Politics 2005: Week of January 24

Washington State, Ukraine Style

“Her Fraudulency” is what Republican legislators in Olympia, Wash., have begun to call Christine Gregoire, who took the oath of office as governor of the Evergreen State two weeks ago. Days before she was sworn in, an angry 2,500-person demonstration was held in Olympia to condemn the way she was declared governor-elect by a microscopic 129 votes out of almost 3-million cast–and how she overtook conservative Republican Dino Rossi only after the ballots were counted a third time and 575 previously “erroneously rejected” ballots from Democratic Seattle were declared legal. Many at the demonstration wore orange, as did supporters of Ukraine’s Viktor Yuschenko after he was initially counted out in an election later judged a fraud.

As she made her inaugural remarks at the state capitol, GOP lawmakers, almost to a person, sat silently and refused to applaud.

Because the Rossi-Gregoire race was one of the closest for any major office in U.S. history and because it is unlikely they would be able to prove intentional fraud on the part of Democratic election officials, many Republicans have called for a revote of the election. Re-running disputed elections is not unprecedented in the United States. In North Carolina, for example, an election commission recently ruled that the too-close-to-call November race for state agriculture commissioner must be revoted. Citing Washington State law, former state Atty. Gen. and U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton (R.) told the Wall Street Journal, “A court [can] void any election where the number of illegal or mistaken votes exceeds the margin of victory, and it has done so in the past.” Gorton also urged Gregoire to agree to the re-vote, because “[n]o one can govern effectively under the cloud this race has created.”

“Absolutely ludicrous” is how Gregoire dismissed the advice from Gorton and other Republicans.

Her fellow Democrats in the legislature (with the exception of State Sen. Tim Sheldon, a conservative) voted along party lines against GOP calls for a revote. Small wonder: A just-completed KING-TV (Seattle) poll shows that, regardless of how they voted, 53% of Washingtonians now believe former state Sen. Rossi won the race, while 36% think Gregoire did. The same survey showed that Washington voters statewide want a revote by roughly the same margin.

Similarly, a Strategic Vision survey showed that 52% believe Rossi actually won the election, 37% said it was won by Gregoire, and 11% were undecided. When asked if they would view Gregoire as the actual governor, 41% said yes, 51% said no, and 8% were undecided. Echoing the KING poll, 50% favored a revote, 39% said no, and 11% were undecided.

As the courts consider the plight of servicemen denied the tools to vote because of local officials’ mishandling of ballots, the election that won’t die has begun to attract national attention. Asked about the controversy on January 6, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan replied that, “Every eligible vote ought to be counted [and] our men and women in uniform ought to have the opportunity to participate in our democratic system, as well, and have their votes counted.”

Out of the House–To the Mansion?

The new year is not even a month old and the next national elections are more than two years away. But in just the last two weeks, a seeming horde of Republican U.S. House members have signaled their intent to leave safe congressional seats next year to run for the governorships of their states. In some cases, the failure to achieve a leadership position in Congress has led members to decide to go “up or out” and attempt to win a governor’s mansion in ’06. For others, it is a case of having wanted to be governor for many years and not seeing an opening until now that has led the member to opt for a statewide bid.

The most likely Republican U.S. representatives to attempt the move from the House to the governor’s mansion so far are Ray LaHood of Illinois and Jim Nussle of Iowa. Last week, the Illinois Leader reported that moderate GOPer and six-termer LaHood (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 74%) would soon set up an exploratory committee for a run for the nomination to oppose Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich next year. The report comes on the heels of the election January 15 of LaHood’s close ally, Schwarz Paper Co. executive Andy McKenna, as state GOP chairman.

A longtime top aide to former Rep. (1956-94) and onetime House GOP Leader Bob Michel, LaHood–with Michel’s endorsement–narrowly won the Republican primary in his boss’s Peoria-based district in 1994 over a more conservative candidate. Since then, he has steadfastly maintained the “camaraderie over confrontation” philosophy of Michel, making the Illinoisan almost an outsider among the increasingly conservative House Republicans. In addition, the 59-year-old LaHood angered conservatives at home when he encouraged a challenge to former Sen. (1998-2004) Peter Fitzgerald before the GOP incumbent announced his retirement. “Peter has no friends in our delegation,” LaHood told reporters after Fitzgerald’s exit. “I’m glad he’s not running.”

Capitol Hill sources almost unanimously agree that LaHood’s moderate voting record and his criticism of fellow GOPers such as Fitzgerald are the reasons he has been passed over for choice committee assignments in the House Republican Conference run by a fellow Illinoisan, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

Iowa’s Nussle (lifetime ACU rating: 86%) is just finishing his stint as chairman of the House Budget Committee, where he won high marks from conservatives for making the case for cutting programs and reforming the budget process. But after eight terms in the House, the onetime county attorney clearly yearns to be back in the Hawkeye State. Last week, Nussle held a closed-door meeting with key financial backers in Sioux City, and Iowa sources told me he has definitely decided to seek the GOP nomination for the governorship held for eight years by Democrat Tom Vilsack (who has said he won’t run again next year).

“And this means that at least five Republican state legislators have begun to eye a run for Jim’s House district,” said Craig Tufty of the “Iowa Poll.”

Two other conservative Republicans, Congressional Quarterly Politics Weekly reported last week, have taken official steps to enter races for governorships that two-term Republican incumbents must by law relinquish in ’06: Butch Otter of Idaho and Jim Gibbons of Nevada. Also seriously discussing bids for governor are Representatives Tom Osborne of Nebraska and Bob Beauprez of Colorado. Onetime University of Nebraska football coach Osborne was long been considering a bid for governor next year, when GOP incumbent Mike Johanns has to step down. Johanns’ recent appointment as secretary of agriculture and the promotion of Republican Lt. Gov. David Heineman to the Cornhusker State’s top job has reportedly not dampened Osborne’s interest in a gubernatorial bid.

Nussle’s fellow “Class of ’94” member, Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R.-Ariz.) is “pretty serious” about challenging Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, Arizona GOP Chairman Bob Fannin told me during the Republican National Committee meeting in Washington last week. Recently, there have been extensive published reports of exploratory efforts for a gubernatorial bid by conservative swashbuckler Hayworth (lifetime ACU rating: 97%), who lost a bid for House GOP Conference chairman to moderate Deborah Pryce (Ohio) in ’02. In fact, Maricopa County District Attorney Rick Romley, who has reportedly sent more criminals to prison than any man in Arizona history, has signaled he will lower his own ambitions from governor to Congress if fellow Republican Hayworth opts for a statehouse bid.

Les Active–But Recovering

The member of the White House press corps whom George W. Bush has nicknamed “the Troublemaker” and whom Press Secretary Scott McClellan almost always admonishes to “be brief, please” has been conspicuous in his absence from the daily televised briefings at the Brady Press Room since January 13. Veteran Baltimore radio talk show host Les Kinsolving, whose lengthy questions have made him a fixture at the White House sessions (as well as raised the eyebrows of presidential press secretaries since the Nixon Administration), suffered a massive heart attack two weeks ago and underwent bypass surgery immediately. Kinsolving, who still maintains his status as an Episcopal priest and sometimes weaves quotes from Scripture into his often-long-winded questions, will be home within days and back at his chair among the White House press “in a matter of weeks,” friends and family members tell me. (Fans of Kinsolving who wish to send him get-well cards may address them to his home, 1517 Beulah Road, Vienna, Va., 22180).