Gizzi on Politics: August 20-24

In Demo Sights in Virginia

If Republican incumbent Ken Cuccinelli is not the No.1 Democratic target in that party’s all-out attempt this year to take control of the Virginia State Senate, then the conservative swashbuckler from Fairfax County near Washington, D.C., is certainly one of the top five. The victor in a much-watched special election for the senate in ’02, Cuccinelli represents a district that last went for a Republican when George W. Bush carried it in ’04. Since then, the district has given a majority of its votes to winning Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Kaine and his two ticket mates (both of whom lost statewide) in ’05 and to Democrat Jim Webb when he unseated Republican Sen. George Allen last fall.

A recent Washington Post poll found that four in 10 Old Dominion State voters want a Democrat to be elected President in ’08 (compared to 33% who favor a Republican) and that 46% of the state’s independent voters believe Bush to be the worst President in modern history. Given this political climate and the voting trends in his district, Cuccinelli will be hard-pressed to survive a spirited challenge from liberal Democrat Janet Oleszek, a one-term member of the Fairfax County School Board. Already, the challenger has raised more than $280,000. At a time when winning Democrats such as Webb and Kaine tailor their rhetoric to sound more middle-of-the-road, leftist Oleszek makes no bones about opposing right-to-work in an historically right-to-work state and being pro-abortion. Indeed, the pro-abortion EMILY’s List, which normally focuses on candidates for the U.S. House and Senate, has weighed in for Oleszek against Cuccinelli (who, in his own words, is “pro-life with no exceptions at all”).

Describing his stand on abortion to me without hesitation speaks volumes about Cuccinelli, a patent attorney and devout Roman Catholic whose family attends weekly Mass in the traditional Tridentine (Latin) rite. At a time when political winds are blowing the other way among his constituents and Cuccinelli himself admits Northern Virginia is “shifting to the left,” the lawmaker does not adjust his conservative stands or rhetoric in the least. He helped lead the fight against Gov. Kaine’s amendments to the transportation bill this year, because they permitted new service taxes by local taxing districts. Along with fellow Republican Sen. Mark Obenschain, Cuccinelli is regarded by the National Rifle Association and other gun-owner groups as one of the premier champions of the 2nd Amendment in Richmond. As a member of the Senate Education and Health Committee, the man from Fairfax authored a measure for abortion clinic regulation and, in so doing, was the lone senator in this session to submit pro-life legislation.

“And illegal immigration is a big issue in my district,” Cuccinelli told me. “I’m perfectly happy to welcome Korean and Hispanic citizens. But what I won’t accept is illegal immigrants.” Accordingly, the senator has called for legislation to give local zoning authorities more power to get subpoenas over overcrowded housing, which is often a sign illegal immigrants are being harbored. Cuccinelli believes that probable cause should be reason enough for authorities to go into houses suspected of being refuges for illegal immigrants and that penalties should be increased for landlords who knowingly rent to illegals. He also believes local communities should take the lead in stemming the rising tide of illegal immigration and strongly backs Prince William County Supervisor John Stirrup’s much-discussed ordinance to permit police to determine the legal status of suspects (see Human Events, July 30, page 1).

At a time when Republicans hold a 23-to-17 seat edge in the Virginia Senate, a major effort is being made by state Democrats to win two open districts in Northern Virginia and to unseat Senators Cuccinelli, Jay O’Brien and JeanMarie Devolites Davis (the wife of Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Davis). Is he the top target of Democrats? “I think so,” Cuccinelli responded with a laugh. “But if not, I’m sure I’m near the top.”|

(Cuccinelli for Senate, 10560 Main St., #LL-17, Fairfax, Va. 22030;

Tony’s Take Two

The race for president of the Cook County (Chicago) Board of Commissioners normally doesn’t attract national attention, but it sure did last fall. That’s when longtime Democratic Board President John Stroger suffered a massive stroke, won a narrow primary renomination and subsequently resigned the nomination (although it was never clear precisely how the stricken Stroger, hospitalized and hidden from the press, did this). After the county Democratic organization picked his son, Chicago City Councilman Todd Stroger, angry reform Democrats as well as much of the local media suddenly breathed life into the candidacy of Republican Tony Peraica. But in heavily Democratic Cook County in a heavily Democratic year throughout the Prairie State, young Stroger won a close race with Peraica, a lawyer and county commissioner.

A Croatian immigrant who came to America at age 13, Peraica was considered a valuable property by local and national Republicans and, in spite of his loss to Stroger, was viewed as a future candidate for higher office. A strong conservative (he proudly backed Pat Buchanan for President in 1996), Peraica led the fight on the county commission against Stroger’s big-spending budget and continued to post the salaries of county employees on-line (

Despite encouragement from national GOP organizations to take on Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D.-Ill.) next year, Peraica announced last week that he would run for Cook County state’s attorney against machine Democrat Richard A. Devine. Striking his signature man-against-the-machine posture, Peraica told a cheering rally it was time to have a lawman who “puts public safety over politics and prosecutes rampant corruption fraud. We’ll audit the books [and] lock up the crooks.”

Keystone State Update

In recent weeks, Pennsylvania Republicans have had a case of bad news/good news. The bad news was that, in two U.S. House districts in which Democrats unseated incumbents tainted by scandal last year, efforts by state GOPers to recruit “A-Team” candidates failed. In the 10th District (Scranton), “we almost had [former Lt. Gov.] Bill Scranton in the race against [freshman Democrat] Chris Carney, but he finally said no,” one prominent Keystone State Republican leader told me. Scranton, namesake son of the moderate former governor (1962-66) who held the House district from 1960-62, “is far more conservative than his father and, in fact, very much like [former Delaware Gov.] Pete DuPont in that he started out as a moderate and through experience with government grew more conservative over the years.”

The same Republican source said that state GOPers had high hopes of getting Pat Meehan, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to run against freshman Democrat Joe Sestak in the 7th District. But Meehan, a former Delaware County district attorney with a strong reputation for integrity, is presently in the midst of the high-profile corruption trial of powerful Democratic State Sen. Vince Fumo of Philadelphia and thus not likely to run.

But in the 4th District (see “Politics,” August 13), former three-term GOP Rep. Melissa Hart appears well on her way to sewing up nomination for a rematch with Democrat Jason Altmire, who unseated her in a tight race last year. Although Hart does face opposition from lawyer Ron Francis in the May primary next year, the former congresswoman is considered a strong favorite for nomination. Hart told me she plans to make major issues of Altmire’s votes for embryonic stem-cell research and funding for Planned Parenthood (“And he said he was a pro-life Democrat!”) and for the enhanced State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). “In providing greater funding for SCHIP,” Hart pointed out, “more money has to be taken away from Medicare. And guess what? There are more subscribers to Medicare affected by this in Pennsylvania-4 than in any other congressional district in the country.”