Gizzi on Politics: Jan. 21-25

California Blood Feud

Although the political news in California’s 4th Congressional District was dominated by the announcement last week that 10-term Republican Rep. John Doolittle is stepping down next year, there was a developing story that could potentially be more intriguing: the revival of one of Northern California’s most spirited political feuds in the Republican battle for succession to Doolittle.

Within hours of Doolittle’s announced exit, stalwart conservative former State Sen. Rico Oller signaled he was running for the open House seat. Between fund-raising calls (“$26,000 in the last few hours,” he boasted), Oller told me he was indeed a candidate and would be running hard in the June primary. Oller was one of a handful of elected officials who backed conservative State Sen. Tom McClintock in the ’03 recall election for governor that led to the election of liberal Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. On issues ranging from abortion to gun control to opposition to taxes, Oller has been one of the most reliable conservatives in the state legislature.

Oller’s major primary opponent is expected to be moderate former Rep. Doug Ose, a millionaire businessman who represented the neighboring 3rd District from 1998 to 2004. When Ose (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 78%) honored his “three-terms-and-I’m-out pledge” in ’04, his sister Mary Ose carried the moderate banner in the primary to pick the GOP nominee to succeed him and had backing from Republicans for Choice. As it turned out, the winner was neither. Former Southern California Rep. and 1998 GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Lungren edged Oller 39% to 36%, with Mary Ose coming in a distant third.

Things got rough in that primary, particularly after some hard-hitting attack ads by Ose on Oller, which Oller’s supporters say raised his negatives enough to permit Lungren to eke out a win. Oller and the Ose family hold one another, to use a phrase of the late House Speaker John W. McCormack, “in minimum high regard.”

Now Oller will again face Ose — Doug, that is — in a neighboring district in which neither currently resides. Ose lives in Sacramento, and Oller runs his contracting business in Calaveras County — both in the 3rd District. “But I’m in the process of moving into the 4th District,” Oller told me. “And I represented about 96% of the 4th District during my time in the state legislature.”

The former state senator and Steve Forbes for President booster in 1996 also pointed out that he looked forward to contrasting his record and issue stands with those of Ose. In Oller’s words, “I’m pro-life, and he’s pro-abortion. I’m for no limits on campaign donations, and he voted for McCain-Feingold. And I have a lifetime ‘A’ from the National Rifle Association. His record with them is abysmal.”

As reports linking Doolittle to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff increased last year, two other Republicans said they would run regardless of what the incumbent did: ’06 primary challenger Mike Holmes (who drew 33% of the primary vote against Doolittle) and Air Force Reserve officer Eric Egland. But neither is likely to have the firepower of Ose or Oller.

The almost-certain Democratic nominee is retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Brown, who lost a tight race to Doolittle in ’06 (49% to 46%) following a campaign that focused on the Democrat’s opposition to the U.S. strike against Iraq and his charge that Doolittle was part of the “congressional bribery scandals.” Whether or not Brown will pack the same political clout in ’08 may well depend on how much damage Oller and Ose inflict upon one another in what is sure to be one of the hardest-fought primaries for any office next year.

Allen Out

With John Doolittle and 18 other Republican House members retiring in ’08 — along with six Republican senators — it was a bit of a surprise to find someone announcing he would not run for an office that isn’t up for election until ’09. But that’s precisely what George Allen did last week: After much speculation about his plans, the former Republican senator (2000-06) from Virginia announced that he would not run for governor in 2009, when incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine must by law step down after one term.

Stalwart conservative Allen, who himself held the governorship from 1993-97, was beaten for re-election to his Senate seat in ’06 by Jim Webb in one of the two closest Senate races in the nation. After returning to private law practice in the Northern Virginia area, Allen was immediately boomed for his old job as governor — a job he made no secret of preferring to serving in the Senate. He began appearing at party events and sending signals he might just want to become the second Virginian in state history to serve two non-consecutive terms as governor. At a friend’s birthday party in McLean last year, I asked Allen if he would run for the Senate again in ’08, when fellow Republican John Warner was expected to step down. Allen ruled it out immediately. As for governor in ’09, Allen told me: “No comment.”

But last week, the 55-year-old Allen did make a comment, saying that was he was not going to run for governor. In citing family concerns, the father of three did not rule out eventually returning to the political arena. His decision leaves a two-man Republican race for the gubernatorial nod between the two incumbent statewide-elected Virginia GOP officers, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and State Atty. Gen. Bob McDonnell. The almost-certain Democratic nominee is state legislator Brian Moran, brother of Virginia U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.

New Hampshire Notebook

From Buchanan to McCain: At Arizona Sen. John McCain’s victory celebration in Nashua following his New Hampshire Republican primary win, a familiar face with a distinct New England accent greeted me warmly: Chuck Douglas, former one-term congressman (1988-90), past state supreme court justice and co-chairman of Pat Buchanan’s insurgent campaign for President in the 1992 New Hampshire primary.
So what was Douglas — now in private law practice and sporting a beard — doing at McCain’s victory party? “I’m for McCain because I’m one of the last conservatives who’s concerned about earmarks, deficits and spending,” Douglas told me, “and John McCain is with me on doing something about all those issues. That’s why I volunteered to help him.”

And what did his candidate say when he told him he had run the campaign of Buchanan against the elder George Bush in 1992, I asked Douglas. “He said ‘Chuck, that’s great,’” replied the unpredictable former congressman.

Politics Aside: The early (6:00 a.m.) U.S. Air flight back from Manchester to Washington on the morning after the primary had intriguing passenger manifest. Along with longtime Clinton operative Harold Ickes, NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Pat Buchanan and wife Shelley, and me were an interesting couple and their two young children whom I later talked to at length in the baggage claim area. When I told the woman I was in Manchester to report on the primary, she said, “I was there to help my sister-in-law. I’m Meghan Rodham, and this is my husband Tony.”

For all the obvious disagreements we might have, the brother and sister-in-law of Hillary Clinton were quite charming. Tony Rodham told me how his 88-year-old mother Dorothy was going door-to-door for Hillary, was mad at the attacks on her and that “when you take on one of us, you take on the whole family.” When I recalled how their other brother Hugh had been the Democratic nominee for the Senate from Florida in 1994, Tony Rodham reminded me: “I managed that campaign. He started with 3% in the polls and ended up with 34%.” As to how his sister reacted upon learning she had won the New Hampshire primary, Rodham replied: “Ecstatic.”

Later, I gave them my Human Events card and invited them to call or e-mail me.  So far, I have not heard back from the Rodhams.