Politics 2005: Week of October 17

More Bad Buckeye State News for the GOP

With scandal tainting many Ohio Republican leaders from Gov. Robert  A. Taft on down, Democrats are feeling increasingly upbeat about their chances in breaking a 16-year GOP monopoly on the governorship next year, as well as electing the Buckeye State’s first Democratic senator in a dozen years.

After years of holding no statewide offices and thus forced to run little-known candidates against popular Republican Governors George Voinovich (1990-98) and Taft, Democrats now have two top-tier gubernatorial contenders in Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman and six-term Rep. Ted Strickland. The latest Columbus Dispatch poll shows Strickland leading Coleman 22%-to-19%.

Republicans have been rocked by an ongoing scandal involving a missing $13 million in workers’ compensation funds invested with rare coin dealer and longtime GOP contributor Thomas Noe. Several past aides to the governor have been indicted in connection with what the press has dubbed “Coingate,” and Taft himself has pleaded guilty to four charges of failure to disclose about $6,000 in golf outings and meals. With 17 months to go in Taft’s second term, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has dubbed him “the lamest of lame ducks.”

To no one’s surprise, the Republican who is easily the most distant from Taft is the front-runner in the May ’06 primary for governor. In a just-released Columbus Dispatch poll, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who broke with Taft over the governor’s proposed sales tax increase, has the backing of 32% of likely Republican voters. Trailing him are state Atty. Gen. Jim Petro with 18% and state Auditor Betty Montgomery at 16%.

Blackwell, an African-American, won high marks from conservatives for taking the lead in the campaign for the initiative to define marriage that was approved handsomely by voters in 2004. Already weighing in for the conservative hopeful are such national GOP figures as 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp and Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.).

DeWine Ducks Bullet

With polls showing him one of the most vulnerable Republican senators seeking re-election in ’06 (see “Politics 2005,” October 10), two-termer Mike DeWine got some good news and bad news last week.

The good news was that he ducked a major primary challenge from the right. Former AK Steel chief executive John Hritz, who had formed an exploratory committee for a Senate race, announced he would not take on DeWine (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 82%). Instead, Hritz said, he will seek the nomination for state treasurer over incumbent GOPer Jeanette Bradley.

Like most Ohio conservatives, Hritz had been outraged by DeWine’s joining a group of seven Republican senators who ended an attempt by their colleagues to diffuse the filibuster against judicial nominees. In opting against a primary challenge, Hritz said, “DeWine has made and continues to make efforts to reconnect with the Republican base.” But he did not explain what such efforts DeWine has made.

The bad news for DeWine was that Democrats will have a first-rate candidate against him. Having said months ago he would not run for the Senate, liberal Rep. Sherrod Brown (D.) last week announced he would challenge DeWine after all. A former Ohio secretary of state and past gubernatorial candidate, seven-termer Brown (lifetime ACU rating: 9%) has a name that has been near-magic in Ohio. In the past half-century, Ohio has had a governor, attorney general and two secretaries of state with the name Brown—none of them related.

Brown’s announcement came after reports that lawyer and U.S. Marine reserve officer Paul Hackett was poised to declare for the Senate. Having lost a special election for the House in Ohio’s heavily Republican 2nd District earlier this year, Hackett last month met with top Democratic Party leaders in Washington about a Senate race. Now, with Brown a candidate, it is unclear whether Hackett will run for the Senate or make another race for the House.

Another Son Also Rises

After Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Robert A. Taft, James and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., and George W. and Jeb Bush all successfully sought elective office, it had to happen: Jack Carter, eldest of the four children of Jimmy Carter, told reporters last week that he intends to challenge Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign next year.

“I had not planned to run for office. I have no infrastructure and this is new to me,” the 58-year-old Carter told the Las Vegas Review- Journal, adding that he made the decision to run out of outrage over the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

An attorney, Carter practiced law in Georgia, then lived for years in Bermuda and Chicago, and settled in Las Vegas two years ago to operate an investment consulting firm. Carter’s decision to run against Ensign is the culmination of speculation he would start a political career dating back to his father’s presidency, when the younger Carter lived in suburban Atlanta and was pushed by liberal Democrats as a possible primary opponent to Democratic Rep. (1974-83) Larry MacDonald, national chairman of the John Birch Society. After settling in Nevada, Carter was boomed to run against Rep. Jon Porter and state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, both Republicans. He declined on the grounds that he was new to the area.

But this year, there seems to be almost-universal agreement among Silver State Democrats that Carter would be a strong candidate against one-termer Ensign (lifetime ACU rating: 93%). As Democratic state Sen. Dina Titus said about Carter, “He’s low-key, charming, and smart, and his wife would be encouraging, not discouraging.”

Since he has never held public office, Carter’s views on specific issues are unknown. He told the Review-Journal that he is a “social liberal with conservative Southern roots and a business background that taught him ‘you pay for what you spend.’”

Asked what his father thought of his candidacy, Carter replied that he has talked to him about it and, “He thinks I’d be good at it.”

Short Takes

Wichterman to “Covey Bubbles”: Since it has been best-known in modern times as the law firm in Washington, D.C., that housed former Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Alger Hiss, Covington & Burling has not exactly been a favorite of conservatives—despite its blue-chip pedigree and John Bolton’s past association.

But in recent weeks, the “super-firm,” known in legal circles as “Covey Bubbles,” may have improved its stock on the right. Bill Wichterman, much-respected legislative director for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) left Capitol Hill to join the firm. Although conservatives often grumbled at Frist, they always looked at Wichterman—formerly a legislative point man for such stalwart conservatives as Pennsylvania Republican Representatives Bob Walker and Joseph Pitts—as “our man in the leader’s office.”

Daub to the RNC: After two defeats for the U.S. Senate and a losing election as mayor of Omaha in 2003, Hal Daub has shown he still packs political wallop among Nebraska Republicans. Stalwart conservative Daub was recently elected Republican national committeeman from the Cornhusker State. At 65, Daub served in the U.S. House from 1980-88 and as mayor from 1995-2001.