Woody’s Big Chance
The surprise decision of 21-year Rep. Richard Baker (R.-La.) to resign from Congress next month and take a high-paying job as lobbyist for the hedge-fund industry has sent political shock waves through Louisiana’s 6th District (Baton Rouge). Soon after Baker (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 91%) announced his resignation two weeks ago, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal announced a special election for May 3. Under the rules for the special election, the parties will hold primaries on March 8, and if no candidate draws a majority of the vote in a party primary, a run-off will be held April 3.
The abbreviated timetable in the election benefits the GOP hopeful who conservatives nationwide are already cheering on: Woody Jenkins, former state legislator, conservative swashbuckler and three-time U.S. Senate candidate, who just turned 61 on January 3.
Counted out against Democrat Mary Landrieu in 1996 by 5,788 votes out of more than 1.7 million cast, Jenkins took his case that the New Orleans Democratic machine and the video-poker industry had broken numerous laws to the U.S. Senate. But the Senate, even with its Republican majority, seated Landrieu and never pursued Jenkins’ charges. Jenkins eventually left the legislature and helped launch and edit three new newspapers in the Baton Rouge area.
The Louisianan with the resonant voice (he worked his way through law school as a TV newscaster) and a striking resemblance to 1950s singing idol Fabian would enter the U.S. House as a national conservative figure. Indeed, beginning with the teenage Jenkins’ attendance at the 1964 Republican convention that nominated Barry Goldwater for President, he has been involved in all the major efforts of the modern conservative movement throughout his adult life. Elected as a Democrat to the state legislature in 1970 at age 22, Jenkins campaigned for Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty for President two years later and then won a spot on the Democratic National Committee. There he unsuccessfully championed such issues as keeping the Panama Canal in U.S. hands and a pro-life amendment to the Constitution. Jenkins finally quit the Democratic Party post after endorsing Republican Ronald Reagan for President. As a Democratic candidate for the Senate in 1978 and ’80, Jenkins promised to vote for Republican organization of the Senate if it would give the GOP control. Two years before he launched his third Senate bid in 1996, Jenkins finally made it official and became a Republican.
Throughout a quarter of century in the legislature, Jenkins was a one-man perpetual motion machine behind conservative issues and causes. He organized a caucus of conservative lawmakers and the Legislative Study Group, modeled after the Republican Study Committee in the U.S. House. Out of Jenkins’ groups sprang the election of John Hainkel, conservative Democrat, as speaker of the house. Jenkins himself quarterbacked passage of his state’s toughest-ever human-life amendment, which was vetoed by Democratic Gov. (1987-91) Buddy Roemer, with the veto then overridden by Jenkins-led lawmakers.
Foreign policy has also been a passion of the Louisianan. In the 1980s, he organized citizen support for anti-Communist freedom-fighters in Central America.
Although out of politics and in the private sector for the past few years, Jenkins remains a powerful figure among conservatives at the state and national level. He is by far better-known than either of the other two Republican hopefuls—Hunter Greene, also a former legislator and publisher, and former Baker staffer Paul Sawyer. In a district that has not sent a Democrat to Congress in 36 years, the GOP nominee would be a heavy favorite over any of the lesser-known Democratic hopefuls.
As conservatives begin to mobilize behind the Jenkins banner in the “snap” election, they also clearly hope that, at a time when Republicans in Congress are increasingly criticized for not leading on their issues, they have found someone who will be a leader on the day he takes office.
Colulmbia, S.C.—Although the Republican National Committee penalized South Carolina Republicans for holding their primary before Super Tuesday (February 5) and the Palmetto State will have 24 delegates instead of 47, State Party Chairman Katon Dawson said he has “no regrets at all for making us the first in the South in ’08.”
“The state has brought in $18 million in terms of visitors here, and we hosted two debates,” Dawson told me over breakfast on the morning of the January 19 primary at the Clarion Town House here, where we were joined by my colleagues Jamie Coomarasamy and Mike Innes of the BBC, “Had I not done so, I would not have been on ‘Washington Journal’ [the CSPAN public affairs program] and NBC, or sitting here with the BBC. And you wouldn’t be buying me breakfast!”
In discussing the primary—which has been pivotal to determining who the Republican presidential nominee has been since 1980—Dawson (who got his start in politics as the driver for State GOP Chairman Drake Edens, one of the architects of the modern South Carolina GOP) noted that this would be the first time state tax dollars would be paying for the primary.
“We always paid for the primary ourselves,” Dawson said, “But with 575,000 names in our database and more than 6,000 volunteers who man the polls all day Saturday, we needed help.” Thus, following some lobbying by Dawson, the Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation to underwrite the quadrennial GOP exercise.
Just back from the Republican National Committee meeting in Washington, D.C., Dawson offered no predictions on the presidential race. But, he predicted, “if there is no clear winner by Super Tuesday, you will see a rush for the missing delegates.” By “missing delegates,” he meant the delegates denied South Carolina and Michigan—both of which had delegations cut in half by the RNC—for going so early in the presidential nominating calendar.
What Was Mrs. Wilson Doing? Next to Gov. Mark Sanford, Rep. Joe Wilson was the highest-elected Republican in South Carolina to maintain neutrality in his state’s hotly fought primary. Even after he voted, the 2nd District (Columbia) lawmaker refused to say who he cast his ballot for.
Throughout the morning and almost up to the moment the polls closed, Wilson (lifetime ACU rating: 93%) began his quadrennial ritual of visiting polling places and thanking the poll watchers for the hours they put in to make the primary happen. For the third time since 1996, I accompanied Wilson on his rounds.
Regarding his candidate neutrality, Wilson, a Human Events subscriber since he attended a “Draft Goldwater” rally in Washington in 1963, said: “I was fully committed to [Virginia Sen.] George Allen for President. I liked him, knew him well, and knew his wife’s family, who are from South Carolina. But then he lost re-election in a very close race [to Jim Webb in ’06] and I just never met another candidate who got me as excited.” (Four days after the primary, Wilson issued an endorsement of Arizona Sen. John McCain.)
Wife Roxanne Wilson had another view. Throughout our rounds, she made it clear former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson was by far her favorite, that she had voted for him and wanted him to stay in the race. At the Saxe-Gotha polling place, Wilson took his time introducing us to friends who were turning out in large numbers in spite of heavy downpour. Mrs. Wilson remained in the car. “And I wasn’t bothered at all at how long you took,” she said when we came back, “I’ve been sitting making get-out-the-vote calls for Fred on my cell phone.