The guests at Tuesday's breakfast were Ed Goeas, president and CEO of the Tarrance Group, a polling and strategic research firm specializing in Republican campaigns and Celinda Lake, president of Lake Snell Perry & Associates, a national political research firm specializing in Democratic campaigns.
On how the public is responding to reports of alleged leaking of a CIA agent's name by the Bush administration:
Lake: "I am not sure is the honest answer...we [the Democrats] have far stronger arguments in terms of the $87 billion going to Iraq and the state of the economy. And I hope that we don't get too much off of that since I think those are in the long run more damaging in Peoria than this. The public probably is a little tentative about second guessing the administration on this kind of action."
Goeas: "I don't think it resonates. The Democrats are all kind of gravitating to that story because they think it is a big story and they are jumping on it. Is it as important as a more open discussion about the $87 billion [to rebuild Iraq]? I think not at all."
On public response to the Bush administration's call to spend $87 billion to rebuild Iraq:
Lake: "In terms of the $87 billion, there is a lot of public polling that shows 2/3 of Americans are against the money and there is a lot of intensity to the opposition ... that number just seared through the public consciousness. Every focus group, people volunteer that number. It sounds like a huge amount of money. It is also coming at a time when there are state budget crisis everywhere - all the states are now implementing cuts, or almost all of them. And so people are very aware of the tradeoffs here at home. And then I think it is coming at a time when people are getting increasingly restive with our involvement in Iraq. They want to come home.
...That document [detailing the request for funds] is one of the worst politically written documents I have ever seen in my life. Putting money into wetland restoration. It is pretty hard to convince Americans you have to restore wetlands in the desert, in 130 degree heat. That just does not make any sense."
Goeas: "This is the toughest time for an incumbent in terms of the election campaign. It is a time when the challengers have the luxury of criticizing whatever they like without any accountability for what the flip side of their proposals are or what they calling for. ...The Democrats are being highly critical of the $87 billion and yet they and most everyone who talks to them knows they are going to end up voting for it in the end. So they are using this as a tool to attack when in fact they agree with the policy."
Goeas: "One is that they do not have enough people in place to tell the story of what is really happening on the ground in Iraq and I think they have not told that story well. And I think that telling that story here as opposed to there doesn't have the same credibility that you need."
Lake: "The great irony here is that there are 150,000 families telling the story every day. And I think this news of a soldier killed every day and now these 200 people coming home - even when the soldiers don't talk, every day the families talk. They are covered in the local media as well as the national media. These stories are grim.... That stuff is just not going to play well with the American public. That is very vivid and those speeches will not be more vivid to them than those kind of personal accounts. So it is a very tough news chain the administration is in right now."