ROMNEY AND REBELLION
With polls showing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holding a commanding lead for re-election in two years, the moderate GOP chief executive is now finding himself facing a political irritant strikingly similar to what his father, the late George Romney, faced when he was governor of Michigan from 1963-69: conservatives who are active within the state Republican Party who won’t always go along with what their governor does.
With the retirement of venerable Bay State GOP figure Polly Logan as vice chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, Romney sought to replace her with attorney and fellow moderate Jeanne Kargas. But the more conservative party activists favored Brockton lawyer Larry Novak, a strong conservative. Like his hometown’s greatest son Rocky Marciano, Novak flattened the opposition and scored a knockout over the Romney-blessed Kargas by five votes on the 80-member GOP state central committee two weeks ago.
Similarly, the governor supported moderate Irene Shaw of New Bedford for the position of state party secretary. But Shaw lost to the more conservative Mimi Sundstrum of Milton by eight votes on the state committee.
During his recent visit to the Eagle Publishing offices, I asked Romney why he took sides in internal party battles. Addressing the vice chairman’s race rather than both contests, the governor replied: “Because we [his political team] felt we had a better candidate. Our candidate [Kargas] had supported me in the ’94 primary [for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, which Romney won] and the other candidate supported my primary opponent [venture capitalist John R. Lakian].”
Although Utah has an exciting battle for governor and Republican U.S. Sen. Robert F. Bennett is running for a third term this year, most of the Beehive State political attention is now focused on the re-election of Republican Rep. Chris Cannon. Last week, there were headlines across the state when four-termer Cannon, best-known nationally as one of the House managers of the Senate impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, fell short of winning the magic 60% of GOP convention delegate votes needed for renomination to the 3rd District seat.
Cannon secured 57.5% of the votes of the 1,100 3rd District delegates meeting at the Southtown Expo Center in Sandy, Utah, but this was not enough to prevent a primary challenge. Thus, on June 22, Cannon (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 95%) will square off in a primary against his onetime staffer, State Rep. Matt Throckmorton. This fight has been brewing for months as Cannon has battled publicly with anti-immigration activists who think he is too weak on the issue, and have gone as far as to put up anti-Cannon billboards. Thus, the primary will be in good part a referendum on one of the GOP’s true “red meat” issues. In recent years, House Judiciary Committee member Cannon has called for streamlined programs to assist illegal immigrants with temporary safe harbor in the U.S. In the process, he has become, much like Secretary of Energy Spence Abraham in his days as Republicans senator from Michigan (1994-2000), the bete noire of those who want to decrease, not increase, immigration and want to strengthen border security to keep out illegal aliens.
“My opponent says he doesn’t favor amnesty for illegal immigrants, but you can’t call his solution to the problem anything other than that when it deals with the problems of illegal immigrants by requiring them to come to the United States first.” This is what Throckmorton told me two days after the party conclave at which he dramatically secured the right to take the fight against Cannon to primary voters. “My own view is to secure the border first and then change the entire system with which we deal with the issue, much as we did with welfare through welfare reform. An amnesty, no matter, what you call it, won’t work; it didn’t in ’86 [with the Simpson-Mazzoli bill], it didn’t in ’93 with 245-i [which would permit immigrants adjustment of their visas to make them non-deportable], and it won’t tomorrow–or ever.”
Before his election to the legislature four years ago, Throckmorton worked in Cannon’s district office.
In discussing his challenge to a former boss with a near-solid conservative record, the 36-year-old insurgent candidate tried to broaden the issues beyond immigration, noting that “This is a conservative district and there are key issues where I would represent that spirit more than the incumbent. Immigration is one. My opponent favors the [Bush-backed] ‘No Child Left Behind Program;’ I’m opposed to it, because it’s the biggest federal takeover of education in history. And my opponent favored the $2.6 trillion prescription drug package [favored by the Bush Administration]. I would have opposed to it because it’s symbolic of what’s wrong with the whole budget and government spending strategy.”
Throckmorton said that he scored at the convention with “only small donations and through weeks of having breakfast, lunch, and dinner around small groups of delegates and talking to them.” Other backers used the Internet to convey to delegates the differences between the two men, with one electronic mailing bearing the legend “Put America First, Put Cannon Last.” Local politicos are not sure the anti-immigration feelings are strong enough across the district to power a successful primary campaign against a congressman with a six-figure campaign kitty.
To be sure, the candidates’ views on immigration are nuanced, Cannon does not support an “open borders” policy and Throckmorton is not advocating mass deportation. Nonetheless, the media and many conventioneers last week clearly perceived their showdown as a plebiscite on immigration–and will almost certainly characterize the primary that way.
Who’s In and Who’s Out in Florida: With the passing of the filing deadline for candidates for the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.), there was only one major surprise: stalwart conservative State Sen. Dan Webster filed for re-election to his Orlando legislative seat rather than the U.S. Senate nomination, which he had been pursuing for a year. Webster’s exit comes on the heels of another withdrawal by a conservative. former New Hampshire Sen. (1990-2002) Bob Smith, ended his comeback bid in the Sunshine State after raising only $80,000. Smith has since endorsed former Rep. (1980-2000) and 2000 U.S. Senate nominee Bill McCollum. The other major GOP contenders in the August 31 primary are former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, former House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, former Judicial Watch head Larry Klayman, and entrepreneur Doug Gallagher.
Unexpected in Alaska: In a move that stunned Alaska Republicans, Matt Miller made a last-minute decision to file for the Republican Senate nomination last week. Former State Senate President Miller left the state office to which he had been appointed by GOP Gov. Frank Murkowski to run against Murkowski’s daughter, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (who was appointed by her father to the Senate seat he had held for 22 years following his election as governor in ’02). The 53-year-old Miller is considered to the right of Lisa Murkowski on cultural issues such as abortion and gun control. The winner of the GOP primary will face a stiff November battle from the certain Democratic nominee, former Gov. (1994-2002) Tony Knowles.
The Switch Is Still On: The trend of conservative Democratic office-holders’ switching to the GOP continues. In April, two Georgia state representatives announced they were switching from Democratic to Republican. In so doing, State Representatives. Tommy Smith, chairman of the House Planning and Community Affairs Committee, and Bob Lane, chairman of the Game, Fish, and Park Committee, increased GOP ranks in the Peach Tree House to 75 out of 180. Then, just two weeks ago, five-term Democratic State Rep. Carl Rogers, made the same political journey, raising the Republican number to 76. “The Republican Party is the fastest-growing family in Georgia,” beamed House GOP Leader Glenn Richardson.