Politics 2004: Week of September 20

Last Primary Night for Junkies For us political junkies, this was our last big night of the year–the final 2004 evening when a cluster of states reported the results of primaries to choose nominees for major office. So, the late evenings–to track results online, and the early mornings to get the papers to find the final results–were over for ’04. But these last primary elections also sent a sign that there were only about 50 days left before the Election Day that will bring the selecting of officials from White House to court house. Here are some of the results of interest to conservatives on the closing night of primaries. . . . Big News in Big Apple To no one’s surprise, moderate state legislator Howard Mills, the choice of New York’s Republican leaders, won the primary to oppose leftist Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer. Although Schumer is considered unbeatable, there may yet be a surprise this fall. Because of Mills’ decidedly non-conservative stands on hate crime measures, abortion, and other cultural issues, the Conservative Party (which has the fourth line on the Empire State ballot) gave its Senate nomination to Long Island physician Marilyn O’Grady, a solid, articulate conservative on cultural and economic issues. A Quinnipiac University poll completed in August showed Mills with 13% of the vote and O’Grady with a surprisingly strong 9%. For Republicans, the hottest contest of all took place in the 29th District being vacated by nine-term Rep. Amo Houghton (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 54%), one of the diminishing number of liberal Republicans in Congress. Houghton has handpicked his heir, fellow “Rockefeller Republican,” State Sen. John Kuhl, Jr., who defeated stalwart conservative Monroe County Legislator Mark Assini by a 2-to-1 margin. Assini, who had originally entered the race to challenge Houghton before the incumbent opted for retirement, will nevertheless be on the November ballot as the nominee of the Conservative Party. Despite Assini’s presence on the fall ballot, Kuhl is a strong favorite in November against 26-year-old Democrat Samara Barend, a former congressional staffer whose long-shot campaign was recently highlighted in American Prospect magazine. The other New York U.S. House district being vacated by a Republican is the 27th (Buffalo), where moderate Rep. Jack Quinn is calling it quits after 12 years. Once Quinn (lifetime ACU rating: 65%), one of five House Republicans to vote against impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, announced his retirement, the historically Democratic, union-heavy district was considered a slam-dunk for return to Democratic hands. But State Assemblyman Brian Higgins, favorite of organized labor and most Democratic Party leaders, had to go through an exhausting primary. Last week, he emerged on top of four opponents with 47% of the vote. Given the struggle Higgins had to make for the Democratic standard, GOPers are increasingly eyeing their candidate, Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples, as a possible upset winner. Often characterized as “more conservative than Quinn,” Naples was unopposed for the House nomination and has been elected and re-elected in Erie County (Buffalo), home to 80% of the district’s votes. Badger State Bulletins The most-watched primary in Wisconsin last week was for the Republican nomination against Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold. State Senate President Robert Welch, a strong conservative who was the 1994 Republican Senate nominee, had been the favorite of grass-roots activists and such one-issue groups as Wisconsin Right to Life. But Welch was heavily outspent by his two multi-millionaire opponents, builder Tim Michels and car dealer Russ Darrow, and, in the end, the nomination went to Michels, a former U.S. Army Ranger (who, interestingly, had contributed to Welch’s frequent nemesis, Democratic Gov. James Doyle, in ’02). News from New Hampshire In the only truly competitive primary among New Hampshire Republicans, ten-year Rep. Charles Bass was renominated by 72% to 28%. Bass (lifetime ACU rating: 77%) faced State Rep. Mark Brady, who had courted gun owners, home schoolers, and fellow pro-life Roman Catholics in the 2nd District (Concord-Nashua). Brady slammed Bass hard for his votes for the controversial campaign finance reform plan and against a constitutional marriage amendment, but he was hampered by a meager budget (about $40,000). The Bass-Brady bout featured the second generation of two of their state’s best-known moderate and conservative names. Bass is the son of former Rep. (1956-62) and 1962 U.S. Senate nominee Perkins (Small Mouth) Bass and the grandson of Republican Gov. Robert Bass. Brady is the son of Larry Brady, assistant U.S. secretary of Commerce under Ronald Reagan and two-time U.S. House candidate in the neighboring 1st District (Manchester), and the late State Rep. Carolyn Brady, a much-loved figure among Granite State conservatives. In D.C., Just When You Think It’s Safe. . . In Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah, Frank Skeffington, the rascally old mayor of a city very much like Boston, runs for his final term and loses. In Washington,D.C.,’s Ward 8 last week, the Democratic primary for City Council was almost a dramatization of the epic novel, but with Skeffington a winner. In returns watched by the nation and the world, former D.C. Mayor (1978-90, 1994-98) Marion Barry, Jr., a true-to-life Skeffington if there ever was one, roared back into politics by winning a seat on the City Council with nearly 60% of the vote. In the District’s poorest, heavily black ward, he is assured of election in the fall. Barry’s return comes 14 years after he was videotaped by FBI agents smoking cocaine with a former lover. His subsequent arrest led to his retirement as mayor, a spectacular trial, and six months in the federal penitentiary for drug possession. Undaunted, Barry was returned as mayor in 1994–whereupon the debt-riddled city was soon placed under the management of a federal control board, which had the last word on virtually all major decisions over Barry and the council. (The board soon disappeared and autonomy returned to City Hall after Barry stepped down in ’98.) Now 68, married and divorced four times, and suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, Barry nonetheless won with ease over incumbent Council member Sandy Allen, his onetime campaign manager whom he handpicked to run for the Ward 8 seat in 1995. . . . And From the “Other Washington.” To no one’s surprise, Republican Rep. George Nethercutt (lifetime ACU rating: 91%) and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (lifetime ACU rating: 3%) will meet in November. And there were no upsets in the gubernatorial sweepstakes; with Democratic Gov. Gary Locke stepping down, the easy winner (72%) of the Democratic primary was State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who filed of one of the early big tobacco suits. She will face conservative State Sen. Dino Rossi, considered one of the GOP’s best cracks at taking the statehouse in years. A Moore information poll shows Gregoire leading Rossi by a slim margin (44%-41%) statewide. In the 5th District (Spokane) vacated by Nethercutt, the easy winner of the Republican primary was state house GOP Leader Cathy McMorris. A spirited fighter against big spending and gun control, McMorris was elected to the house at 24 and became minority leader last year at 35. She ran away with the House nod (49% of the vote in a three-person race), but faces a strong fall race against Democrat Don Barbieri, a wealthy industrialist. There were similarities–and some sharp differences–in the 8th District (Seattle), which is being vacated by Republican Rep. Jennifer Dunn after 12 years. The easy GOP winner (45% over three opponents) was King County Sheriff Dave Reichert. He, too, faces a spirited challenge in the fall from a well-known Democrat, radio talk show host David Ross. But Reichert is considered a moderate who is distrusted by many area conservatives. They often cite his pro-gun control statements and appearances with Democratic-office-holders, and note that the lawman proclaimed himself a Republican only when he decided to run for Congress.