan probably would have a lot more fun if he were House speaker, he added. Just ask Bill Frist or Trent Lott, who titled his book about the his tenure as majority leader "Herding Cats." 'Nuff said.

Mitch McConnell.

Despite being the new leader of the losing party, he moves up the ranks and takes the honorary chair of chief backseat driver. Sabato said the Kentucky Republican is well-versed in the workings of the Senate and with 48 other Republicans standing behind him, they'll be sure to have a real say in what makes it past the Senate floor and what gets scrapped and tossed into the recycling heap.

Dennis Hastert.

The House speaker who will be handing the gavel over to Pelosi on Jan. 4 "couldn't have had a worse year," Sabato said. In addition to losing his speakership as a result of the majority switch, the Illinois Republican also ended up getting into the muck of the Mark Foley scandal — with many believing he didn't do enough to put a stop to Foley's advances on congressional pages before the behavior was uncovered by media reports, forcing Foley's resignation.

Rick Santorum.

The red-state Republican in the blue-state Pennsylvania didn't stand much of a chance in the 2006 political atmosphere, and any presidential ambitions appear to be dashed, said Sabato who called it an "awful year" for Santorum, who had been the No. 3 Republican in the Senate before the Nov. 7 Election Day "thumpin.'"

Trent Lott.

Maybe the brightest star in the dim GOP twilight of 2006, Lott came up from the ashes of political disgrace two years ago, when he gave up his majority leadership in the aftermath of a poor word-choice incident praising former Dixiecrat, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. Lott wrote a good book, took the Senate minority whip post and "now he's back," Sabato said.

Tom DeLay.

"The Hammer" started out getting his own Texas whuppin' facing indictments from a strident — critics say partisan and witch-hunting — Travis County district attorney and was mentioned way too frequently for comfort as part of the Jack Abramoff story. Still facing legal troubles, DeLay was forced out of the House majority leadership and then finally chose not to seek re-election.

But a new Web site, a fresh attitude and a sweet Rolodex help 2006 end on an upswing for this former pesticide applicator. Sabato said right after the elections, DeLay was preening to him: "I've got a life again."

George Allen.

It's almost never good when something a politician does gets crystallized in a catch-phrase followed by the word "moment." Allen's "macaca moment" may as well have been a control stick breaking off in his hand as his plane crashed into a mountain. Thanks to the ever-speedy Internet, a pesky Indian-American Democratic operative with an off-beat hairdo and the video the said operative took of Allen issuing the "macaca" vective, the staunch Bush supporter's re-election hopes and presidential prospects lost altitude with every new click that YouTube.com logged.

Others in the News

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

California's Governator cast off his shoot-from-the-hip Hollywood vocabulary that included calling political foes "girlie men"; he sucked up major ballot initiative losses in 2005 and separated himself from the Bush administration while staying a pro-business Republican who also managed a signature clean air bill and other popular legislation. It was enough to beat liberal Democrat Phil Angelides and hang on to the governor's mansion in Sacramento.

"If not for the Constitution, he'd be at the top of everyone's list for president," Pinkerton said.

Jimmy Carter

The former president's book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" might have sealed Carter's fate as an outsider in Washington. The book, which rapped Israel for its Gaza policy, drew criticism not only for many of its conclusions but also for its "truthiness." Carter's longtime adviser quit and protest. Former Amb. Dennis Ross noted that a map in Carter's book looks strikingly similar to a map from Ross' own book, so much so that when asked if the former president ripped him off, Ross replied: “It sure looks that way.” NPR's Williams said the former president isn't going away any time soon in Washington, but his currency is diminished heading into the New Year.

Al Gore

This green Democrat might be his party's answer to the political resurrections of the GOP's Gingrich and Lott. The former senator turned vice president turned sore loser in the 2000 presidential race starred in the widely-viewed film, "An Inconvenient Truth." The film with an accompanying book herald the dire straits the world is in due to carbon emissions and the global warming that will destroy the planet if something isn't done soon.

"He's the comeback kid," Williams said. With his now-prescient early warnings about the Iraq war, Gore could be on a trajectory to threaten Sen. Clinton for an '08 challenge.

U.S. Supreme Court.

The top judiciary in the land is not nearly as scary as liberals predicted it would be nor likely conservative enough to satisfy those who fought tooth and nail to get Sam Alito seated. Chief Justice John Roberts, who barely had a month on the court when 2006 kicked off, seems to have maintained stability on the court, Williams said. With major decisions like school integration waiting for 2007, Americans will have to wait and see if Alito is the far-right jurist everyone expected.


"Their political fortunes have been a roller coaster right through '06," Williams said.

Things were looking good for immigrants — especially the estimated 12 million illegals in this country. Legislation coursed through the Senate that fell in line with Bush's call for comprehensive immigration reform and a guest worker program that could lead to citizenship, but things started to backslide in the House and midterm campaigns started taking on anti-immigration platforms.

Another twist came when immigration hardliners like Arizona's J.D. Hayworth got beat Nov. 7. With Democrats now in power in Congress again, the Bush-styled plan is looking a lot more plausible and "at the moment, immigrants and immigration reform ... are back on a good note," said Williams, who favored the Senate bill.

Evangelical Christians.

Transition marked 2006 for evangelical Christians, who proved to the rest of America that they're not a monolithic group. They increasingly supported Democrats and took positions on global warming and societal issues that are at odds with the GOP agenda they largely helped to create, Williams said. But scandal didn’t leave evangelicals alone. Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed was rejected by Georgia voters as he sought the governorship, a loss that is chiefly attributed to his close ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A former president of the largest evangelical Christian lobbying organization, Ted Haggard, found himself at the center of an unseemly sex scandal.

Independent voters.

"There's no way Democrats would have won control of the House and Senate without the support of independent voters," Williams said. Problem is, you can't define "independent voters" with a broad brush: Some were Republicans, some were registered "independent" or with other parties, some were Democrats who don't necessarily vote with their party.

Democrats are going to have a tough time keeping this group together, but they're already trying with independent-styled issues like reducing the deficit, making it easier for college students to get loans, immigration and and increasing the minimum wage, Williams said. Dangerous for both Republicans and Democrats, Williams said, is the fact that "they're looking for somebody with ideas on the [Iraq] war."

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