The news last week that Rep. Ralph Regula (R.-Ohio) would retire next year was no surprise, either in Washington or in the 16th District that the congressman has represented since 1972. At 82 and after 36 years in Congress, Regula was an obvious candidate for retirement.
In addition, Regula remained a more moderate Republican (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 68%) while his party was growing increasingly conservative. After Republicans won a majority in the House and came close to defunding the National Endowment for the Arts completely in 1995, Regula used his position as an appropriations subcommittee chairman to keep the controversial tax-funded arts agency alive. His NEA rescue was a key reason that the Buckeye State lawmaker was passed over for chairman of the full Appropriations Committee in favor of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R.-Calif.) in 2004.
Two of the possible GOP candidates for the heavily Republican district that William McKinley represented from 1876-82 and again from 1884-90 are state senators cut from the same moderate cloth as Regula, and both Kirk Schuring and Ron Amstutz may be vulnerable in a primary because they have voted for tax increases in the state legislature. Amstutz could be particularly vulnerable on that front, having served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee when a number of the controversial tax-increase proposals pushed by then-Gov. (1998-2006) Robert Taft (R.) were being drafted.
The primary for the 16th District next May could be one of those rare cases in which moderates divide up the vote of their base and conservatives rally behind one candidate. In this instance, that GOP contender could well be Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller, whom supporters proudly tout as someone who never voted to raise taxes while on the countywide governing panel.
As in many other U.S. House districts across the country formerly considered a political “no man’s land” for them, Democrats in the 16th District are making a spirited run for the open seat. State Sen. John Boccieri of New Middletown, a U.S. Air Force veteran who has served several stints in Iraq, is already considered the certain Democratic standard-bearer.
And Then There Were 12
Less than four days after Ralph Regula’s retirement announcement, 71-year-old Rep. David Hobson became the 12th Republican House member (and the third from Ohio) to say he would step down in ’08. The 7th District has been firmly in Republican hands for almost 70 years, beginning with Clarence J. Brown, Sr., who held the district from 1938 until his death in 1965, followed by his namesake-son, Clarence Jr. (1965-82) and Sen.-to-be Mike DeWine from ’82 until he became lieutenant governor in 1990 and, since then, Hobson.
Within hours of Hobson’s announcement, all signs were that the retiring congressman would line up behind State Sen. David Austria, his close friend and neighbor from Springfield. Austria is considered philosophically similar to Hobson (lifetime ACU rating: 81%), and his wife is district director for the congressman.
Despite all the advantages Austria will undoubtedly have in the primary next May, he is unlikely to get a free ride. Probate Court Judge Steve Williams and Sheriff Dave Phelan, both from Fairfield, are reportedly considering a bid for the seat, as is former state legislator Ron Hood, a leader of the fight against Republican Gov. Robert Taft’s tax increases.
After the retirement announcement by six-term Sen. Pete Domenici (R.-N.M.), conventional wisdom held that, having elected only two Republican senators since 1932, the Land of Enchantment would more likely than not elect a Democrat to succeed Domenici next year. The Democrat most talked of was Rep. Tom Udall, son of former Secretary of the Interior (1960-68) Stewart Udall and cousin of Colorado Rep. (and likely ’08 U.S. Senate nominee for the open Colorado seat) Mark Udall. A Survey USA Election Poll showed that Tom Udall, a national
favorite of environmental groups, had handsome statewide leads over both of the state’s two Republican House members: conservative Steve Pearce (lifetime ACU rating: 96%) and the more moderate Heather Wilson (lifetime ACU rating: 84%).
But, two weeks ago, Udall announced he would not run for the Senate after all. The same Survey USA poll showed Pearce (who announced for the Senate last week) and announced candidate Wilson both running ahead of any of the “B-Team” Democratic candidates.
According to the survey, Pearce defeats Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez by 56% to 35%, beats former State Atty. Gen.Patricia Madrid by 54% to 38% and demolishes “green builder” Don Wiviott by 58% to 23%.
Wilson also leads all three Democrats, albeit by much smaller margins.
No polls assessing a primary between Pearce and Wilson have been conducted yet, but it is widely thought that Las Cruces lawmaker Pearce is running far ahead of Albuquerque’s Wilson. Although the records of the two are not far apart, Wilson could well be at a disadvantage in a primary because of her less-than-solidly conservative stands on some social issues.
Virginia Is for Conventions
To the surprise of almost no one, the Virginia Republican State Committee voted last week 47 to 37 in favor of using a state convention rather than a primary to nominate a candidate to replace retiring GOP Sen. John Warner in ’08.
Conservative former Gov. (1997-2001) Jim Gilmore, who attended the party conclave in Richmond, made it obvious that he preferred a convention rather than a primary.
Following the vote, he told reporters he would definitely become a candidate.
The other probable GOP Senate candidate, the more moderate Rep. Tom Davis (lifetime ACU rating: 73%), did not attend the meeting, but made it clear through supporters that he preferred a primary to a convention. A Washington Post poll released the day before the state committee meeting showed that while Gilmore handily defeated Davis in a statewide primary, 48% to 29%, Davis beat the former governor in the more populous Northern Virginia area that is Davis’s home turf by 48% to 36%. With all voters entitled to participate in a primary (there is no registration by party in the Old Dominion), Davis backers felt that their man could have overtaken Gilmore in a primary.
Davis backers also argued that, last year, former Republican Sen. (2000-06) George Allen lost to Democrat Jim Webb by a very small margin statewide and this would not have happened had he not lost Northern Virginia by 200,000 votes. Their man Davis, they insist, would not lose the North by as much to the near-certain Democratic nominee, former Gov. (2001-05) Mark Warner. The same Post survey showed that in a general election match-up, Warner defeats Gilmore by 61% to 31% statewide and beats Davis by 63% to 28% statewide. (In Northern Virginia, Warner led Davis by 57% to 33%.)
Gilmore backers argued that a convention would be far less costly and divisive than a primary, since there would not be attack broadsides on radio and television, and that a convention would bring out party activists and energize them for the fall campaign against Warner.
There has been press speculation that, if unsuccessful in getting the party to go for a primary, Davis might choose to instead run for an eighth term in the House or retire from politics altogether. But longtime Davis political consultant John Hishta told the Washington Post that the congressman might well make his long-planned Senate bid after all. “I wouldn’t underestimate Tom Davis’s ability to win a convention,” said Hishta. “He has the ability to communicate with activists around the state and has a strong base among Republicans in Northern Virginia.”