Capital Briefs: Feb. 25-29

PARTING ‘HUCK-BITES’: With his presidential campaign sure to end soon and his support now beginning to ebb among GOP primary voters who consider themselves conservatives, Mike Huckabee nonetheless took time to come to Washington to explain to national reporters why he was still running and what he would and would not do next. At a recent breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, the former Arkansas governor underscored his intention to remain in the race until John McCain received the number of national convention delegates required for nomination. “I didn’t make up the rules,” said Huckabee, adding that if GOP leaders wanted a nomination contest settled before the national convention officially ratifies a nominee next September, “they should have required a cut-off date [for campaigning] by February instead.” But Huckabee did strongly hint that his make-or-break race would be in Texas (where he once lived), which holds its primary March 4. Regarding the controversial pitch he made during the District of Columbia primary (in which he drew only 17% of the vote) calling for “congressional representation for the Nation’s Capital, the Arkansan insisted that his plan differed from that of D.C.’s non-voting Delegate Eleanor Holmes Horton, which calls for two U.S. senators and a U.S. representative from the heavily Democratic district. Huckabee’s plan is for a voting U.S. House member only, he explained. Would he consider running as a third party candidate this fall? “Oh no,” replied Huckabee, “That’s not even up for discussion. I’ve been working within the Republican Party since I was a teenager in a town where everyone else was a Democrat.” Asked by Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi whether he might enter the race against Sen. Mark Pryor (D.-Ark.) before the March 10 filing deadline in Arkansas, Huckabee gave a categorical denial. “There’s a greater chance of me dying my hair green, covering my body with tattoos and going on a rock tour with [Grammy winner] Amy Winehouse than running for the Senate,” Huckabee said.

CLINTON’S LAST STANDS? All indications are that if she doesn’t win primaries in Ohio and Texas on March 4 and, her final back-up hope, Pennsylvania, April 22, Hillary Clinton will be political toast and Barack Obama the all-but-nominated Democratic candidate for President. But late last week, the signs were fairly good for her. With barely two weeks to go before the Texas contest, the Rasmussen Poll showed Hillary leading Obama by 47% to 44% in the Lone Star State. Ohio looked even better for her. With Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland pulling out all the stops for Clinton, a just-completed Quinnipiac College poll shows the New York senator leading Obama by 55% to 34% among likely primary voters. Then, in what could be her last-hope state, the same poll showed Clinton ahead of her opponent by 52% to 36% statewide in Pennsylvania.

BAD DAYS AT NRCC: As the number of House Republican retirements approaches 30 and publicity mounts about alleged poor accounting of its funds over the past seven years, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) goes into the ’08 elections rocked by internal clashes and a surprise exit. Top NRCC spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger announced she was quitting two weeks ago—officially to take another job, but unofficially, the Capitol Hill newspaper Politico reported, due to “simmering staff tension within the NRCC and … the bitter aftershock of a confrontation last fall between [House GOP Leader John] Boehner [Ohio]and NRCC Chairman Tom Cole [R.-Okla.].” Boehner unsuccessfully tried to get Cole, reported Politico, to fire NRCC Executive Director Pete Kirkham, who in turn “increasingly marginalized Boulanger.” Last week, rumors were brewing that the next Republican retiree from Congress would be Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), who chaired the NRCC during the ’06 cycle when much of the misreported accounting of funds occurred. Reynolds’ spokesmen had not returned our calls at press time.

’08 RACE AS ‘REALITY TV’: That’s how conservative former Rep. Ernest Istook (R.-Okla.) characterizes the current campaign for the White House. Istook, now a distinguished fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Human Events that “John McCain’s comeback from oblivion makes him ‘Amazing Race,’” Mike Huckabee is “Survivor,” Barack Obama is “American Idol” and Hillary Clinton is “The Biggest Loser.”

HEY, BARACK, DEVAL—IT DIDN’T START WITH F.D.R.:  For all the furor last week about Barack Obama’s lifting oratory that included quotes such as “I have a dream” and “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” from earlier remarks by his friend and supporter Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, it turns out that the speaker to whom one of the quotes is attributed lifted it from someone else. The actual quote is: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and it was said by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933. In his new book Electing F.D.R., historian Donald Ritchie writes that longtime Roosevelt political operative Louis Howe inserted the line. But, according to Ritchie, “Howe had probably lifted the phrase from a Chamber of Commerce report published a year earlier, which read: ‘In a condition of this kind, the thing to be feared is fear itself.’” The chamber was headed at the time by Julius H. Barnes, a staunch ally of Republican President Herbert Hoover, unseated by F.D.R. in 1932. 

HOUSE GOP FLAKES OFF AND GOES BONNER: To the surprise of next to no one, the House Republican leadership last week passed over Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake to fill the coveted vacancy on the House Appropriations Committee. Flake was perhaps the most outspoken opponent of earmarks among House GOPers and had vowed to use his perch on the powerful spending panel to thwart the practice. Tapped instead for the Appropriations slot was Alabama Rep. Jo Bonner, onetime top aide and successor to former Rep. Sonny Callahan, who ended his career in Congress as chairman of the Appropriations Water and Development Subcommittee.

STALEMATE AT FEC: Since the Federal Election Commission lacks the four members needed for a quorum to rule on campaign spending in the ’08 elections, it appears as though there will be no FEC decisions—not soon, anyway. The terms of the two Republican appointees, Hans von Spakovsky and David Mason, expired and the White House re-nominated them as a “package deal” along with the two Democratic nominees whose time was up, Steve Walter and Bob Lenhard. But with the New York Times and other liberal media blasting editorially at Spakovsky and Mason, both conservatives and opponents of limits on campaign spending, Senate Democrats have not let them come up for a confirmation vote—which means no vote on Walter and Lenhard and, therefore, no FEC rulings.