Gizzi on Politics: March 10-14

Missouri Waltz

One of the more stunning political turnarounds so far this year came in the race for governor of Missouri. After Republican Gov. Matt Blunt stunned the Show-Me State by announcing his retirement at age 37, fellow GOPer and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder declared his candidacy for the top job within hours. Considered the most conservative of the three likely Republican candidates for governor, the 53-year-old Kinder was also considered the early favorite against State Treasurer Sarah Steelman and U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof.
But seven days later, Kinder dealt Missouri Republicans a “stunner” of his own by announcing he would run instead for re-election (for which he appears a strong favorite).
Kinder cited his desire to continue serving as lieutenant governor, but sources close to the Cape Girardeau man told me that they felt that even if he won a hard-fought primary for governor, there would be an uphill battle in the fall against the certain Democratic nominee, State Atty. Gen. Jay Nixon.

Steelman, wife of former State House GOP Leader David Steelman and herself a former state senator, appears to be the nomination favorite now. Like Kinder, she was active as a college student in Ronald Reagan’s 1976 bid for President and has been backed in past races by Missouri Right to Life. Steelman’s lone detour from the conservative line appears to be her opposition to limits on how much trial lawyers can sue for (an apostasy also embraced by former GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson).

Six-term Rep. Holshof is also considered a strong conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union: 90%) and he is likely to receive the backing of the outgoing governor’s father, House GOP Whip Roy Blunt. Working against Hulshof are the basement-low ratings Congress now gets in polls and history. Missouri voters usually elect statewide officials to the governorship. One has to go back to 1910 to find the last time a House member moved up to the state’s highest office.

A just-completed Rasmussen Poll shows Democrat Nixon defeating Steelman by 46% to 35% statewide among likely voters and Nixon also beating Hulshof by 48% to 30%.

The Boys From Syracuse

In making the case that Republicans will hold on to almost all of the 28 U.S. House districts from which GOP lawmakers are retiring this year, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R.-Okla.) last week told a press breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that the bulk of the retirees were in historically Republican turf carried by George W. Bush in 2004.

But Cole also conceded there were exceptions and pointed to the 25th District of New York (Syracuse) being vacated by 10-term Republican James Walsh as a case in point. Walsh (lifetime ACU rating: 67%) is one of the eight retiring GOP lawmakers who represent a district that Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry carried in ’04, and the 25th, in Cole’s words, “is one that is moving away from us rather than toward us.”

With the announced exodus of Walsh, son of former Syracuse Mayor and Rep. (1972-78) William Walsh, Republicans had hoped their standard-bearer would be Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick. But the prosecutor, whose county covers 60% of the 25th District, announced recently that he would not run for Congress.

So Republicans are turning to their “B-team,” with the two most-oft mentioned candidates being Peter Cappuccilli, director of the State Fair under former Republican Gov. (1994-2006) George Pataki, and Randy Wolken, head of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY). Both have an advantage over Walsh in that, unlike the outgoing congressman, either Cappuccilli or Wolken would probably carry the ballot line of the New York State Conservative Party. Although the Conservative Party provided the winning margin for Walsh in his razor-thin (51% to 49%) victory two years ago, party leaders have since indicated that they would not give him their line again because of his votes against the U.S. surge in Iraq.

Among Democrats, the name being mentioned most is that of former television reporter Dan Maffei, who came within 4,000 votes of unseating Walsh in ’06. Maffei, onetime press secretary to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.), has been running since the ‘06 returns were made final, showing that two small counties in the district had saved Walsh from defeat. However, Maffei’s nomination in ’08 is by no means a foregone conclusion. The prospect of an open district could be enticing to other Democrats and both Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll and Councilwoman Stephanie Miner have voiced interest in a run for Congress.

The Other Primaries

With all of the attention on Hillary Clinton’s three out of four wins in presidential primaries last week, it was understandable that the congressional primaries in Ohio and Texas were forgotten. The two most noteworthy primaries were waged against sitting congressmen who were until recently presidential candidates. Both Republican Ron Paul, in Texas’s 14th District, and Democrat Dennis Kucinich, in Ohio’s 10th District, were handily re-nominated.

Rep. Paul, running for his 10th nonconsecutive term, won with 70% of the vote over little-known challenger Chris Peden. Kucinich won the primary for his seventh term with 51% of the vote over three opponents. The runner-up (32%) was Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, who had the endorsement of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and focused his fire on Kucinich’s missing 139 votes in Congress since announcing for President in January of ’07.

Buckeye Bulletins: Ohio Republicans nominated new candidates in three districts where GOP House members were retiring. In the 7th District that Rep. David Hobson is giving up after 18 years, conservative State Sen. Steve Austria easily won the GOP primary and is a strong favorite in November. In the 15th (Columbus), State Sen. and Ohio National Guard Lt. Col. Steve Stivers won the GOP nod to succeed retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce and now faces Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy. Less than six months after becoming a candidate, Persian Gulf and Iraq War veteran Stivers has raised more than $500,000.

The question among Buckeye State GOPers remains who their nominee will be in the 16th District (Canton and Stark Counties), where Rep. Ralph Regula is stepping down after 36 years. Late last week, out of more than 58,000 votes cast, State Sen. Kirk Schuring clung to a lead of 274 votes, over Stark County Commissioner Matt Miller, who waged a strong primary challenge to the moderate Regula in ’06. Both men are considered more conservative than Regula (lifetime ACU rating: 69%), and the eventual nominee will face a strong contest in the fall against Democratic State Sen. John Boccieri.

Easily the least secure district held by a Democrat in Ohio is the 18th, where Democrat Zack Space won in ’06 after GOP Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty to corruption charges and went to prison. The winner of the three-candidate GOP primary was Fred Dailey, who is as well-known as the incumbent congressman because he has served 16 years as Ohio director of agriculture.

But in two other districts, Republican House members will face spirited challenges in November: the 1st (Cincinnati), where seven-termer Steve Chabot has a strong race with State Rep. and Obama Democrat Steve Driehaus, and in the 2nd, where Rep. Jean Schmidt has a rematch with narrow ’06 loser Victoria Wulsin.

Lone Bright Spot in Lone Star State: That is what the race in the 22nd District (Houston-Galveston) is shaping up to be for Texas Republicans—the one district in which they feel they can oust a Democratic incumbent.

Two years ago, after House GOP Leader Tom DeLay resigned from Congress to deal with his legal troubles, state judges refused to let district Republicans replace him with a new candidate for the full term. Thus, Democrat Nick Lampson won the district under freakish circumstances.

Republican Shelly Sekula Gibbs, a former Houston city councilwoman, won the nomination and election that year for the remainder of DeLay’s term and actually held the seat for the remainder of ’06. Last week, she won a 10-candidate primary to oppose Lampson with 29% of the vote. But since she did not receive a majority, Sekula Gibbs must face runner-up (21%) Pete Olson, former top aide to Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex), in a run-off April 8.