Sooner State Update

As expected, Oklahoma Republicans last week nominated stalwart conservative Rep. Ernest Istook to take on Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. In rolling up 56% of the primary vote over three opponents, seven-termer Istook (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 94%) avoided a run-off. Henry won his first term in ’02 by about 1% of the vote over the Republican nominee, who was badly wounded by a renegade conservative who ran as an independent.

In the race to succeed Istook in the heavily Republican 4th District (Oklahoma City), the top two vote-getters in the six-candidate GOP primary were Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin (35%) and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (24%). The two will meet in a run-off next month. The winner will be almost assured of election in November, since the district has been in Republican hands since 1974. Both Fallin and Cornet are considered strong conservatives.

A state representative primary that drew particular attention was the “family feud” in District #85 (Oklahoma City), where Republican Rep. Odila Dank is retiring after 12 years. The leading candidates for the nomination were the retiring lawmaker’s husband, 67-year-old David Dank, who topped the field with 43%, and former Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Chip Keating, son of former Gov. (1994-2002) Frank Keating, who was second with 42%. Their contest will be decided in the August runoff.

Buckeye State Bulletin

Lately, the political intelligence flowing from a state that was pivotal to George W. Bush’s re-election in ’04 has not been good for Republicans. In the race for governor of Ohio, the recently-completed Columbus Dispatch poll showed Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland with his biggest lead yet—47% to 27% statewide—over the stalwart conservative Republican nominee, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Although Blackwell is probably the Ohio Republican official farthest removed from scandal-tarred lame-duck GOP Gov. Robert Taft, the fall-out from the charges against coin-dealer and major Republican donor Tom Noe over his apparent mishandling of state pension money has hurt all Ohio candidates in the GOP, the party that has held the statehouse for an unbroken 16 years.

“The poll numbers have nothing to do with Blackwell and everything to do with the base,” observed Portsmouth (Ohio) attorney Eddie Edwards, a longtime Republican activist. “[Blackwell] is most hurt by the drop-off of support for him among Republican voters. The record-low ratings for Taft, and the fact that the President is not popular in the state at this time, are the major reasons Strickland is ahead.

The same survey showed liberal Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown defeating two-term Republican Sen. Mike DeWine 45% to 37% statewide. The front-runner’s role came to Brown (lifetime ACU rating: 12%) two weeks after his former primary rival, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve major and Cincinnati lawyer Paul Hackett, finally endorsed the Democratic nominee.

Last year, Hackett made nationwide headlines by almost winning a special election for the U.S. House in the 2nd District, considered the most Republican of Ohio’s congressional districts. Rather than seek a rematch with Republican Jean Schmidt this year, Hackett set his sights on the Senate nomination. But when seven-term Rep. Brown decided to run, state and national Democratic leaders muscled Hackett out of the race.

At the time, an obviously bitter Hackett told Mother Jones magazine: “You’re not gonna throw out a sitting senator in a Republican state with a very liberal Democratic long-standing congressman.” He also charged Brown with spreading rumors that, as a Marine on duty in Iraq, Hackett posed for photographs among the bodies of dead Iraqis.

Brown, according to Hackett, was “puking out the same old garbage” and should be “put in a corner and [made to] wear a dunce cap.” Last week, however, Hackett embraced Brown at a rally and said of their feud: “This was about being a hot-tempered Irishman. It’s over now.”

The erstwhile Democratic candidate then turned his hot temper on Republicans. In a Sunday column in the Dispatch, Hackett said: “The Republican Party has been hijacked by the religious fanatics that, in my opinion, aren’t a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden and a lot of the other religious fanatics around the world.” When State GOP Chairman Bob Bennett demanded an apology for what he considered an attack on “people of faith,” Hackett replied: “I said it. I meant it. I stand behind it.”

Robert Mardian, R.I.P.

The saddest part about almost all of the obituaries of Robert C. Mardian following his death July 17 was that they focused on the low point in his career: As a lawyer for President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972, Mardian was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Hotel in Washington. Mardian, who noted he had worked for the campaign for only about 35 days and dealt only with civil suits resulting from the break-in, was convicted of one count of conspiracy in 1975 and sentenced to ten months to three years in prison. However, in a ruling that concluded the evidence against the California lawyer “was not as strong as that marshaled against his co-defendants,” the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in 1976.

Mardian, who died at age 82 after a long bout with lung cancer, was much more than a bit player in Watergate. In both Republican campaigns and in the Nixon Administration, he was considered by conservatives a key “go-to guy.”

The youngest of seven children of an Armenian refugee from the Ottoman Empire, the Pasadena-born Mardian went to Columbia University, North Dakota State Teachers College, and the University of California (Santa Barbara). Following service in the U.S. Navy in World War II, Mardian practiced law in Pasadena and worked as counsel for a savings and loan association. As Western states coordinator for Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964, he traveled with the Republican nominee and, at one point on the campaign plane, was told by Goldwater himself: “I intend to lose this my way.” Mardian worked on Ronald Reagan’s 1966 campaign for governor of California and in the 1968 presidential campaign of Richard Nixon.

As general counsel to the old Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under Nixon, Mardian was the person conservatives went to for help in a department whose top two executives were not trusted by the right—Secretary Robert Finch and Deputy Secretary John Veneman. As a member of the President’s Commission on Education, Mardian was also a strong advocate of the “go slow” approach on school busing. Named assistant attorney general for internal security in 1970, Mardian became a vigorous advocate of wiretaps to thwart subversives. He was also a player in some of the many controversies involving electronic surveillance, notably the bugging of certain members of Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council staff (including leftist activist Morton Halperin, whom President Bill Clinton later unsuccessfully attempted to appoint to a sensitive position in the Pentagon).

In reporting on Mardian’s death, the New York Times recalled a 1973 interview in which he expressed dismay over being passed over for higher-level Nixon Administration positions: “When things are going great, they ignore me. When things get screwed up, they lean on me.”