Politics 2004Week of April 26


As stranger Grace finds out when she seeks refuge in the small Rocky Mountain town now immortalized in Lars Von Trier’s film Dogville, the town powers-that-be can make a newcomer welcome. But the very same powers that embrace an outsider can also turn on and reject an outsider when and if they choose.

So it is with the Texas Republican Party. Even after it gave resounding support to conservative Republican presidential nominees Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1976–both against more moderate candidates favored by the GOP establishment–and even after a modern history of state party conventions increasingly dominated by conservatives from the grass-roots, the “middle-roaders”–the people that those on the right still dub “the Establishment”–can still win some fights. This was the case in the two Republican run-offs for nominations to the U.S. House from the Lone Star State two weeks ago.

In what was easily the most-watched nomination battle in the state–not to mention the most expensive primary for Congress in the nation so far this year (with more than $5 million spent by each candidate)–establishment favorite Mike McCaul defeated conservative stalwart Ben Streusand in the re-carved, heavily Republican, Austin-to-Houston 10th District. Mortgage banker Streusand had donated more than $500,000 to conservative Republican causes and candidates over the past decade and had been a regular delegate to his party’s state senatorial and state conventions. McCaul, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney under Bill Clinton, “had contributed about $1,000 to Republican causes and candidates in the same period and has never been a delegate to any convention,” according to former Harris County (Houston) GOP Chairman Gary Polland, a strong Streusand backer. Along with Polland, Texas Eagle Forum leader Cathie Adams and numerous other conservative activists had weighed in for Streusand, who stressed such “red meat” issues as the pro-life cause, combating illegal immigration, and protecting traditional marriage in his campaign.

While McCaul never took left-of-center stands on these issues, he did not discuss them with Streusand’s intensity and take-it-or-leave-it style. But McCaul, son-in-law of the head of the Clear Channel radio empire, had the backing of GOP Gov. Rick Perry, GOP Sen. John Cornyn, and the state’s Republican U.S. House delegation. Although neither President Bush nor White House political operative Karl Rove was publicly involved in the primary, former President George H.W. Bush hosted a fund-raising event for McCaul–a clear sign of where the Bush family stood.

In the 17th District, establishment favorite State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth won the GOP nomination over former Waco School Board member Dot Snyder, favorite of cultural conservatives. Wohlgemuth is considered at least even money against seven-term Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards in a district that was substantially redrawn in the Republican-run redistricting process.


New Boss for Bluegrass GOP: After five years as Kentucky’s “winningest” Republican chairman in memory, Ellen Williams has just been named to the state’s Public Utilities Commission by GOP Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Once a congressional staffer in Washington and key operative in the political action committee of the elder George Bush and then his 1988 presidential campaign, Williams took over the party at a time when it was in the red and had only one statewide office-holder–Sen. Mitch McConnell. Under her aegis, however, both moneyed backers and volunteers began to return. Kentucky Republicans won a majority in the state senate, have taken all but one of the state’s U.S. House seats, won the other Senate seat with present Sen. Jim Bunning, and last year elected the conservative Fletcher as their first governor since 1967

Replacing Williams at the party helm is John J. McCarthy, also a conservative. A longtime volunteer at the grass-roots level, 36-year-old attorney McCarthy, who began handing out Republican leaflets at the age of 9, had the backing of McConnell and Fletcher (on both of whose campaigns he was a key operative) and of Williams and was elected unanimously.

Tina vs. Gina: In striking contrast to the smooth transition of the Republican Party chairmanship in Kentucky, Texas GOPers are poised for a rancorous battle when their convention meets June 3-5. Last year, when Chairman Susan Weddington unexpectedly quit, the State Republican Executive Committee narrowly elected SREC member Tina Benkiser of Houston to fill out her term until the convention. Benkiser, favorite of more moderate GOP leaders, edged out Waco lawyer Gina Parker, who had the backing of more conservative party stalwarts such as National Committeeman Tim Lambert and Texas Eagle Forum head Kathy Adams. Parker and her supporters have never stopped campaigning and will take their challenge to Benkiser to the convention floor.

To the surprise of many on the right, Weddington and State Vice Chairman David Barton–both normally allied with conservatives–weighed in strongly for Benkiser. Two weeks ago, Barton went a step further by announcing that if Parker is elected, he would decline to seek another term in his party position (which Republican by-laws require to be held by someone of the opposite gender from the chairman).

Update in Colorado: As expected, beer magnate Peter Coors jumped into the race for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R.-Colo.). The 57-year-old Coors, whose positions on affirmative action and other issues are not totally conservative, also signed on veteran campaign quarterback Walt Kline and the rest of Campbell’s former re-election team. Coors faces conservative former Rep. (1996-2002) Bob Schaffer, who has the backing of the Centennial State’s conservative former GOP Senators Bill Armstrong (1978-90) and Hank Brown (11990-96) and of present Sen. Wayne Allard, Representatives Tom Tancredo and Marilyn Musgrave, and most of the Republican members of the state Senate and House. In addition, lawyer Daniel O’Bryant, who had been the third candidate in the Senate primary, withdrew from the race last week and strongly endorsed Schaffer (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 99%). Schaffer also named Pat Fiske, top aide to conservative Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy (Minn.) and former Rep. (1994-98) Linda Smith (R.-Wash.), as campaign manager.

A just-completed Rasmussen Reports poll showed certain Democratic nominee and State Atty. Gen. Ken Salazar leading Schaffer by 49% to 37% statewide, and holding a 47%-to-41% statewide edge over Coors (who is familiar to many as the TV pitchman for the beer company).

Smith Out? All signs are that the first drop-out from the seven-candidate Republican primary for the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.) will be Graham’s onetime colleague, former New Hampshire Sen. (1990-2002) Bob Smith. Staunch conservative Smith, who relocated to Longboat Key (Fla.) after his defeat two years ago to go into waterfront real estate, has so far raised only $80,000 for his comeback bid–chump change compared to the $1.7 million raised for the same race by former Bush Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez and $1.1 million raised by former Rep. (1980-2000) Bill McCollum. Of his possible exit from the primary, Smith told the Associated Press last week: “I’m a realist and I know I have a decision to make.”

Pascoe to Louisiana: Having already wrapped up the support of Louisiana Republicans for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Democrat John Breaux, Rep. David Vitter has just tapped veteran conservative political operative Bill Pascoe as his campaign manager. A former operative with the American Conservative Union and the Heritage Foundation, Pascoe is best known on the right as campaign manager for the nationally-watched bid of former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler for governor of New Jersey in ’01. The following year, Pascoe was campaign quarterback for businessman and Republican nominee Doug Forrester for the Senate in the Garden State.

Davis Does It! Two weeks ago, shortly after Rep. Tom Davis (R.-Va.) announced his engagement to longtime political ally State Sen. JeanneMarie Devolites of Northern Virginia, we decided to give as a “wedding present” to the House’s biggest fan of our “How’s Your Political I.Q.?” feature a question about him: when Davis marries Devolites in June, how many present Republican Members of the U.S. House will there be who are married to state legislators? The answer is three: Davis, and Representatives. Joel Hefley of Colorado (whose wife, Lynn Christian Hefley, is a state representative) and Jim Gibbons of Nevada, whose wife Dawn is a member of the Silver State legislature.

To no one’s surprise at HUMAN EVENTS, the first reader to get this one correct was Davis himself.