Politics 2004: Week of October 25

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  • 08/19/2022

Down to the Wire

With little more than a week to go before the balloting, the Senate race that pundits and pols increasingly call the tightest anywhere has grown even more heated-as well as remaining nearly impossible to call. A just-completed SoonerPoll.com conducted for two television stations in Oklahoma showed Democratic Rep. Brad Carson with 43.3% of the vote, compared to former Republican Rep. (1994-2000) Tom Coburn with 40.6%. National Democrats are counting on a Carson capture of the seat being relinquished by Republican Sen. Don Nickles to help them ace a net gain in the Senate.

One other noteworthy figure in the survey was that the number of undecided voters had dropped to 14%, down significantly from 21% who were undecided in the last poll.

Physician Coburn, as HUMAN EVENTS has reported, was slammed over reports last month about his sterilizing a former patient and making questionable Medicaid billings-an accusation that has been trotted out against the Republican nominee since he first ran for Congress a decade ago and which he has repeatedly responded to and for which he has never been formally charged with any wrongdoing. In addition, Coburn (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97%) could easily be the most outspoken conservative running for office this side of Rep. Ron Paul (R.-Tex.). After having unapologetically living up to his "three-terms-I'm out" pledge and leaving the House, the man almost always called "Dr. Coburn" says without hesitation that had he stayed he would have opposed the half-trillion-plus prescription drug package favored by the President. Asked on what other issues he disagrees with George W. Bush, the GOP hopeful fired back at me, "I probably would have vetoed about 90% of what he has signed."

Two-termer Carson (lifetime ACU rating: 42%) styles himself a conservative Democrat who would vote more with Sooner State views than those of his national party. But in recent weeks, the Coburn team has been pointing out that his rhetoric and record don't match.

Carson's TV spots, for example, proclaim his belief "that marriage should be between a man and a woman." Yet his surrogate at a debate, Democratic State Rep. Laura Boyd, said the congressman co-sponsored legislation on the issue of domestic partners and "believes in the right of committed partners to have access to each other in hospitals and to inherit each others' estates." (Daily Oklahoman, July 23). Along those lines, Carson opposed a ban on funding domestic partnerships in Washington, D.C., (HR 2944, CQ Vote #352, Sept. 25, 2001) and was the only member of his state's congressional delegation to sign a statement that "the sexual orientation and gender identity or expression of an individual is not a consideration in the hiring, promoting, or terminating" of a staffer.

Similarly, while Carson's ads blare his opposition to partial-birth abortion and support for parental notification, the Senate hopeful nevertheless has said: "The voters don't want Roe v. Wade repealed" (Gannett News Service, July 3, 2003) and opposed stopping tax dollars for overseas abortions (HR 1646, CQ Vote #115, May 16, 2001). Carson also opposed making it a criminal offense to injure or kill a fetus during commission of a violent crime-provoking a sharp editorial reprimand from the Daily Oklahoman (May 16, 2001) in which he paper said that "[Carson] voted with ardent supporters of abortion-on-demand, who realize that to call an unborn child a 'victim' in a legal sense would be damaging to their argument."

Overall, self-styled "Oklahoma Democrat" Carson has voted with his national party 75% of the time in '03 (Congressional Quarterly, Aug. 17, 2004) and has voted against his own state's congressional delegation more than 450 times in two years. "That's why I'm so committed to electing Tom Coburn," the state's other Republican senator, Jim Inhofe, told me before Congress adjourned, "If Carson wins, he'll cancel me out in the Senate almost every time."

Phillips Yields to Peroutka

In three recent presidential election years, many conservatives came to admire Conservative Caucus head Howard Phillips, even though they didn't vote for him. They felt that the Constitution Party he founded is a necessity for those on the right who cannot stomach what they consider the addiction to spending and government programs of so many in the GOP. But the same Phillips fans have hoped that their hero, after three races and drawing less than 1% of the vote, could find someone else to be the standard-bearer of the Constitution Party.

