Gizzi on Politics: Week of October 31

Changes in ‘Osborne Country’

Tom Osborne could have been congressman from Nebraska’s 3rd District for life. The lone member of Congress in the College Football Hall of Fame, Osborne played professional football and then became head football coach at the University of Nebraska, remaining there for 25 years. Before retiring, he won three national championships and had perfect seasons in 1994, ’95 and ’97. To no one’s surprise, he first won the Republican nomination for Congress with 71% of the vote over two opponents with political backgrounds and has not faced a serious challenge since.

Now after six years, Osborne, 68, has begun a race for governor next year. He faces fellow Republican David Heineman, who moved into the statehouse earlier this year when Gov. Mike Johanns, also a Republican, resigned to become secretary of Agriculture in the Bush Cabinet.

In the heavily Republican 3rd District, which contains one-third of the Cornhusker State’s population and 69 of its 93 counties, it is widely assumed the GOP primary in May ’06 will determine Osborne’s successor in Congress. Given the coach-congressman’s huge popularity, it was also initially assumed his successor would be his top aide in the district, John Hanson.

“But I don’t think the voters are looking for a carbon copy of [Osborne],” said state Sen. Adrian Smith, a stalwart conservative and the other leading candidate for the Republican nomination. During a recent trip to Washington, Gering lawmaker Smith dropped by HUMAN EVENTS to spell out why he felt grassroots conservatives would be in his camp.

“Basically, I have a record on issues that tells where I will stand in Congress,” Smith told me, adding that Hanson has no record and many people simply assume his connection with the outgoing congressman means he will vote like Osborne (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 82%).

Now completing his second four-year term in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature (where he began his life in politics as a teenage page), the 34-year-old Smith twice voted against raising the minimum wage and opposed all sales and income tax increases. Last year, Smith stood firm with Gov. Johanns when the legislature passed a sales tax increase over his veto.

Smith, a real estate agent and former Gering city councilman, is also solidly pro-life, an opponent of gun control and calls for repeal of the death tax. In what may be an early sign of a break with the Bush Administration by young conservative office-seekers, to help cut federal spending, Smith is calling for delaying enactment of the multibillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug bill. Smith told me he would have opposed the bill (which the administration worked overtime to get through the House by two votes) had he been in Congress when it passed. He told me, “I asked around and couldn’t come up with anyone who would benefit from this, including my 84-year-old grandmother.”

At least three other Republicans are either exploring or actively vying for the Republican nomination to succeed Osborne. The best-known is Jay Vavricek, the first-term mayor of Grand Island. But right now, pundits and pols consider Smith and Hanson the heavyweight contenders. When I asked Smith if geography works against him, since he comes from a less-populated area than Hanson, he replied: “The issues and voting record work in my favor.”

Robert Badham, R.I.P.

A quiet but solidly conservative former House member from Orange County, Calif., died October 21 at age 76. Robert E. Badham, who served in the California state legislature from 1962-76 and then in Congress for the next 12 years, was felled by a heart attack.

A native Los Angelean, Badham served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and, after his discharge, graduated from Stanford University. For 15 years, he worked in Hoffman Hardware, his family’s business, and rose to be its vice president.

After a stint as foreman of a federal grand jury, however, Badham became interested in politics. In 1962, he was elected to the state Assembly from Newport Beach and became a staunch ally of Gov. Ronald Reagan in battles with powerful Democratic Assembly Speaker Jess (Big Daddy) Unruh. Reagan, Badham and the Republicans got a major break in 1968 when the GOP took a majority in the Assembly for the first time in a decade and made Unruh minority leader.

The 40th U.S. House District of California, frequently characterized as one of the most conservative in the nation, was the site of a pitched primary battle in 1976 after two-term Republican Rep. Andrew Hinshaw was forced to step down amid charges of corruption while he was Orange County tax assessor that eventually sent him to jail.

Former Rep. (1969-72) John Schmitz (R.-Calif.), a member of the John Birch Society and American Party candidate for President in 1972, announced for the Republican primary. Then Badham, who agreed with Schmitz on virtually every issue but did not have his controversial associations, entered the race and won.

In Congress, Badham (lifetime ACU rating: 95%) was, according to the Almanac of American Politics, “one of those Republican politicians who has devoted his life to reducing the influence of the very government that is his preoccupation.”

While Badham was a fiscal skinflint, he was an unabashed advocate of defense spending and, in fact, in his final re-election campaign in 1986, ran an ad boasting that he had brought $10 billion in federal spending to his defense industry-heavy district. The Californian was also vice chairman of the House Travel and Tourism Caucus.

McCollum’s Return

The race for the Republican nomination for attorney general of Florida changed dramatically last week with the announcement by one of the Sunshine State’s most durable politicians that he will seek the open office in ’06. Former Rep. (1980-2000) Bill McCollum, who lost races for the U.S. Senate in both 2000 and ’04, said last week he will run in the GOP primary race to replace outgoing Atty. Gen. Charles Crist, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

The 61-year-old McCollum’s decision is a blow to the candidacy of state Rep. Joe Negron, who has the backing of more than two dozen legislative colleagues and has so far raised more than $1 million. But McCollum, as the Orlando Sentinel noted, has “built up a statewide name recognition that will be difficult even for Negron and his $1 million war chest to top.”

Also seeking the GOP nod in the September ’06 primary are state Rep. Everett Rice of Treasure Island and state Sen. Burt Saunders of Naples. The likely Democratic nominee is state Sen. Walter (Skip) Campbell of Tamarac.

Although McCollum had a conservative record in Congress (lifetime ACU rating: 89%) and ran from the right in his Senate bids, some conservatives still distrust him for his support of federal hate crimes legislation and funding the controversial Legal Services Corp.

More Bad News in Ohio

Bad news from Ohio for Republicans seems to come in a steady stream. According to the latest Columbus Dispatch poll, the President’s approval rating among Buckeye State voters is 41%—a 20-point drop from shortly after the U.S. invaded Iraq—and only 37% now back his handling of the war in Iraq, a plunge of nearly 30 points in the same Dispatch poll since April 2003.

The Dispatch results were announced just as Democrats came up with a strong opponent to Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce for the first time since she won her Columbus-area seat in 1992. Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy announced last week she would run against Pryce, who, as House GOP Conference chairman, is fourth-ranked in the House Republican hierarchy. Kilroy denounced what she called “the wrong direction under the leadership of Bush, [Texas Rep. Tom] DeLay and Deborah Pryce.”