The scarlet R

A Republican Senate candidate explains the problems of being ... a Republican Senate candidate.

Published July 25, 2006 2:44PM (EDT)

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and eight other reporters sat down for lunch Monday with a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. We can tell you that the candidate is in the midst of one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. We can tell you that the candidate comes from a blue state where the president's approval ratings are low. We can tell you that the candidate wears French cuffs and cuff links that coordinate with his tie. And we can tell you the Sen. Bill Frist stopped by the table where the candidate and the reporters were dining Monday and declared -- about the candidate, not Milbank -- "He's the best."

We just can't tell you who the candidate was. The lunch -- with nine reporters, at a steakhouse in Washington at lunchtime, in full view of the Senate majority leader -- was off the record, and Milbank is keeping the identity of the candidate a secret.

And really, we wouldn't particularly care, except that the candidate, whoever he is, does such a nice job of explaining the predicament in which he and his party find themselves as the November elections draw near.

Some highlights:

Iraq: The war "didn't work" because "we didn't prepare for the peace."

Katrina: "A monumental failure of government."

Republicans in Congress: "We've lost our way, we've gone to the well and we drank the water, and we shouldn't have. You don't go to Congress to become the party that you've been fighting for 40 years."

The president: "In 2001, we were attacked and the president is on the ground, on a mound with his arm around the fireman, symbol of America. In Katrina, the president is at 30,000 feet in an airplane looking down at people dying, living on a bridge. And that disconnect, I think, sums up, for me at least, the frustration that Americans feel."

The president's refusal to admit failure in Iraq: "I don't know why the people around him don't see that. It is a frustration, to say the least. I think it is a lost opportunity to bring the American people along on a mission that is incredibly important."

The outlook: Being a Republican now is "an impediment ... a hurdle I have to overcome. I've got an 'R' here, a scarlet letter ... If this race is about Republicans and Democrats, I lose."

We wouldn't dream of asking Milbank to reveal the identity of his source. But we wonder if someone at the Capitol will ask Frist today whom he saw at lunch Monday -- and whether he still thinks he's "the best."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2006 Elections War Room