Politics 2005Week of March 28


Like young Republican Representatives Donald Rumsfeld (Ill.) and David Stockman (Mich.) in past years, Rep. Rob Portman (R.-Ohio) was widely regarded as a short-termer in the House–one whose service in Congress would end abruptly when the right administration appointment came. As a former White House staffer to the elder George Bush and key congressional point man for the younger Bush, Portman (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 89%) seemed destined for something bigger before long.

That something came last week, when President Bush appointed Portman–at age 49 and after 12 years in the House–U.S. trade representative. The appointment came swiftly, with the administration putting out feelers about a week before the President met with Portman in the Oval Office March 16 and offered him the job. As the congressman himself told reporters in Cincinnati shortly after his appointment was announced, “This has been such a whirlwind the past few days, I haven’t given a moment’s thought to who should replace me.”

But understandably, with the Buckeye State’s 2nd District (suburban Cincinnati) considered one of the safest Republican districts in the country, quite a few ambitious GOPers from its seven counties were doing some quick thinking of their own. The second special U.S. House election of the year is likely to be called by late spring or early summer and several candidates from every philosophical faction of the Republican Party are now exploring a race.

Among conservatives, the most-talked-about possible candidate is Bill Cunningham, by far the most popular radio-talk show host in the Cincinnati area. Covington, Ky.-native Cunningham, a daily afternoon fixture on WLW (Clear Channel) radio, has developed a strong following for his interviews and commentaries. “Bombastic, controversial, opinionated” is how the AM station advertises its star host. As bombastic and controversial as Cunningham is, however, this has not thwarted him from attracting big-name guests to his program–among them Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

Another prospective candidate considered a strong conservative is Hamilton County Commissioner Patrick DeWine, son of Republican Sen. Mike DeWine. Formerly a Cincinnati city councilman, young DeWine last year ran to the right of an incumbent county commissioner to win his current office. Because of his famous name, Pat DeWine would likely face criticism that he is trying to move from one office to another too quickly.

Other Republican prospects rated strongly conservative include Phil Heimlich, also a Hamilton County commissioner, State Senators Tom Niehaus and Bob Schuler, and former State Rep. Jean Schmidt.

The probable moderate or “establishment” candidate is Doug White, who is well known because of the two decades he served as county commissioner, state representative and state senator (he was chairman of the Agriculture Committee and Senate president). Now director of commerce in the cabinet of Republican Gov. Robert Taft, White told reporters that “calls are coming in, encouraging me faster than I can answer them” and he said he would soon make a decision on the race.

The other prospective candidate usually characterized as moderate is Michael Keating, former Fifth Third Bank executive. Although he has never held office, so sports no record of political performance, Keating is the son of former Rep. William J. Keating, a moderate Republican (lifetime ACU rating: 61%) who held the same congressional seat from 1971 until resigning in ’74 to become president of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Because the younger Keating has been Portman’s campaign treasurer in nearly all of his races for Congress, there was early speculation that the outgoing congressman might endorse him. But, for the present at least, Portman put that rumor to rest, telling the Enquirer: “Right now, I have no plans to endorse anyone.”

Twinkle Star Falls On Alabama

In the end, the recent election of Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh as Republican state chairman of Alabama was no surprise. Although she had been deputy chief of staff to Republican Gov. Bob Riley–in the political doghouse among conservatives for calling for the largest tax increase in state history–Cavanaugh is personally well liked by most on the right. A former executive director of the state GOP, Cavanaugh has spent her adult life in key campaign or party positions with a party that has been increasingly successful in winning races. Indeed, at 38, she symbolizes the modern Alabama party run by activists who are lifelong Republicans rather than conservative Democrats who switched, as was much of the state GOP leadership in the 1960s and early ’70s.

The state executive committee last month unanimously elected Andress as the first woman chairman of either major party in Alabama. Her election comes at a time when Riley, should he seek re-election, is likely to face a spirited primary challenge. During a recent visit to Washington for the U.S. Supreme Court oral argument on public display of the Ten Commandments, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore came the closest he has to announcing his candidacy for governor.

“I have been urged to run for governor by a lot of folks and I’m giving it serious consideration,” Moore told me over coffee after returning from the court. A national figure for being removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for insisting that a monument bearing the Ten Commandments be displayed in the state courthouse, Moore has so far fallen short in his pursuit of winning legal reinstatement to the bench. Regarding a challenge to Riley, the “Ten Commandments Judge” said he would make a decision “sometime this spring.”

Will Andress and the party machinery be in the camp of her old boss Riley? “The party is officially and completely neutral when we have a contested primary,” the new chairman told me. She said, “There just might be another Republican in the race” besides Riley and Moore and that “the only fair thing was for the party to be neutral, as the [Republican National Committee] was when Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford in 1976.” At this point, the likely Democratic nominee for governor in ’06 appears to be Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, former wife of former Lt. Gov. (1982-86) and 1986 gubernatorial nominee Bill Baxley.

Report of the County Chairmen

After unsuccessful races for public office or even serving in a high federal job, some conservative activists find, as Reagan once said, that there are second acts in politics. Many of those who sought or held high positions have stayed involved politically, particularly as leaders of their county Republican parties.

Chandler, Ariz., lawyer and former U.S. Marine Tom Liddy, for example, lost a crowded GOP primary for Congress in 2000 that was won by fellow conservative and current Rep. Jeff Flake. Many pundits and pols were reluctant to support Liddy, son of G. Gordon Liddy, because he had been an Arizona resident for only two years. Over the last five years, Liddy has continued to build his law practice and also co-host a popular daily radio program on KFYI in Phoenix. Since 2003, Liddy has been GOP chairman in Maricopa, the state’s most populous county.

Edwin G. Foulke, Jr. served in the first Bush Administration as chairman of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. In that capacity, he oversaw appeals of decisions by OSHA. Returning to Greenville, S.C., and private law practice in 1993, Foulke plunged into local politics and is now Republican chairman of Greenville County.

Former advertising executive Danford Sawyer actually practiced what conservatives preach by increasing outside bidding and slashing the number of federal employees under his control while he was head of the Government Printing Office in the Reagan Administration. Now 65, Sawyer and wife Ruthanne settled in Elk Creek, Va., to raise their beloved horses. But before long, the passion for politics that Sawyer had pursued while in business in Illinois and Florida returned. He was recently elected Republican vice chairman of Grayson County, where he was an active campaigner for former NASCAR executive Kevin Triplett’s strong-but-losing challenge to Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher last fall. Just two weeks ago, Sawyer oversaw the local party’s annual auction dinner, at which a record $5,000 was raised. According to Sawyer, the most heated bidding at the dinner’s auction was for an Ann Coulter doll.