For his part, Phillips has tried to recruit other people to carry the banner of the small party-approaching Pat Buchanan in 1996, for example, and then-Sen. (1990-2002) Bob Smith (R.-N.H.) in 2000. Buchanan remained a Republican and then took over the now-defunct Reform Party to become its presidential nominee four years later. Smith, after a brief stint as an independent, returned to the GOP and lost renomination to the Senate.

But this year, while not finding a famoso to be the Constitution Party nominee, Phillips nonetheless demonstrated that the party he founded is indeed open to those willing to compete within it. With the founder passing on another race, a contested convention was held and Baltimore lawyer Michael Peroutka emerged as the nominee.

"America needs a second party," Peroutka told me during a recent visit to HUMAN EVENTS with his close adviser, veteran conservative journalist John Lofton. "The two major parties have merged together for the same purposes." The fledgling candidate sees himself offering an alternative to what he considers a Republican Party gone "establishment."

Many of the points Peroutka hammers on resonate with conservatives, for example that Bush has presided over "the largest and most debt-ridden government in history," that international agreements such as NAFTA and WTO are leading to "foreign bureaucrats making the rules," that abortion has not been stopped because groups such as Planned Parenthood get federal funds, and that government bureaucracies such as the Department of Education could be shut down if a President would just veto the funding for them enacted by Congress. Many conservatives may be put off by other Peroutka stands, including his opposition to the war on terror ("a war in search of a rationale") and to the Patriot Act ("People lost understanding of what it means to be an American").

To be sure, the unknown Peroutka is by no means the threat to George W. Bush that the Kerry high command considers the nationally known Ralph Nader to be to their man. He is on the ballot in 41 states-in some by the grace of smaller parties such as the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire and the American Party of California. He has raised less than $300,000 and flies commercial to speaking dates. But both Peroutka and his party have a clear message that many Republicans feel their party foolishly ignores.

Donald J. Senese: R.I.P.

"You got flagged again on the [Political] I.Q.," HUMAN EVENTS Managing Editor Kevin Lamb has needled me more than once. When he said that, Lamb had usually received a message from either Rep. Tom Davis (R.-Va.) or Dr. Don Senese about an error on the "How's Your Political I.Q.?" feature that required a correction (which delighted both North Virginians). A passionate historian and lover of political trivia, longtime subscriber Senese was truly the "Evil Eye Fleagle" of HE. He read issues from covert-to-cover, offered gentle criticism when there were errors and praise when he was pleased with an article, and did so with a touch of style. In this era of e-mail and voice mail, the effervescent, elfin Senese would write a hand-written letter and enclose photocopies of research he had done to prove his point.

So full of life, energy and generosity was Don Senese that it was a major shock for his many friends to learn October 16 that he had died two days earlier at 62 following a massive heart attack.

After earning his PhD from the University of South Carolina, the young Senese deployed his solid conservative convictions, talent for research, and near-superhuman capacity for work in the legislative and executive branches of government, in advocacy groups, and in the classroom. After working for Sen. (1972-78) William Scott (R.-Va.) and Rep. (1970-2000) Bill Archer (R.-Tex.) and as deputy director of the House Republican Study Committee, Senese served in the Reagan Administration as an assistant secretary of education and at the Interior Department. He later worked in the research department of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and pushed for repeal of the Death Tax as an official of the 60-Plus Seniors Association. Most recently, Senese (who was also issues director of Republican Oliver North's 1994 Senate bid in Virginia) taught social studies in Northern Virginia and was a member of the Civil War Roundtable of Capitol Hill and the Fairfax (Va.) Historical Association.

When I first met Don Senese, he was announcing the birth of daughter Denise in 1980 at the Monday Club, a weekly luncheon of conservatives on Capitol Hill. The last time we spoke, at a wedding of a friend's daughter earlier this year, Senese was talking about Denise's graduation from Louisiana State University. He is survived by Denise and his wife Linda.


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