Politics 2003Week of October 27

TROUBLE IN WAYNE’S WORLD After 14 years in Congress and two favorable redistricting cycles, one would think that moderate Republican Wayne Gilchrest would have a lock on Maryland’s 1st District. Not so—at least among his fellow Republicans in the heavily Republican district that includes all of the Eastern Shore, Annapolis, and some suburbs of Baltimore. Like his friend Sen. John McCain (of whose 200 presidential campaign in Maryland the congressman was chairman), Gilchrest’s erratic voting record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 64%) apparently wins him some new friends among Democrats and independents, but increasingly disappoints active members of his own party. While that was a winning quality for a presidential candidate like McCain when he competed in open primaries permitting crossover votes, it can be dangerous for Gilchrest in a state where primaries are open only to party members and in one of the two U.S. House districts in Maryland into which Democrats put a large percentage of the state’s Republican voters during redistricting. (The other is that of stalwart conservative Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.). Indeed, the 1st District voted twice against Bill Clinton and gave George W. Bush a handsome 53% of the vote against Al Gore—and, interestingly, went for Bush in the presidential primary over the Gilchrest-backed McCain. Rated a very low (for a Republican) 48% by ACU for 2001 and an surprisingly high 78% by the group in ’02, Gilchrest has consistently supported McCain-Feingold statist campaign “reform” and statehood for the District of Columbia, opposed across-the-board spending cuts from every program funded by the Treasury-Postal Service Appropriations bill, and opposed Rep. Walter Jones’ (R-N.C.) proposal to permit churches to become involved in politics without possible loss of their tax exemption. Although he did vote last week for a ban on partial-birth abortion, Gilchrest has cast a long string of pro-abortion votes—among them, a vote against a 1999 amendment to prohibit any funding of abortion inducing drugs. Characterized by some gun-owners as “one of [gun control advocate] Sarah Brady’s best Republican friends in Congress,” Gilchrest supported the assault weapons ban and opposed the NRA-backed measure to water down restrictions on gun shows. The iconoclastic Republican has also been endorsed by the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. All told, there is plenty in the 57-year-old Gilchrest’s record for a renomination opponent from the right to exploit. Last year, under funded lawyer and political newcomer David Fischer drew a respectable 36% of the primary vote against him. Next year, the lawmaker will face a far more formidable GOOP opponent in staunch conservative State Sen. Richard Colburn. At 53, Colburn (who doubles as town manager for Federalsburg, Md.) was in the state House of Delegates for 12 years and, since 1994, has been one of the most conservative Republicans in the senate. As a plus for the House race, his district includes four counties in the 1st District.). Along with fellow Sen. Alex Mooney of western Maryland, Coburn was often in the forefront of the fights against the big-spending agenda of former Democratic Gov. (1994-2002) Parris Glendenning. Already he has assembled a team that includes veteran consultant Dick Leggett, longtime adviser to former Republican Gov. (1997-2001) Jim Gilmore of Virginia, and campaign manager Peter Foster, an alumni of local campaigns in Northern Virginia. “This district deserves a conservative as its congressman,” Foster told me, “and on most of the issues people care about—abortion, the 2nd Amendment, spending, and banning flag-burning—you’ll find Richard Coburn in the opposite camp from the incumbent. How do you beat a sitting congressman in his own party? In this case, by running on the issues.” SHORT TAKES Will Breaux Blow Town? That’s the growing talk in Washington—that three-term Sen. John Breaux (D.-La.) will announce before year’s end that he will not seek re-election in 2004. Sources close to Breaux (lifetime ACU rating: 47%) say that he plans on taking a high-paying obbying job and that he is biding his time in leaving in order to give a leg up to his friend and reported preference as a successor: Rep. Chris John, a fellow moderate Democrat (lifetime ACU rating: 53%). Pelican State Republicans, lately a contentious bunch who have trouble uniting in Louisiana’s unique “jungle primary,” appear to have settled on conservative Rep. David Vitter (lifetime ACU rating: 83%) as their candidate in the event Breaux departs. New Orleans-area lawmaker Vitter raised more than $461,000 in the first quarter of ’03 and his campaign now sports more than $1.5 million cash-on-hand—more than enough to launch a statewide campaign. Post-Edwards: With Sen. John Edwards’ announcement that he will step down next year and make an all-or-nothing bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, North Carolina Democrats are now left with two losing candidates from two years ago: former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, who was beaten by Republican Elizabeth Dole for the Senate in ’02, and former House Speaker Dan Blue, who last year sought to become the Tarheel State’s first black senator since Reconstruction but lost the Democratic nomination to Bowles. In contrast, Republicans are united in the May 4 primary behind five-term Rep. Richard Burr (lifetime ACU rating: 92%), whose campaign is now brimming with more than $3.5 million cash-on-hand. WILLIAM C. CRAMER, R.I.P. “Without Bill Cramer,” Barry Goldwater once said, “Florida might still be in the dark ages of one-party government.” Pinellas County lawyer Cramer, who built a strong GOP organization in his home county and in 1954 became Florida’s first Republican House member since Reconstruction, was a trailblazer in the Sunshine State. Sadly, when he died last week at age 81, he was probably better remembered for his last (and unsuccessful) campaign than for his many years of winning races and expanding the conservative Republican base in the South. A U.S. Navy gunnery officer in World War II and graduate of Harvard Law School, Cramer settled in Florida to practice law. An active Kiwanian, American Legionnaire, and Moose, he soon plunged into local politics and became city attorney in Pinellas Park. With friends Jack Insco and C.W. (Bill) Young, he began mobilizing young people into the Republican Party when the GOP could still meet in the proverbial telephone booth. To the surprise of most observers, the “ICY” (for Insco, Cramer, and Young) machine began winning school board and county races in Pinellas. In 1950, Pinellas sent an all-Republican delegation to the state house—including Cramer himself, who became minority leader. In 1952, Cramer lost a tight race for Congress against Democrat Courtney Campbell. But he bounced back two years later to become Florida’s first Republican in Congress in a century. With help from staffers Insco and Young, Cramer turned the district into safe Republican turf and went on to becoming ranking Republican on the House Public Works Committee and vice chairman of the House Republican Conference. A staunch conservative, he oversaw passage of legislation to limit school busing in the 1960s and was the author of the anti-riot legislation under which the “Chicago Seven” militants were tried and convicted. “The country needs you, the party needs you, I need you,” then-President Richard Nixon told Cramer in 1970, urging him to run for an open Senate seat in Florida. His senior status in the House notwithstanding, Cramer agreed and initially appeared the favorite for a GOP pick-up. But by then, the Republican Party had proliferated in Florida and Gov. Claude Kirk and Sen. Edward Gurney—Republicans both—stunned the state by endorsing a surprise entry in the GOP primary: G. Harrold Carswell, whose nomination to the Supreme Court had been defeated by the Senate, making made him a national martyr on the right. Kirk, a rival of Cramer within the party, had persuaded Carswell to resign a lifetime Appeals Court appointment to make the race. But the jurist proved an inept campaigner and Cramer won the primary 2-to 1. But the Republican Part was left scarred by the race and Democrat Lawton Chiles, a media darling for his walking tours of the state, defeated Cramer in the fall with 54% of the vote. Cramer went on to practice law, served as Republican National Committeeman from Florida, and chair the Rules Committee at the 1972 Republican National Convention. The heart attack that felled him came on October 18, as rabid baseball fan Cramer was preparing to watch the opener of the World Series and cheer on his beloved Marlins.