Gizzi on Politics: May 12-16

Although I had originally planned to cover the presidential primary in Indiana and not North Carolina, SW (Smarter Wife) convinced me that both would be nationally significant and I should go to both places. I did—spending February 5 in Indianapolis and February 6 in Raleigh—and she was proven right. Both primaries were significant in the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

And there were other significant primaries in both states…

Hoosiers Challenged

Indianapolis, Ind.—The most political excitement after the presidential primary was in the challenges to the renomination of two U.S. House members from the Indianapolis area. Both Democratic Rep. André Carson and Republican Rep. Dan Burton survived.

Carson, who won the seat long held by his late grandmother, Julia Carson, in a special election following her death earlier this year, faced three strong primary opponents—two state legislators and a millionaire businessman who spent freely of his own wealth. But Carson survived with about 40% of the vote, with the help of his grandmother’s political organization and his endorsement from Barack Obama (for whom the congressman has pledged support as a “superdelegate”).

Thirteen-termer Burton (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97%) rolled up an uncomfortably close 52%-to-45% margin over a hard-hitting assault from John McGoff, an Iraqi War veteran who is now Marion County (Indianapolis) coroner. Insurgent McGoff agreed with Burton on most issues (although, as the National Rifle Association pointed out, he had once belonged to a physicians’ gun control group), and instead challenged the incumbent on ethics issues. The physician-candidate repeatedly slammed Burton for missing 19 votes in the House while playing golf and for being the lone House member to vote against its latest set of ethics rules.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels will face former Democratic Rep. (1989-94) Jill Long Thompson in his re-election bid this fall. When he met with me in his State Capitol office, Daniels took great delight in telling of his latest endorsement. It came from Gordon St. Angelo, Indiana’s Democratic state chairman in the 1960s under late Gov. (1964-68) Roger Branigan, a Democrat who favored lower taxes and tough law enforcement.
“Gordon was, like Gov. Branigan, the type of Democrat who couldn’t win nomination or a party leadership position today,” said Daniels, noting that the 80-something St. Angelo has cut a commercial in which he recalls knowing every governor of Indiana since Democrat Henry Schricker in the 1930s and declares Republican Daniels the best of all.

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Raleigh, N.C.—The only U.S. House primary in North Carolina that could accurately be dubbed “hotly contested” took place in the coastal 3rd District, where Republican Rep. Walter Jones was challenged by retired U.S. Army officer Joe McLaughlin. A county commissioner in the area surrounding the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, McLaughlin hit hard at seven-termer Jones for being one of only two Republican House members who voted against the Bush Administration-backed terrorist surveillance legislation and for being one of a handful of House GOPers to support troop withdrawals from Iraq.

While much of the debate centered on Jones’s Iraq stand, the incumbent reminded voters of his solid conservatism on other issues. He is strongly pro-life and proudly broke with the administration on the No Child Left Behind federal education program and the prescription drug program enacted in ’03. Jones won his primary with more than 60% of the vote.

Also in North Carolina: With Democratic Gov. Mike Easley forced to step down after two terms, there were heated primaries for the nominations to succeed him. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the only candidate in the Republican field without a state government background, topped four opponents with 42% of the vote. He faces a classic ideological showdown in the fall, as Democrats picked Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue—widely considered more liberal than her primary opponent, State Treasurer Richard Moore. The Tarheel State has not elected a Republican governor in 20 years.

No Bumps for Bobby

“This certainly looks like it’s Jindal’s week, doesn’t it?” remarked my colleague, Jamie Coomarasamy of the BBC, when we were at dinner in Indianapolis with some leading Hoosier political figures. We were discussing the Human Events “Veepstakes” feature and he correctly predicted that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal would soon be profiled. After all, he noted, just last week, the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol had boomed Jindal as John McCain’s running mate in a New York Times op-ed and the Washington Times featured the 36-year-old Louisianan on its front-page.

So it was no surprise to find that, as the conservative Jindal was being lauded, liberals in the media were loudly trumpeting the Democratic win in a special election for Congress in the Baton Rouge area as some kind of black eye for the governor. After all, they note, Jindal endorsed and did commercials and recorded phone messages for fellow Republican Woody Jenkins, who lost the special election. (See cover story.)

“This race had nothing to do with Gov. Jindal—nothing at all,” Jenkins told me the morning after the race, “He did a lot of things for me but he was never debated or criticized in the campaign.”

One did have to dig a bit in the major national publications for the story, but on the same day that Republicans lost the Baton Rouge seat, GOP State Sen. Steve Scalise won the New Orleans-area House seat that fellow conservative Jindal relinquished to become governor.

Scalise, who had Jindal’s strong endorsement, won with 75% of the vote.

NY Conservatives Recall the Founding Father

William F. Buckley, Jr. died in April, but the man often referred to as the founding father of the modern American conservative movement is certainly not forgotten. On May 29, the New York Conservative Party will honor Buckley with a video tribute to his achievement-filled life at the party’s annual banquet, to be held at the New York Athletic Club. The banquet speaker will be Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.).

It is poignant that Buckley is being feted this year by the Conservative Party because in 1965 he was its first candidate for mayor of New York City, four years after the party was founded. Although Buckley drew only 15% of the vote, he energized thousands of New Yorkers who were conservatives and his candidacy touched the early lives of many: George Marlin, later head of the Port Authority of New York and the 1993 mayoral candidate of the Conservatives, worked as a volunteer on Buckley’s ’65 race.
Connecticut State GOP Chairman Chris Healy handed out leaflets for the Conservative hopeful during his teenage years in New York City; and Mike Long, present state chairman of the Conservative Party, hosted an overflow crowd at his Brooklyn apartment to meet Buckley in ’65.

The highlight of the event will be the presentation of a portrait of Buckley to National Review, which he founded in 1955. (Banquet tickets at $500 per person are available through Shawn Marie Levin, at the New York Conservative Party, 486 78th St., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11209; 518-356-7882.)