Bearing Bitter Fruit
The National Republican Congressional Committee hopes to sink Democratic incumbents by tying them to Barack Obama’s recent comments about “bitter” Pennsylvania voters.
Focusing first on freshman Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., the NRCC sent a news release to local Pennsylvania media outlets this week, calling on Altmire to declare which candidate he supports. Pointing out that Altmire has received $10,000 from Obama’s Hope Fund, NRCC Communications Director Karen Hanretty called on Altmire to “denounce” the front-runner’s controversial remarks.
“It’s time for Congressman Altmire to make a choice,” Hanretty said. “He can choose to stand up for the dignity of Pennsylvanians and their deeply held beliefs by rejecting the elitist rhetoric of Barack Obama, or he can continue to flirt with the Obama campaign in the hopes of getting his picture in the paper.”
The release also included newspaper clippings indicating that Altmire had attended Obama’s St. Patrick’s Day gathering at the Community College of Beaver County, and had accompanied Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., to the event where the senator endorsed Obama.
The NRCC has vowed to send out similar releases on about 24 other House Democrats, including 17 freshmen. (ABCNews.com, 4/12)
Back in the Ring
The 1996 Senate campaign between then-Reps. Dick Zimmer, R-N.J., and Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., is still regarded as a national model of nastiness and negativity on the part of both candidates.
Now Zimmer is again running for the Senate, this time challenging Democratic incumbent Frank Lautenberg. And although Zimmer, who lost in ’96, makes no apologies for the past, he said he hopes this campaign “can be about the issues.” The Republican added, “I am not someone who will do anything to win, but you’ve got to respond forcefully to attacks. I will make this pledge: Any media that my campaign puts out is going to be factually true and will be relevant to the job of being a U.S. senator.”
Last week, Zimmer, 63, became the latest candidate for the GOP nomination when he replaced millionaire businessman Andy Unanue, who dropped out. Unlike Unanue or millionaire businesswoman Anne Evans Estabrook, who withdrew from the race after suffering a minor stroke, Zimmer said he cannot finance his campaign largely out of his pocket. “I can afford to go without a paycheck,” Zimmer said, “but I can’t afford to self-fund.”
Republican state Rep. Bill Baroni praised Zimmer as a tireless campaigner, calling him “perhaps an ideal candidate.” Baroni said, “It took us a while to get there, but I think we’ve found it.”
John Weingart, the associate director of Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, said that Zimmer “starts off pretty far ahead” of the two other Republican candidates, Joseph Pennacchio and Murray Sabrin. Weingart calls Zimmer “a major figure in New Jersey politics” who has also “had two political incarnations.” He was a “thoughtful, articulate, moderate-to-liberal Republican” when first elected to the state Assembly in 1982, but he “evolved into a much more conservative Republican.”
That’s not exactly how Zimmer views himself. He contends that his political conversion occurred at Yale University, where he evolved from the like-minded son of die-hard Democrats to a Republican while earning his undergraduate and law degrees. Zimmer describes himself as “pro-choice, pro-environment, and very fiscally conservative.” And, he said, “that hasn’t changed.” (Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J., 4/13)
Back From the Front
A virtual unknown to voters six months ago, Iraq war veteran Ashwin Madia earned the endorsement of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District last weekend, after state Sen. Terri Bonoff began losing support during a deadlocked convention and withdrew.
Madia will now face Republican state Rep. Erik Paulsen in what is expected to be a competitive race to succeed Rep. Jim Ramstad, a moderate Republican who is retiring. (St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minn., 4/12)
It took eight ballots before Bonoff, who had trailed Madia throughout the day, withdrew. Meanwhile, Madia told the convention’s first-time participants—perhaps two-thirds of the people at the gathering—that he considered them “new patriots” who will reach out to independents and moderate Republicans. “There are so many people in this country who want change, so many people who hunger for a new kind of leadership that challenges all of us to be part of the solutions to the problems that our country is facing,” Madia said later.
Immediately after he won the endorsement, state Republican leaders sought to paint him as an extremist. Minnesota GOP spokesman Mark Drake pointed to Madia’s opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts and to his recent endorsement by freshman Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.
For his part, Minnesota DFL Chairman Brian Melendez warned against “the political equivalent of road rage” between Bonoff and Madia supporters. “It’s far more important for a Democrat to win in November than to win an endorsement in April,” Melendez said. “We won’t win the election today, but if we forget that simple fact, we can lose it today.” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis, 4/14)
Team of Rivals
Rudy Giuliani’s decision to drop out of the presidential race after the Florida Republican primary and almost immediately endorse John McCain just might be paying off—for Giuliani. In a recent fundraising appeal e-mailed to supporters, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis asked donors to assist Giuliani in retiring his campaign debt.
“While this is an unusual request, it is extremely important for the McCain campaign and the party,” Davis wrote. “We need to help Mayor Giuliani retire his debt as soon as possible so we can move forward with everyone spending 100 percent of their time helping to get John McCain in the White House. The time Rudy Giuliani has to spend raising money to pay down his debt is time he could be spending raising money and reaching out to voters for us.”
Giuliani ended his presidential bid with $3.1 million in primary campaign debts. He also had $4 million in the bank; by law, however, that money could be spent only on general election costs and has since been returned. (Daily News, New York City, 4/14)
Giuliani isn’t the only former opponent working with the presumptive Republican nominee. McCain and Mitt Romney, who often sparred during the primary season, appear to have warmed to each other: McCain has tapped Romney to help raise money. And conservatives have circulated Romney’s name as a potential running mate for McCain.
What about Mike Huckabee? The former Arkansas governor is also getting in on the action, disclosing last week that he is creating a political action committee, HUCK PAC, to aid conservative candidates for federal office, including McCain. “I want to continue to build the community,” Huckabee said. (Wall Street Journal, 4/11)
“The problem was that I just mangled it, which happens sometimes.” —Barack Obama, on his “bitter” remarks (Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/15)
“They’re going to raise your taxes by thousands of dollars per year. And they have the audacity to hope you don’t mind.” —John McCain, on his Democratic rivals for the White House (Los Angeles Times, 4/15)
“I don’t want to be, don’t intend to be, won’t be on the [GOP] ticket.” —Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Associated Press, 4/14)
“According to a new poll, Barack Obama has a 24-point lead over Hillary Clinton in North Carolina. Obama is doing particularly well with one important demographic: voters.” —comedian Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, NBC, 4/12)
“Nothing says ‘blue-collar’ like whiskey in a velvet pouch.” —comedian Jon Stewart, on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s drinking Crown Royal with supporters (Daily Show, Comedy Central, 4/12)
The author is a senior writer with The Hotline, National Journal Group’s daily briefing on politics.
This article appears in the April 19, 2008, edition of National Journal Magazine Contents.