Administering her oath was Antonin Scalia, the newly sworn chief justice. Scalia had been nominated as the replacement for Chief Justice William Rehnquist when the latter was tapped to be presiding judge of the new court where terrorists and suspected terrorists rounded up since Sept. 11 were being tried.
Taking a page from Ronald Reagan's playbook, Bush had chosen to elevate a sitting associate justice to the position of chief, creating an additional vacancy on the court that Owen was about to fill. Reagan had used this same strategy to put Scalia on the court in the first place.
Surprised by the events I was watching unfold before my eyes, I turned to the reporter on my right and asked him to remind me exactly how things had gotten to this point.
"Well," he said, "I guess is all started with Louisiana."
"Louisiana?" I replied.
"Yeah -- Louisiana. After Gov. Mike Foster took himself out of the Senate race against Mary Landrieu, the National Republican Senatorial Committee weighed in big with TV ads on behalf of Suzanne Terrill, the state election commissioner. In a five way race that had a big impact in an awful lot of ways that all came together just right. Landrieu fell short of the 50 percent mark on Election Day and ended up in a runoff," he said.
"How did that happen?" I asked.
"Well," he began, "The NRSC's ad buy boosted Terrill in a big way and made her a viable alternative to Landrieu. The NRSC ad buy also helped state Rep. Tony Perkins , who had the support of a lot of the Christian right types. Seems they got steamed that the party establishment was trying to dictate the nominee so they went out and worked hard and organized and kept Perkins in the race."
"Then there was John Cooksey. We all thought that he was dead in the water after the comment about fan belts and Arabs. But once he had Foster's endorsement, the campaign started to pick up speed. Foster's popularity sort of lifted up Cooksey and made people pay attention to him again. Foster's calls to Karl Rove, screaming at him to stay out of the state and let them choose their own nominee didn't hurt with the party grassroots and the Reagan Democrats," he continued.
"Landrieu had a tough time of it too. Sure she had the unions and the feminists and the party regulars but she never developed a following in the black community. They never liked her - sometimes I think it was about more than her dissing Cleo Fields in his race for governor but I guess we'll never know what the real story is on that. Anyway, that community activist who ran at her from the left got enough of the black vote to really cut into her numbers. You cannot win statewide in Louisiana as a Democrat if you don't have the solid backing of the black community," he said.
"So, with the Senate tied after the November election at 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans and Jim Jeffords just sorta out there, control of the whole magilla came down to Louisiana," he said.
"Oh, I see," I said, not remembering any of this.
"The Democrats thought they had it in the bag. Sometimes I think they believe too much of their own pr. Sure, they had the advantage of incumbency working in their favor and they rolled out all the Democrat big guns... Both Gores campaigned for Landrieu... Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle worked the state hard - so did all the other potential 2004 presidential candidates -- boy, was Howard Dean a tough sell out in the farm country. Anyway, Bill Clinton came in for the "Stand by Landrieu" rally in New Orleans. Hillary and Jesse Jackson did those tapes for the turn out calls on Election Day. They had the burner on high, " he recalled.
"The Republicans, they wanted this one real bad. Karl Rove put together a strategy that matched the Democrats, star for star, name for name. George and Barbara Bush came in for the GOP nominee -- 41's still real popular down there. Barbara did an ad that ran on New Orleans TV. Spence Abraham, the energy secretary came down and did some events that went over real well with the oil and natural gas folks - that's a big business down there on the bayou," he said.
"But the biggest thing they had going for them was 'W.' He went all out. He came in to the state a whole bunch a' times... gave speeches, raised money, all the right stuff."
"The kicker was the afternoon he walked that precinct outside Shreveport with the nominee. The Secret Service was in a snit about it, they said it wasn't the safest thing to do but he did it anyway. The Democrats screamed bloody murder, complained that Bush was neglecting Iraq to be partisan but we just ate it up," he grinned, meaning the members of the White House press corps.
"It helped a lot that he stayed on message the whole time. All he kept talking about was values and choices. It got so he sounded like Newt Gingrich. 'Who's values do you want to lead America forward? - Are you for 'W' values or Democrat values?'"
"It really made an impact on the voters. Everywhere he went he asked to voters to make choices: Higher taxes or lower taxes? Ballistic missile defense or continued vulnerability to surprise attack? A foreign policy made in Washington or one dictated out of New York and Brussels?'" he said.
"Was that all there was to it?" I asked.
"I guess the biggest single thing was the judges. Bush kept talking about how he 'needs one more GOP senator to break the logjam' on his judicial nominees. In a state like Louisiana that stuff gets attention. He went on and on about all the quality appointments he had made and that this many hadn't been brought up on the Senate floor after two years and that many hadn't had a hearing ... and he kept repeating that line from Sen. Chuck Schumer about how it was okay to vote down a judicial nominee because of their ideology. The crowds roared when he said, 'Chuck Schumer, a senator from New York, says someone who holds our values -- Louisiana's values -- isn't fit to sit on the federal bench. Let's send him and those other liberals and message and send one more Republican to the U.S. Senate!'"
"And he kept talking and talking about Priscilla Owens -- about how qualified she was and what a fine jurist she was and how the Democrats had done her dirt. It probably started as a way to get the support of some of the Republican women in suburbs but something about it just clicked. When the reporter from the Times-Picayune cornered Sen. John Breaux and got him to say he would vote for Owens if she was brought up on the Senate floor - even as a nominee to the Supreme Court, well, it was hard to stop the snowball from rolling down the mountain after that," he said.
"And with Mike Foster in charge of the state, what with the state troopers in the precincts where they thought there was all that voter fraud six years ago, well, it wasn't as close as it should have been. It was a reasonably honest election with a fairly honest count and the Republicans won it," he said.
"With the GOP in control of the Senate, the judicial nominees started to move. And then the Supreme Court fight started - but when the liberals couldn't get Arlen Specter or Lincoln Chafee to commit to oppose Scalia and Zell Miller and Ben Nelson announced they would vote for him - it was all over. They didn't even try to oppose Owen, not really anyway," he said.
It all made sense. The Republicans had finally showed some political commonsense and boldness and it had really paid off. Then the buzzing started, drowning out the president's remarks. It got louder and louder... "
I opened my eyes. My alarm clock was flashing. The dream was over, at least for now.
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