Following Randy Graf’s win in the Republican U.S. House primary in Arizona’s 8th District, national GOP leaders who had opposed the conservative hopeful quickly switched and strongly weighed in for him. While the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had spent $252,000 boosting Graf’s moderate opponent Steve Huffman, the state house Ways and Means Committee chairman NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) strongly endorsed Graf.
Questioned at a meeting of bloggers by HUMAN EVENTS’ Rob Bluey whether he had any regrets getting involved in the primary, Reynolds replied: “We made a decision. We were in there with issue advocacy. Graf was here last week. I sat down with him. The NRCC has given him a check. Tom PAC, my leadership PAC, has given him a $5,000 check, which is the maximum I can give him. You will see that we are there with issue advocacy right now as we speak.” (NRCC spokesman Carl Forti later told me that the committee “was already in there” in the Tucson-based district with ads pointing out that Democratic nominee and State Sen. Gabrielle Giffords “is a big spender.”
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.), who had previously sent Huffman a check, told me he is now sending a major donation to Graf. Former opponent Huffman also promised his support to Graf.
The lone big-name Republican holdout is retiring moderate Rep. Jim Kolbe, whom Graf ran against two years ago on a strong pro-life, anti-illegal immigration platform. In a post-primary statement last week, Kolbe congratulated Graf on his win, but said: “There are such profound and fundamental differences between his views and mine on key issues that I would not be true to my own principles were I to endorse him now for the general election in November.”
At the White House last week, when asked by Peter Baker of the Los Angeles Times whether the President or any of his surrogates will campaign for Graf, Press Secretary Tony Snow replied: “[W]e hope he wins. But on the other hand, we’ll get back to you on the schedule. It’s going to be a very busy schedule, and a lot of surrogates are going to a lot of different places.” When Baker asked about Graf’s differences with Bush on immigration, Snow said: “The President’s position on immigration is real clear. And again, this is an issue on which there’s some disagreement within Republican ranks. . . . But it’s also the President’s position that he’s better off with a Republican Congress than the alternative. And there are going to be times when the President disagrees with members on a particular issue. But generally, you look for broad support from the party, and he’s the party leader.”
Remembering Rep. Bob Mathias (R.-Calif.)
When he died September 2 after a long bout with cancer, Bob Mathias was mourned throughout the world for what everyone remembers him as: a two-time decathlon winner in the Olympics, the youngest (17) member of the U.S. Olympic team in London in 1948 and then in Helsinki in 1952. At both cities, the Californian competed in the decathlon’s ten track and field events, including the pole vault, long jump, and javelin, and both times brought home the gold. Mathias was honored at the White House, received more than 200 proposals of marriage, and played himself in the movie The Bob Mathias Story (which co-starred longtime Human Events subscriber Ward Bond as the inspirational coach who works with the young Mathias as he overcomes anemia to become a star athlete).
Almost as an afterthought, some of the tributes following Mathias’ death also mentioned that he was a Republican member of Congress from California from 1966 to 1974. In a way, that’s sad, because, like fellow athletes-turned-Republican-Representatives Jack Kemp (N.Y.) and Steve Largent (Okla.), Mathias was a dedicated lawmaker and what the Almanac of American Politics called “a four-square conservative.”
In 1966, first-time candidate and former U.S. Marine Mathias challenged Democratic Rep. (1952-66) Harlen Hagen in the Fresno-area House district. Like ticket mate Ronald Reagan that same year, Mathias’s campaign attracted widespread volunteer support and media attention far beyond the Golden State. As Reagan also did, Mathias unseated a veteran Democratic incumbent, pulling a handsome 56% of the vote.
When the new House, whose GOP ranks included George H.W. Bush (Tex.), Mathias, and 57 other freshmen, was sworn in the following January, Rep. Roger Zion (R.-Ind.), himself one of those freshmen, later recalled to me: “We were all wondering how to vote on whether or not to deny [Rep.] Adam Clayton Powell [D.-N.Y.] his seat after a committee report had concluded he had misused funding for his office and for foreign travel. This was obviously a sensitive issue—refusing to seat someone who had been elected to Congress. But my kids and those of most of the other members could care less—they were on the floor yelling: ‘We want to meet Bob Mathias!’”
Mathias himself remained unobtrusive, almost never bringing up his illustrious past, and, as Rep. (1966-92) Guy Vander Jagt (R.-Mich.) said, “working very hard on his homework as a member of the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs Committees.”
As HUMAN EVENTS correspondent Kevin Combest discovered in his research in the back HE issues that covered Mathias’s House days, the man from Fresno was always available for interviews and guest articles in these pages. As congressman from a major farm district, Mathias was the premier House opponent of Cesar Chavez and his radical United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. As Mathias wrote in HE (May 30, 1970), “If the UFWOC achieves its goals through the [grape] boycott, it will use the same tactics to organize farm workers throughout the United States, threatening every other product—perishable or otherwise. At stake is the right of the housewife to purchase the product she wants, the right of the farmer to market his crop, and the right of the farm worker, through secret ballot, to decide for himself whether he wants to join a union. The United Farm Workers would destroy these rights.”
So bad for Republicans was the so-called “Watergate Year” of 1974 that not even Bob Mathias could hang on. Redistricting had added large swatches of Democratic turf to his district, but he had won the new district with ease in ’72 over an unknown opponent. In ’74, however, he lost re-election to Democratic Fresno County Supervisor John Krebs. Mathias then went on to serve on the U.S Olympic Committee.
“I remember when [former Republican Rep.] Jack MacDonald [Mich.] and I were at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York,” said Guy Vander Jagt, “As we were all set to go out to dinner, I was playing with the dial on the TV set. The Bob Mathias Story came on. We all decided rather quickly to cancel the reservations, order from room service and watch the movie. And we all cried before it was over.”
No New Angle in Nevada
The race for the Republican nomination for Congress in Nevada’s 2nd District (Reno) finally ended last week, when the U.S. District Court refused to hear the complaints about the primary from conservative runner-up Sharron Angle (See “Politics,” September 11.). In losing to moderate GOPer Dean Heller, the secretary of State, by 421 votes out of more than 70,000 cast, former state legislator Angle filed a suit alleging 17 reasons for nullifying the primary results. Among them were polling places’ either not having enough Republican ballots or workers not showing up on time.
Following the rejection of her suit, Angle conceded the race to Heller, who is a solid favorite this fall to succeed outgoing Rep. Jim Gibbons, now the GOP gubernatorial nominee.
Bay State Blues
Although Massachusetts Republican voters last week nominated Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey to succeed outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney, there was little action in other GOP primaries throughout the Bay State. Republicans failed to fill three slots on their statewide ticket (secretary of state, treasurer and state auditor). In addition, the GOP has no candidates for seven of the 10 U.S. House seats, no candidates for 23 of 40 state senate seats and no candidates for 106 of the 160 seats in the state house of representatives.