Politics 2005: Week of July 4

Ohio Update

The Republican nominee in the July 18 special election for Congress in Ohio’s 2nd District is considered a solid conservative by most local observers.  Jean Schmidt two weeks ago topped an 11-candidate primary field that included former Rep. (1980-92) Bob McEwen and Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine (son of current Republican Sen. Mike DeWine), and she is now a cinch to defeat Democrat Paul Hackett in the most Republican district in the Buckeye State.  A past president of Cincinnati Right to Life, former two-term state Rep. Schmidt proudly campaigned as “100% pro-life” and as a recipient of the highest rating in 2004 from the National Rifle Association.

But there are other opinions.  Gun Owners of America, a rival group, branded the concealed weapon law backed by the NRA and supported by Schmidt as “hollow.”  Their candidate was state Rep. Tom Brinkman, Jr., another conservative. (Brinkman placed third behind Schmidt and McEwen.) 

Schmidt also came under fire from the anti-tax Club for Growth for a highly controversial vote she cast last year as a state House member to raise the Ohio sales tax by 20%.  The measure, which was backed by Republican Gov. Robert Taft, would have meant that “you pay more on everything from clothing to purchases at the hardware store,” said the club’s anti-Schmidt mailings. 

Over lunch with a group of conservatives during a visit to Washington last week, Schmidt tried to explain the highly controversial vote.  “Yes, I did vote for the temporary sales tax increase, which is set to expire in eight days,” she told me on June 22, admitting that she was “beat up on” for the vote by fellow Republicans.  After casting the vote, Schmidt lost a primary for the state Senate by a microscopic 22 votes. 

However, she also pointed out that her reason for casting the vote was to secure, in return, support from the House leadership for the landmark Tax and Expenditure Limitations (TEL) measure.  That bill, which Schmidt sponsored in February ’04, would have, in her words, “put the same cap on Ohio spending that many other states have and controlled spending and taxation here.”

Critics point out, however, that Schmidt could have voted against the tax increase and for her TEL proposal. The former passed and the latter never became law. 

Defending her record on fiscal matters, the nominee pointed out that she ran in the congressional primary with the endorsement of the Ohio Taxpayers Association.  She also proudly cited her leadership in the state House of the successful fight to thwart state funding for Planned Parenthood.  Prior to Schmidt’s efforts, Planned Parenthood had received $1.7 million in taxpayer money for the previous fiscal year. 

Given the Republican nature of the seven-county district and the fact that in the primary all the major Republican candidates tried to demonstrate how conservative they were, it is unlikely that Schmidt, whatever odd votes she may have cast in the past, will veer much from the right once in Congress.

Campbell vs. Hollings—Finally?

Throughout the 1990s, pundits and pols in South Carolina confidently forecast a Campbell vs. Hollings race: They predicted that Reagan Republican Carroll Campbell—U.S. representative (1978-86) and governor of the Palmetto State (1986-94)—would take on Democrat Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, himself a former governor (1958-62) and  then U.S. senator (1966-2004).  Given the fervent followings, shrewd political instincts and charisma of the respective candidates, this was to be one of those showcase Senate races that reporters and analysts discuss for a generation.

But it never happened.  Despite polls showing him the front-runner, Campbell never ran for the Senate and instead took the “Cadillac” lobbying job as president of the American Council of Life Insurance (ACLI) after leaving the governorship. Now 65 and battling Alzheimer’s disease, Campbell is becoming as beloved a figure in his state as Strom Thurmond was when he died two years ago.  Hollings, having dodged the “silver bullet” of a challenge from Campbell, retired from office last year and, at 83,  also enjoys widespread home-state pride. 

But the “race of the titans” that never was may yet be run by proxy.  Mike Campbell, son of Carroll and co-owner of the Palmetto Restaurant Group, recently signaled that he will run for the state’s second-highest office next year, when Republican Gov. Mark Sanford seeks re-election.  Should 37-year-old Campbell beat incumbent Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in the GOP primary next May, he will almost certainly go up against Michael Hollings, Columbia lawyer and son of Fritz.  The younger Hollings, 54, makes little secret that he plans to use the lieutenant governorship as a  political stepping stone, characterizing it as “a serious apprenticeship for higher office.”

The Columbia State’s Lee Bandy went on to report how the elder Hollings, who served as lieutenant governor from 1954-58, when told by his son of a prospective candidacy, said: “Hell, boy, you don’t know anything about politics.  You need to go sober up.” 

The younger Campbell has had previous clashes with Bauer, with whom he attended the University of South Carolina.  When then-state legislator Bauer was a John McCain booster in the 2000 South Carolina primary, Campbell and his family were vigorous Bushmen.  When Bauer, as lieutenant governor, suggested that the state trade with Cuba, Campbell wrote an angry op-ed piece denouncing any dealings with Castro’s totalitarian regime.

But perhaps the sharpest difference between Campbell and the incumbent is their view of the office, which pays less than $50,000 a year for presiding over the state Senate (which meets three days a week for six months out of the year). 

“My opponent would keep the office a part-time job presiding over the Senate,” Campbell told me. “Taxpayers deserve more bang for their buck.  I want to see the office transformed into an extension of major executive business, as it is in other states such as Texas.” Campbell would like to take on additional duties, such as overseeing homeland security, economic development or coming up with a means of dealing with the crushing cost of Medicaid. 

Given the outpouring of affection for his father and the conservative vs. moderate nature of the primary, Campbell has been getting considerable heavyweight support for the race.  Former Oklahoma Gov. (1994-2002) Frank Keating, who succeeded Carroll Campbell as head of the ACLI, will host a fund-raising event for Mike. Republican Senators Judy Gregg (N.H.) and Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi have also sent checks to the Campbell coffers. 

Short Takes

Oh, Brother:  Although White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan ruled out going back to Texas to manage his mother’s just-announced challenge to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, state Comptroller Carole Strayhorn will nonetheless have family oversight in the primary.  She announced last week that her primary bid will be run by another son:  Brad McClellan brother of Scott and Medicare chief Dr. Mark McClellan. Brad is currently an assistant state attorney general. 

Party Time in Colorado:  After the resignation of Ted Halaby as Republican state chairman, the sole candidate to succeed him had been Vice Chairman Chuck Broerman.  But when GOP National Committeeman Bob Martinez decided he wanted the party helm, Broerman quickly withdrew and the GOP unanimously rallied to Martinez.  A Vietnam veteran, Martinez owns a construction company in Douglas County and is considered a strong conservative. 

More exciting to conservatives was the return to politics of former Rep. (1996-2002) Bob Schaffer, who was elected national committeeman to succeed Martinez.  A stalwart conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 100%) who lived up to this three-term pledge in Congress, the 43-year-old Schaffer lost the GOP primary for U.S. senator last year.  Since then, he has been a leader in the school voucher movement and in organizing an outside group to attract fresh blood to the Republican Party.