Politics 2003Week of February 24


With surveys showing that Sen. John Edwards’ bid for the 2004 Democratic nomination for President is increasingly damaging his chances for re-election next year back home in North Carolina, Republican Rep. Richard Burr continues to inch closer toward making the Senate race. Last week, Burr (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%) announced that he would honor his initial ten-year term limit pledge of 1994 and not seek a sixth term to the House next year. This paves the way, most sources in the Tarheel State agree, for him to challenge Edwards, who is backed for re-election by only 39% of North Carolina voters, according to a recent survey conducted by the Raleigh News and Observer.

“The longer Edwards runs for President, the less his re-election chances are,” State Republican Chairman Bill Cobey told me. “To court Democrats nationally, Edwards has to compile a voting record [lifetime ACU rating: 15%] that is increasingly like that of Ted Kennedy. And in so doing, he’s killing himself back home.”

Although Cobey and other party leaders insist they must remain neutral in the contest to choose a GOP opponent to Edwards, the chairman also made it clear he feels “Richard Burr is a very capable politician.” He also said, “I don’t believe he will have substantial opposition in the primary, particularly because of his White House support and the [$1.7-million] warchest he has so far raised.”


Burr’s announcement he’ll be stepping down has, in Bill Cobey’s words, “opened the floodgates to Republican candidates for the 5th District [Winston-Salem].” From 1974-94, Republicans never failed to field a strong candidate against Democratic Rep. Steve Neal and, while almost always coming close to upsetting him, they did not take the seat until Neal retired in 1994. Businessman and onetime local high school football star Burr, who had won 47% of the vote against Neal in 1992, scored a political touchdown by winning the open seat with 57% of the vote.

The Republican primary is now tantamount to election. Burr was unopposed for re-election in 2000 and, thanks to reapportionment, the new 5th District stretches west to the Tennessee border and is more Republican than in the 1990s.

Likely contenders include State Sen. Virginia Foxx and former State Rep. Lyons Gray, a prominent Winston-Salem industrialist and two-time candidate for Congress in 1986 and ’88. Other possible contenders include attorneys Jim Snyder (who unsuccessfully opposed Elizabeth Dole for the Republican Senate nomination last year) and Ed Powell, and Forsyth County Board Chairman Pete Brunsletter. Burr estimates that as many as 19 Republicans could compete to succeed him.

The one Republican almost certain to run is also perhaps the most intriguing possibility: Vernon Robinson, Winston-Salem City Council member and an articulate champion of choice in schools. Robinson, a close friend and ally of Jack Kemp and former Secretary of Education William Bennett, ran strong races for superintendent of public instruction in 1992 and ’96 and lost a close race for the state House of Representatives last year in a district that is 45% black. In his own words, Robinson is “a conservative who happens to be black.”


What has already occurred in Kansas, North Dakota, and Colorado (see “Politics ’03,” last week) is now poised to happen in Utah: the end of the presidential primary and the opportunity for Republicans (and, in some states, Democrats) to choose their delegates to the next national convention by convention.

Four years ago, Utah GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt rammed a first-ever primary law through the state legislature and forced fellow Republicans to scrap their longstanding tradition of holding a party convention to choose national convention delegates. Voter turnout in the primary was low, however, and many party activists were angry with Leavitt for upending their quadrennial conclave. Two weeks ago, lawmakers in Salt Lake City began considering a budget that would eliminate the primary next year. The reason, as in the three states that have already deep-sixed their primaries, is money. With Utah grappling with a $200-million budget shortfall, junking the primary would save state taxpayers nearly $600,000.

And make many Republicans very happy. As State Party Chairman Joe Cannon told me during the recent Republican National Committee meeting in Washington, “The state convention is a rich part of our political history. I would almost certainly say we will have a convention in ’04.”


Murky Future for Murkowski?-Many Alaska Republicans are still boiling over GOP Gov. Frank Murkowski’s choice of his daughter Lisa to take the Senate seat he had held for 22 years. They are upset not just because she is his daughter, but also because she is more liberal, disagreeing with her father (lifetime ACU rating: 81%) on so many key issues. Queried as to why the new senator from Alaska made pro-abortion and pro-tax increase statements that differ pointedly with Frank’s positions, one prominent Alaska GOPer who served with Lisa in the state house told me, “Lisa hasn’t listened to him since she was 14!” Conservatives are almost sure to line up next year behind one candidate to challenge Lisa for the Republican nomination to a full term-most likely State Sen. Robin Taylor, who had hoped for the Senate appointment himself. The eventual GOP nominee will almost surely face the Democrats’ “800-pound gorilla,” former Gov. (1994-2002) Tony Knowles. . . .

Rep. Johnny Isakson (lifetime ACU rating: 75%), still the lone announced candidate for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Zell Miller in Georgia next year, netted more than $700,000 at a campaign kick-off breakfast at the Cobb Center in Atlanta two weeks ago. “We spent only $7,500 putting it on and actually raised more than an event we had in 1990 [when Isakson was the Republican nominee for governor] and the speaker was George Bush [the elder],” Isakson told me. (Isakson and Miller discussed Peach State politics with me last week, when both of them attended a congressional reception at HUMAN EVENTS’ offices.). . . .

Barr’s Back: As Isakson goes full steam in the Senate race, there was movement in the race to succeed him as congressman from the heavily Republican 6th District (suburban Atlanta). Former Rep. (1994-2002) and Clinton House impeachment manager Bob Barr, who last year lost a renomination bid to fellow Republican Rep. John Linder after redistricting threw them together, declared for the open 6th last week. Conservative firebrand Barr got an early boost when he was introduced and strongly endorsed at his kick-off rally by former Cobb County Commission Chairman Bill Byrne. Having lost the Republican gubernatorial nomination in ’02 to present Gov. Sonny Perdue, Byrne had been widely mentioned as a possible successor to Isakson. Although several other Republicans are contemplating the primary, Barr hinted that he considers state legislator Robert Lamutt his most significant competitor. Lamutt has made it clear he would spend $1 million of his own money to win the nomination. “There’s more to being elected to Congress than just writing one check,” said Barr, who reportedly has a list of more than 40,000 small donors from all 50 states. . . .

After Foley: Rep. Mark Foley is now showing every sign that he is not just “exploring” but is about ready to take the plunge and declare for the 2004 Republican nomination for the seat of Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.). Foley (lifetime ACU rating: 81%) will face competition from former Rep. (1980-2000) Bill McCollum (lifetime ACU rating: 89%), the only other announced Republican so far. Meanwhile, more and more Republican names pop up as interested in Foley’s Palm Beach-area House seat if he leaves it to make the Senate race. Among those touted as prospective House hopefuls are state legislators Joe Negron and Gail Harrell and former state legislator Tom Warner, who lost the Republican nomination for attorney general last year. Also widely discussed as a congressional candidate is business consultant Ralph Gaines, son of industrialist Stanley Gaines and former GOPAC national head Gay Hart Gaines, a longtime Republican activist/contributor. To skepticism from some party members that the younger Gaines is unknown among the local grass-roots, one political consultant who has discussed a race with the Gaines family told me: “It’s true. Ralph isn’t well-known. But both his parents sure are, and they can come up with the $2 million to make him known.”