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VOL. 122 | NO. 31 | Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Pundit in Our Future ...

'Cook Political Report' author to speak at Rhodes tonight

By Andy Meek

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CROSS RHODES: Washington political pundit Charlie Cook will give his opinions on the 2008 presidential election tonight at Rhodes College. -- Daily News File Photo

He is a seer of future Senate seats, an oracle of Congressional configurations and one of the foremost prophets of presidential politics.

To get an idea of the market for Charlie Cook's forecasting prowess, consider this from his schedule last fall: In the space of a week, he was the main attraction at events hosted by the American Beverage Association, American Express and the national paper and auto industries. At one event, he was introduced by former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard and former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Man in demand

Before he was a pundit, Cook's first job was as a Senate elevator operator. He sat in on the Watergate hearings while a student at Georgetown University.

Cook, whose daily diet includes reading about five newspapers a day, today is the publisher of the influential "Cook Political Report" newsletter.

"The main thing I'm going to talk a little bit about is what happened in 2006 and then lay out some scenarios and things to watch for in the 2008 presidential campaign, now that it's fully under way."
- Charlie Cook
Author of "Cook Political Report"

And tonight, with a speech at Rhodes College - where his daughter, Becky, is a junior - Cook will offer Memphians what he sometimes charges sponsors from $10,000 to $20,000 to provide: a peek at his crystal ball.

"He's actually a big supporter of the college," said Rhodes political science professor Margaret Carne. "And I think somebody like Charlie Cook who looks at all the House races and all the Senate races can give us
a better picture and make connections across elections in a way that tells us something about our politics. He can hone in
on larger themes in a way that most of us don't think about."

Oracle of Delphi

Cook, whose presentation is free and open to the public, will begin speaking at 7:30 tonight in the Orgill Room of Clough Hall on the Rhodes campus.

Regarded as one of the leading authorities in the country on election races and trends, he will give his take on last year's midterms and a preview of the 2008 presidential contest.

Writing in BusinessWeek last November, CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo - the TV personality popularly known as the "money honey" - had this to say about Cook's work: "If you're a journalist covering politics, you read Charlie before you get out of bed."

Who: Political analyst Charlie Cook
What: Presentation tonight at Rhodes College
When: 7:30 p.m.
For more information: www.rhodes.edu

That's certainly one indication - whether the topic is the State of the Union or the state of play in next year's dash for the White House - everyone wants to know what the portly prognosticator is thinking.

"Part of it's science and part of it's art," Cook said by cell phone while on the road last week, booked solid with appearances between then and his Memphis event tonight.

"The main thing I'm going to talk a little bit about is what happened in 2006 and then lay out some scenarios and things to watch for in the 2008 presidential campaign, now that it's fully under way."

Like bread and eggs

Cook stays busy by peddling his political analyses in a variety of ways.

There's the newsletter he publishes, speeches like tonight's, his contract as a commentator for NBC and the appearances he makes on behalf of the National Journal. The latter is the weekly political magazine that's a staple of Washington's elite.

Cook's speeches are peppered with insight culled from years of studying enough statistics to make the average voter's eyes glaze over, as well as a dash of dry wit.

"I'll win the Tour de France before Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination," Cook said to an audience last fall, as recounted in The Washington Post.

At a meeting of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Feb. 8, he dished further about 2008.

For example, about 2008 Democratic presidential candidate and popular Illinois senator Barack Obama: "He's like a club-level boxer going into the world heavyweight championship."

Cook's also is a familiar face on the TV talk show circuit.

"I think the American people are now where they were at the tail end of the Carter administration - they have just hit the mute button," Cook said on The Charlie Rose Show on PBS. "I don't think they hear anything President Bush says."

Carne recalled attending a political function at which Cook was a featured speaker, and he asked her when he could appear at Rhodes. "Anytime," was her prompt response.

Point of pride

Ask him to recall any electoral predictions he's proud of, and Cook doesn't have to pause long. Last year, when Democrats wrested the U.S. House and Senate back from Republicans after 12 years of minority party status, was a particularly good year for the guru.

"We were basically the first; we came out in early August saying the House was likely to turn Democratic, and that the Senate was getting close to being a 50-50 proposition, and that was basically before any other analyst was saying that," Cook recalls.

"We were saying a 20- to 35-seat gain for Democrats in the House - it was 30 - and we bet four to six in the Senate - it was six - and we said six to eight in the governorships, and that ended up being six. So I look back at last year with a lot of pride, because we pretty much nailed it and we nailed it earlier than anybody else."

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