Politics 2005Week of August 1

Team Harris

Despite repeated published reports that the White House and Gov. Jeb Bush do not want her to be the Republican nominee against Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson next year, Rep. Katherine Harris is busy gearing up for the statewide contest. In recent weeks, the onetime Florida secretary of state and bane of Democrats for her role in delivering Florida’s crucial electoral votes to George W. Bush in 2000 has gathered a fresh team of well-known GOP operatives.

The two-term House member tapped as her chief of staff Fred Asbell, a familiar figure on Capitol Hill and in national Republican politics for more than three decades. Asbell held several positions at the Republican National Committee under then-Chairman Bill Brock from 1977-80 and was executive assistant to Brock during Brock’s stint as secretary of Labor in the Reagan Administration. Conservatives (including Human Events) who were critical of the moderate politics at the RNC during Brock’s tenure nonetheless conceded that Asbell was a canny political operative. He also served as top aide to Rep. Clay Shaw (R.-Fla.) from 1981-83.

The overall consultant to the Harris Senate effort is Ed Rollins, campaign manager for Ronald Reagan’s landslide re-election in 1984 and operating head of the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1989-90. The bearded, plain-spoken Rollins is no stranger to controversy. He briefly left the Republican Party in 1992 to oversee Ross Perot’s independent bid for President, and a year later, after quarterbacking Republican Christine Todd Whitman’s winning race for governor of New Jersey, Rollins claimed he had paid black ministers not to encourage their Democrat-leaning parishioners turn out at the polls. (Amid a nationwide outcry from black leaders, Rollins said he made up the story about paying the ministers and apologized.)

Although Rollins has been a Human Events subscriber and known me for more than 20 years, a source close to the veteran consultant said he was not going to be talking to reporters during the Harris campaign.

The full-time campaign manager for Harris (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%) is Jim Dornan (a distant relation to the former California congressman), whose past assignments include running the campaigns for former Rep. (1994-2002) J.C. Watts (R.-Okla.) and for Maryland’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey in 1998. When I asked whether Harris would consider abandoning the Senate race and instead run for her House seat, Dornan adamantly replied: “She is absolutely in it [the Senate race] to the very, very end—until November of next year, when she defeats Bill Nelson.”

Win Out

Republican politics in Arkansas were turned upside down last week. With Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee stepping down after two full terms and part of his predecessor’s unfinished term, the GOP in the Razorback State was faced with the unusual specter of a knock-down, drag-out gubernatorial primary next May between two of its political titans: Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, namesake-son of the state’s first-ever Republican governor (1966-70), and former Rep. (1996-2001) Asa Hutchinson, who also served as President Bush’s undersecretary of Homeland Security and former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The good news is that, as of last week, the “battle of the giants” that Republicans had feared had been averted. The bad news is the reason it was averted: The 57-year-old Rockefeller announced that he was suffering from a blood disease that would require him to get a bone marrow transplant, and that he was, therefore, withdrawing from the race.

Although Arkansas Republicans have held contested primaries for governor for 20 years, they have never had a contest quite like the one they were facing until Rockefeller’s stunning exit. Hutchinson, who twice sought statewide office and was state party chairman before going to Congress in ’96, hailed from the Republican stronghold of Arkansas. His former 3rd District in the northwest corner of the state is home to the bulk of Arkansas’s GOP voters.

But no one was counting good-natured, Marlboro-man look-alike Rockefeller out. Along with his famous name and record of winning statewide races twice in a row, “Win Paul” is also a billionaire—the only child of one of the five sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.—and said to be as wealthy as his late father or any of the Rockefeller brothers. Although, as of his withdrawal, Rockefeller had raised only about half of Hutchinson’s war chest, it was taken for granted he could and eventually would write a check for whatever amount he felt he needed.

Now Hutchinson is the certain GOP nominee. Even though he has avoided a tough primary, the former congressman will face a formidable foe next fall in state Atty. Gen. Mike Beebe, considered a moderate Democrat like Bill Clinton.

Short Takes

Exit from Maryland: To the surprise of many Maryland Democrats, liberal Rep. Chris Van Hollen recently announced that he would not run for the Senate seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes in 2006. With his base in the Washington D.C., suburbs, two-termer Van Hollen (lifetime ACU rating: 8%) was thought to have the financial resources and media attention to be a heavyweight contender in the Senate primary.

His decision leaves that primary essentially a two-candidate race between Rep. Ben Cardin and former Rep. (1986-96) Kweisi Mfume, former president of the NAACP. The likely Republican candidate is Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who is black.

Recently, Mfume (who is also black) insultingly said that black conservatives such as Steele who support President Bush are “ventriloquist’s dummies.” Asked about Mfume’s words, incoming NAACP President Bruce Gordon told reporters: “Mfume belongs to yesterday, and this is a new day. Let me simply say I have contacts at the White House. I will find my way there. I don’t feel the need to engage in the gamesmanship of who calls whom first, and, to be candid, I’ve already started the process.”

It’s Roskam: Less than two weeks after announcing for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R.-Ill.) next year, moderate-to-liberal state Sen. Carole Pankau stunned pundits and pols throughout Illinois’ 6th District by abandoning the race. Coming on the heels of the withdrawal of one other candidate, Pankau’s decision all but guarantees the GOP nomination to stalwart conservative state Sen. Peter Roskam, a former Hyde staffer who had the endorsements of six legislative colleagues who represent portions of the 6th District.