The Republican U.S. Senator most linked with Jack Abramoff is under intense political fire for his ties to the disgraced Washington "super lobbyist." Eleven months before Montana voters decide whether to reelect Conrad Burns, the three-term senator is obviously in the fight of his life.
According to a just-completed Mason-Dixon poll conducted for the Lee Newspapers of Montana, Burns (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%) narrowly leads the front-running Democratic candidate, State Auditor John Morrison, 46% to 40% statewide. The last Mason-Dixon survey, which was conducted in May before the Abramoff affair seized national headlines, showed Burns defeating Morrison by a healthier 49% to 34%.
Mason-Dixon also tested Burns against the other Democratic hopeful, State Senate President Jon Tester. Those results showed Burns beating Tester 49% to 35% — another drop for the incumbent from May, when the same poll showed him trouncing Tester 50% to 26%.
A former U.S. Marine who never finished college, livestock auctioneer and radio-television broadcaster Burns unseated Democratic Sen. (1976-88) John Melcher 18 years ago and thus became the Big Sky Country’s second Republican senator in history. Re-elected with 62% of the vote in ’94, Burns found himself in a closer-than-expected race against Democrat Brian Schweitzer in 2000. He finally edged out Whitefish farmer-rancher Schweitzer, 50% to 47%. (Two years later, Schweitzer was elected governor.)
Now, the Republican senator finds himself in an extremely vulnerable position, largely due to Abramoff. Last month, Burns returned as estimated $150,000 of Abramoff-generated donations and told reporters he wished that the former lobbyist “had never been born.” But the connection between the two is still packing a political wallop, with Mason-Dixon showing that 58% of Montana voters are concerned about Burns’ ties to Abramoff and 33% saying they were not concerned.
"I don’t see Iraq or the economy bringing Conrad Burns down," Mason-Dixon’s Brad Coker told Lee Newspapers, "Abramoff perhaps."
Patricia Reilly Hitt, R.I.P.
Almost all articles on the death of Patricia Reilly Hitt last week mentioned her three-decades-long association with Richard Nixon and that she was the highest-ranked woman in his administration. For conservatives, however, Hitt was something more. As the assistant secretary of health, education, and welfare responsible for ten regional field offices of HEW, the conservative Californian was "our gal at the ‘people’s department,’" as many conservatives in those days dubbed the department where liberals held most of the key positions. Indeed, Hitt stood out easily in a department that was home to such liberal schemes as the Family Assistance Planning (FAP) program that Human Events helped kill during the early Nixon years and where Secretary (1969-70) Bob Finch was surrounded by such non-conservatives as Deputy Secretary John Veneman (a liberal GOP state legislator in California) and Assistant Secretary James Farmer (who had run for Congress on the Republican-Liberal lines in New York in 1968).
A third generation Californian, Hitt went door-to-door on behalf of returning U.S. Navy veteran and family friend Richard Nixon in his race for Congress against Democratic Rep. (1936-46) Jerry Voorhis in 1946. Her parents, in fact, were members of the "Committee of 100," a group of community and business leaders in the Pasadena-based district that helped close GOP ranks behind the young Nixon to avoid a contested primary and focus on Voorhis—whom Nixon defeated in a big upset.
Hitt went on to work on Nixon’s 1948 re-election bid, his winning Senate race in 1950, and all five of his races on the national GOP ticket (two for Vice President, three for President), and even his unsuccessful race for governor of California in 1962. Elected Republican national committeewoman from the Golden State in 1960, Hitt helped craft strategy for winning GOP candidates there from Ronald Reagan to Sen. (1982-90) and Gov. (1990-98) Pete Wilson. She gave the opening address at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco that nominated Barry Goldwater and was national co-chairman of Nixon’s first winning race for the presidency in 1968 (making her the first woman in the Republican Party to hold a leadership position in a presidential campaign).
Hitt died at age 87 on January 9. Poignantly, that was the same day Richard Nixon would have been 93. A memorial service for her will be held at the Nixon Presidential Library.
First Step for Staton
Conservatives in Virginia last week took the first major stride toward increasing their ranks in the state senate. In the "firehouse primary" (voting at one location for a nominee), the easy winner of the Republican nomination for the open state senate seat in Loudon County was stalwart conservative Mick Staton, Jr. A Loudon County supervisor and the son of former Rep. (1980-82) Mick Staton (R.-W.Va.), the 35-year-old Staton rolled up a big 56%-to-30% margin over his leading rival, moderate former Loudon County GOP Chairman Randy Minchew, and two other candidates.
"This was clearly a test of the coalition that got Ronald Reagan nominated for President, and it still works," said Heidi Stirrup, an ardent Staton volunteer and conservative favorite for the position of Tenth U.S. House District GOP chairman.
In the special election January 31, Staton faces lawyer Mark Herring, stepson of the district’s last Democratic senator. Herring unsuccessfully sought a seat in the state legislature in a neighboring district and only recently moved into the senate district that Republican incumbent Bill Mims represented until his recent resignation to become deputy state attorney general. However, with Democrats carrying Loudon County for all three statewide candidates last fall, Herring is expected to have all-out support from Virginia Democrats and their governor, Tim Kaine.
Dog Days for DeLay:
Out of his position as House majority leader and repeatedly under fire for his ties to Jack Abramoff, Rep. Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) is apparently going to have to fight hard to retain the Houston-area district he has held since 1984. The embattled lawmaker faces three opponents in the March Republican primary, the most formidable being former U.S. Commerce Department official Tom Campbell.
Assuming DeLay is renominated, a just completed Houston Chronicle poll shows him trailing the certain Democratic candidate, former Rep. (1996-2004) Nick Lampson, by 30% to 22% districtwide. The poll also showed 11% support for former Republican Rep. (1994-96) Steve Stockman, who is running for the seat as an independent. More than a decade ago, Stockman (lifetime ACU rating: 100%) represented about one-third of what is now DeLay’s 22nd District.
During the redistricting process that cost Texas Democrats five U.S. House districts in ’05 (and for which DeLay usually receives credit or blame, depending upon which party one belongs to), the lawmaker known as "the Hammer" freely gave up swatches of Republican territory from his district to help GOP candidates in neighboring districts — notably, fellow conservative Ted Poe, who unseated Democrat Lampson in the redrawn 2nd District.
While George W. Bush swept the 22nd District 2-to-1, DeLay retained the district in the closest race of his career by an unimpressive 55% to 41%.