Gizzi on Politics: May 14-18

Great Right Hunter: The Next Generation

My conversation April 19 could have been with any other U.S. Marine preparing to ship out in two days: Having proudly done his first tour of duty in Iraq, the young (30) captain was headed to Afghanistan in two days. “By Sunday [April 21], I will be back in uniform and saluting all of my superiors,” he told me, “But before then, I will tell you that a lot of us feel that [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid’s statements about Iraq are utterly despicable, and if it were possible, there would be massive protests against him by men and women in uniform. Of course, we can’t and wouldn’t do that, because we respect civilian control of the military.” The captain added that his wife and other families would “take care of things” for him while he was overseas for the next seven months.

What made this particular conversation noteworthy was that the captain was Duncan D. Hunter, son of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.), who is giving up his San Diego-based 52nd District to seek the Republican nomination for President next year. “Duncan D.,” as he is known (“I’m not a junior”), is already widely considered the favorite in the primary next June 3 for the nomination to succeed his father, who has held the seat since 1980 and who served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee until Democrats captured the House last fall.

Will his sudden reactivation to duty endanger his bid for Congress? “Not at all,” young Hunter told me, without hesitation, adding that his wife, other family members, and many friends would carry on the campaign for him while he is in Afghanistan. There is ample precedent of members of Congress winning election while on active duty in the military. Conservative Republican Henry J. Latham, for example, first won his seat from New York in 1944 while a U.S. Navy lieutenant in the Pacific, took office after his discharge, and served until 1958. Hunter pointed out that his current stint should be over in seven months, thus giving more than enough time to campaign himself.

Out of respect to Hunter’s service in the Marine Corps or out of deference to his widely popular father, most other potential candidates have so far stayed out of the Republican race, and several GOP state legislators and other office holders in the heavily Republican district have already endorsed Hunter. Wealthy businessmen Ken King and Eric Roach (who was the runner-up to Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray in the special election in the neighboring 50th District last year) have both been talked of as potential candidates in the 52nd, as has popular conservative radio talk-show host Mark Larsen.

But at least for now, there has been talk and nothing else. Duncan D. Hunter has clear sailing for the pivotal Republican nomination. As for his views on issues, the San Diego State graduate and business analyst told me he strongly agreed with his father (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92%) on most issues, “especially on immigration.” (The elder Hunter is a hard-line, secure-the-borders conservative.) But like many young veterans, Duncan D. Hunter is most passionate when it comes to the War on Terror. As he told me, “I never intended to be a military officer, but I enlisted after 9/11 to fight the terrorists who hit our country. Iraq is free and has a fledgling government. The police and military are coming along and what is needed is business investment and a free market.”

In discussing what led him to enlist in the service and then run for office, Hunter recalled how his grandfather joined the Marines after Pearl Harbor and later ran for Congress in 1968. “My father believed in our mission in Vietnam, became a U.S. Army Ranger, and was later elected to Congress,” he said, “And now I am proud to be part of the new greatest generation, doing America’s business in the world.”

Colorado GOPers Have a Schaffer

Two years ago, supporters of stalwart conservative former Rep. (1996-2002) Bob Schaffer felt their man, had he been able to avoid a contest for the Republican nomination, might well have won the open U.S. Senate seat in Colorado. As it turned out, beer magnate Peter Coors got just enough votes at the state convention to qualify for a primary and, using his vast personal fortune, defeated Schaffer. In the fall, however, as even Coors enthusiasts would agree, he ran a poor campaign and lost to Democrat John Salazar 52% to 48%.

That was ’06 and now, with the decision of Republican Sen. Wayne Allard to honor his 1996 pledge to step down after two terms, fans of Schaffer (lifetime ACU rating: 96%) in ’08 may finally get their wish for a nomination without a fight. Two weeks ago, the Republican long considered a certain candidate for the lone open Senate seat in the nation, former Rep. (1992-2000) Scott McInnis, announced he would not run after all. With more than $1 million left over in his congressional campaign coffers, McInnis was regarded as a strong candidate.

Other potential GOP strongmen, notably Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson, have also ruled out the race.

So the way seems fairly clear for the 44-year-old Schaffer, now in private business in Denver, a member of the state Board of Education, and Republican National Committeeman. Although he has yet to formally declare as a candidate, Schaffer has met with several former colleagues and last week held a closed-door session with State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams and former Sen. (1978-90) Bill Armstrong, by far the most revered of Centennial State conservatives. When I asked Schaffer if he would make the race, he told me: “I’m leaning toward it.”

Should Schaffer carry the GOP standard this fall, the race to succeed Allard would be a classic ideological shootout. The almost-certain Democratic nominee is Rep. Mark Udall (lifetime ACU rating: 8%), son of the late environmentalist icon Rep. Mo Udall (D.-Ariz.).