Gizzi on Politics: March 17-21

Mac Is Back—in the 4th District

In the days before last week’s filing deadline for the June primary in California, a political earthquake hit the Golden State’s 4th U.S. House District (Sacramento). After 10-term Republican Rep. John Doolittle announced his retirement, a crowded primary was expected, with two and possibly three conservatives running for the GOP nod. Moderates and not-so-conservative GOPers had settled on former Rep. Doug Ose, who represented the neighboring 3rd District from 1998-2004. So, one of those “we divide and they conquer” scenarios that seem to bedevil conservatives more than moderates in Republican primaries loomed large.

But last week came a big change. State Sen. Tom McClintock, “Mr. Conscience of a California Conservative,” announced that he would seek the nomination in the 4th District. Conservative donors and campaign volunteers immediately flocked to the banner of the 52-year-old McClintock, who proudly championed economic and cultural conservatism in a losing race for lieutenant governor in ’06 and as a candidate in the ’03 gubernatorial recall election won by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Most significantly, former State Sen. Rico Oller and Doolittle’s ’06 primary opponent Eric Eglund—conservatives both—withdrew from the primary and endorsed the much-respected McClintock.

“And there couldn’t be a greater contrast among Republicans in the [4th District] primary 85 days from now,” McClintock told me, noting that he and Ose (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 78%) differed sharply on a host of key issues: McClintock has long been in the forefront of the pro-life cause, while Ose was a favorite of Republicans for Choice. McClintock has for years been the GOP leader in Sacramento in the battles to cut spending and taxes, while Ose voted against a national moratorium on Internet taxation. While the veteran state legislator has long carried water on major issues ranging from school choice to border security, Ose was never identified with any key conservative issue during his six years in Congress.

Going back to his days as a top aide to late Republican State Sen. Ed Davis and then as a state assemblyman at age 26 in 1982, McClintock has made lasting friendships among conservatives for never giving up on major causes. For example, he still believes that the federal No Child Left Behind program is “an affront to the Constitution and the classroom” and should be repealed. During the ’03 recall election, candidate McClintock called for re-starting the litigation to defend Proposition 187, the statewide initiative passed resoundingly in 1994 that would deny illegal immigrants non-essential healthcare, public education and welfare. The measure was eventually struck down in federal court and the administration of then-Democratic Gov. Gray Davis refused to litigate any further to reinstate it.

Both Ose and McClintock live just outside the 4th District. Residency has never been the issue in transient California that it is in other states and, as McClintock pointed out to me, “voters I know care more about where you stand than where you live.” But, he quickly added, “when I was last on the ballot [for lieutenant governor in ’06], I got about 36,000 more votes in the district than [Doolittle’s Democratic opponent] Charlie Brown.” Brown, who pulled 48% of the vote against Doolittle, is certain to be the Democratic candidate in the open district.

Although he is not legally required to do so to serve in Congress, will McClintock move into the 4th District, I asked? Without missing a beat, he replied, “As soon as the real estate market gets better.”

(McClintock for Congress, 1029 K St., Sacramento, Calif., 95814)

Primary Colors

Cajun Country Comes In: Although national political news March 8 was dominated by the Democratic capture of the Illinois seat of former Republican House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (See cover story.), there were primaries to fill two U.S. House vacancies in Louisiana on the same day. These were the first partisan primaries since the Pelican State in the early 1970s scrapped a partisan system in favor of a “jungle primary” in which all candidates appear on the same ballot regardless of party.

In the 1st District (suburban New Orleans) formerly held by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, State Sen. Steve Scalise topped a four-candidate Republican primary with about 48% of the vote. Scalise will face the runner-up (28%), State Rep. Tim Burns, in the run-off April 5. Scalise and Burns are both strong conservatives in the mold of Jindal (lifetime ACU rating: 96%), and either would be a strong favorite in the special election May 3 against Democratic psychology Prof. Gilda Reed.

The Republican who is perhaps Louisiana’s best-known conservative was the top GOP vote-getter in the primary to choose a candidate to succeed former Republican Rep. (1986-2008) Richard Baker, who resigned to take a private sector job. Woody Jenkins, former state legislator, three-time U.S. Senate candidate and Louisiana quarterback on every major conservative cause, almost won the Republican nomination outright (49.85%). But the 61-year-old Jenkins will have to face a run-off next month with the second-place finisher, businesswoman Laurinda Calongne. Given Jenkins’ near-capture of the nomination, there will be strong pressure on Calongne by state and local party leaders to abandon her candidacy.

Despite the Republican voting history of the Baton Rouge-area district, Democrats hope they can pick up the 6th because of a big influx of African-American voters from New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in ’05. Five candidates entered the Democratic primary and the leading vote-getter was State Rep. Dan Cazayoux, a favorite of labor unions and trial lawyers. Cazayoux, who is white, got 35% of the vote and meets fellow State Rep. Michael Jackson (27%), who is black and considered more centrist, in the run-off.

More From Mississippi: This will be an interesting political year in Mississippi. Two Senate seats are up: Republican Sen. Thad Cochran should coast to a seventh term against little-known Democratic former State Rep. Eric Fleming and fellow Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, who was appointed to succeed Sen. (1988-2007) Trent Lott when the Senate GOP whip resigned last year, leads in most polls against the Democratic nominee, former Gov. (1999-2003) Ronnie Musgrave.

In the GOP primary to succeed Wicker as congressman from the 1st District (Tupelo), former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough led Southaven Mayor Greg Davis 39% to 37%. The two conservatives will meet in a runoff in three weeks. Democrats will have a stronger-than-usual challenger in either of the two candidates facing off in the run-off: Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers and State Rep. Steve Holland.

In the 3rd District (Jackson), held for a dozen years by Republican Rep. Chip Pickering, who is retiring, State Sen. Charlie Ross rode his momentum from a losing primary bid for lieutenant governor to lead in the GOP primary with 34% of the vote. In the run-off, he will face Rankin GOP Chairman and fellow conservative Gregg Harper, who won 28%. Democrats nominated a strong candidate in cattle broker Joel Gill, who defeated two opponents with 54% of the vote.

Democratic operatives in the Magnolia State were quick to note that turnout for congressional primaries in both the 1st and 3rd Districts was greater in their party than in the Republican balloting. True, but as Hastings Wyman of the Southern Political Report concluded, this unusual circumstance was “boosted by the Obama-Clinton [presidential] contest.”