Politics 2005: Week of April 18

Ohio’s ‘Captain Terror’ Returns

One of the earliest, most promising and yet briefest-running comic book heroes was Captain Terror. Handsome playboy Dan Kane donned a costume and fought such Nazi saboteurs in the U.S. as the nefarious Black Claw. Handy with his fists and with his private plane and boat, Captain Terror sometimes referred to earlier adventures in the Spanish Civil War (which later made conservative readers suspicious he had helped the Communist-riddled Republican Army, since his costume was red and yellow–Communist-favored colors).

Surprisingly, Captain Terror appeared in three issues of USA Comics from 1941-42 and was never heard from for 50 years. Then he made a cameo appearance with the most durable of all Golden Age heroes, Captain America, and suggested he was ready to go back into action.

The “Captain Terror” of modern Ohio politics is former Republican Rep. (1980-92) Bob McEwen. Extremely handsome and gregarious, one of the best speakers in the Buckeye State GOP, McEwen was elected to the state legislature at 24 and went to Congress in the “Reagan Class” of 1980 at age 30. After 10 years, solid conservative McEwen (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92%) appeared headed for the House Republican leadership. But unfavorable redistricting in 1991 placed one-third of his 6th District into the neighboring Cincinnati district and forced McEwen and another Republican lawmaker to compete for a single district in which Democratic strength had been greatly enhanced. After narrowly winning the heated primary, McEwen was beaten by a slim margin by Democrat Ted Strickland in a district Bill Clinton was sweeping by 17 percentage points.

Weeks after the election, Rep. (1974-92) Bill Gradison stunned the Cincinnati media and most fellow Republicans by announcing he was leaving the neighboring 2nd District to take a private sector job. At the urging of numerous local party leaders–many of whom had been his constituents before redistricting–McEwen rebounded by running a strong race in the 2nd. But with a well-funded campaign that included radio spots by Barbara Bush, former Bush White House staffer Rob Portman defeated him.

Now, a dozen years later, Portman is soon leaving the seat to become U.S. trade representative, and attempting a comeback bid in the second special election of ’05 is Bob McEwen. Putting off an official announcement “until the Senate confirms Rob and we have dates set for the primary,” the 55-year-old McEwen told me he will “definitely” run in the heavily Republican 2nd District.

“I served on the Rules Committee, which oversees which bills get to the House floor, and I was on the Intelligence Committee, where my seatmate was [then-Wyoming Rep.] Dick Cheney,” recalled McEwen, adding that knowledge of the process and of U.S. intelligence would be an asset to Portman’s successor. He also noted that his previous seniority in Congress would give him a leg up in deciding which committees to serve on.

Regarding the already heard criticism that he and wife Liz have spent more time in Washington than in the 2nd District, the former congressman admitted without hesitation that “my particular skills in certain areas have required me to be on Capitol Hill.” But, he quickly added, “I have always owned a condominium back in the district and have spoken on behalf of Republican candidates throughout Ohio.” McEwen also pointed out that “70% of the district I represented in the 1980s is now in the 2nd.”

Given the Republican nature of the district, McEwen will certainly have to compete in a crowded primary field. So far, the other GOP candidates are state Rep. Tom Brinkman of Hamilton County; former state Rep. Jean Schmid of Clermont County, who lost a bid for the state Senate last year; and Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine, son of GOP Sen. Mike DeWine and a longtime Cincinnati city councilman before winning his county office last fall. All are considered strong conservatives. Brinkman, for example, guided legislation regulating the abortion-inducing RU-486 into law and was a past sponsor of a concealed carry gun bill. Schmid is now president of Ohio Right-to-Life.

For a time, there was a fear on the right that too many conservative competitors could permit a more moderate GOPer to win the primary with a plurality. But at this time, that seems unlikely. The Republicans from the middle thought likeliest to run were sons of moderate former Rep. (1970-74) William Keating, banker Michael and lawyer William, Jr. But both Keatings have signaled to the Republican community in the district that they will not try to follow in their father’s footsteps.

Team Yuschenko

“The best turnout and the best outcome in our election came from the village of Chicago,” Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko told an overflow crowd at the Willard Hotel in Washington on April 6, recalling his own “re-run” election after the first one was overturned amid massive evidence of fraud. He said that “99.6% of eligible voters turned out, but actually, in Soviet times, the turnout would be 101% or 102%.”

The man known worldwide for surviving a poisoning that left him disfigured was a major hit in Washington, as he met with President Bush and addressed a joint session of Congress. Yuschenko also drew more than 500 admirers to the Willard event, co-hosted by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. As the magnetic Ukrainian spoke through an interpreter, an eclectic crowd that included such guests as conservative Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney cheered him on. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeatedly hailed Yuschenko as a “democrat”–a reference to his commitment to democracy, but which many in the room thought sounded like a party affiliation. As if to clear up the matter, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), the IRI chairman, told the crowd, “He’s a Republican.”

Whether Yuschenko really has political leanings in the U.S. is unknown, but wife Catherine Yuschenko, it turns out, does indeed have political leanings: She’s definitely a Reagan Republican. The daughter of Chicagoans of Ukrainian descent, the future First Lady of Ukraine served in the administration of the 40th President. At both the Willard event and a luncheon earlier in the day, Catherine Yuschenko was greeted and embraced by many former colleagues in the Reagan Alumni Association.

Hahn’s Last Days?

With less than a month to go before the run-off for mayor of Los Angeles, incumbent James Hahn is badly trailing his challenger, former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaragosa, by a big margin. According to the just-completed Los Angeles Times poll, Villaragosa (who narrowly lost the non-partisan race to fellow Democrat Hahn) in ’01, leads Hahn by 53%-to-35% citywide. The Channel 7 (Los Angeles) Survey USA poll shows the challenger beating Hahn by a whopping 64% to 32%.

While both contenders are Democrats, incumbent Hahn has been endorsed by many Republicans.