Races of the Week September 4-18

Colorado’s 4th U.S. House District: Musgrave vs. Markey

One of the easiest ways for a member of Congress to risk losing his or her district is for that member to be forthright and outspoken on issues. The lawmaker who muffles any clear philosophy and hugs the middle of the road can frequently nail down repeated re-election. The one who takes strong stands no matter what polls say usually heads toward a stiff re-election battle.

So it is with three-term Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. Although Colorado’s 4th District is historically Republican — and has never sent a Democrat to Congress — Musgrave has won both terms with margins that were too “close for comfort.”

Why? The answer can be found in Musgrave’s lifetime voting record with the American Conservative Union: 99%. Whether the cause is the right to life, drilling in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), or making the Bush tax cuts permanent, the combative, swashbuckling Musgrave is in the forefront of it. There really is no way to sandpaper, massage, or tone down her views: She is what she is.

Most recently, Musgrave signed a letter to John McCain promising not to secure any more earmarks for her district. She has also vowed to uphold any vetoes of spending measures sent down by a “President McCain.”  

And that is why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has lined up more than $670,000 in radio and TV buys for her opponent, former Larimer County Democratic Chairman Betsy Markey. That’s why Defenders of Wildlife Action have made Markey’s campaign a top priority, and have so far spent more than $500,000 to defeat Musgrave. Votevets has spent $400,000 against her in two weeks alone. As he did in ’06, millionaire gay activist Tim Gill has signaled his intent to use his own wealth against Musgrave.

Like Barack Obama, Betsy Markey has said she would support some kinds of offshore drilling. She is pro-abortion, backs the Democratic energy bill in Congress that would raise taxes by $70 billion, and supports the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that President Bush vetoed earlier this year.

Had enough? Then support Marilyn Musgrave, who will never be subtle, low-key, or in the middle of the road in Congress. Just conservative.

Minnesota’s U.S. Senate Race: Coleman vs. Franken

In the popular film Man of the Year, Robin Williams portrayed Tom Dobbs, host of a hit late-night television show and one of the funniest men in America. On a lark, Dobbs decides to run for President. The comic’s acerbic wit and penchant for skewering traditional politicians (“I did not have sex with that woman — unfortunately!”) ignites a grass-roots movement and he goes on to win. (Go get it on DVD and see for yourself.) 

As it turned out, Man of the Year amounted to a preview of the current challenge to Sen. Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.) in what has to be called the showcase Senate race of this year. Setting off a political earthquake, comedian and onetime “Saturday Night Live” star Al Franken returned from New York to his native Gopher State last year on what appeared to be a fool’s errand: securing the Democratic senatorial nomination.

For the comic who once referred to Republican politicians as “shameless [expletive deleted]” and once wrote that “No one likes getting an abortion except, perhaps, rape victims,” the Senate bid quickly became no laughing matter. In his first 45 days as a candidate last year, Franken raised a whopping $1.3 million. Democratic audiences wildly cheered his promises to “take out” Coleman and responded to his no-holds-barred, Obama-style left-wing manifesto: “I’m for universal health care and against privatization of Social Security. I’m for stem-cell research and against the President’s Iraq policy. I’m for comprehensive immigration reform and against CAFTA. You’ll never have to check which way the political winds are blowing to know where I stand.” 

They didn’t. The 55-year-old Franken knocked the favorite of the leadership of Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party, millionaire trial lawyer Mike Ceresi, out of the running and wrapped up the Senate nomination before the state convention.

So it is: The DFL’s grassroots are energized by the author of Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot and the man who once referred to opponent Coleman as “one of the administration’s leading butt boys,” and polls show the race close. 

It’s no surprise that one-termer Coleman is a leading target of the left in ’08. The former St. Paul mayor switched from Democrat to Republican in the 1990s, was the losing GOP candidate for governor in 1998, and then bounced back in ’02 to win the Senate seat once held by late liberal icon Paul Wellstone in a race against one of the DFL’s most revered figures, former Sen. and Vice President Walter Mondale. 

Like Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Coleman is different from many past GOP elected officials in Minnesota in that he leans more to the right than the center (American Conservative Union rating: 78%). Strongly pro-life and a booster of tax cuts and offshore drilling, the 59-year-old Coleman led the hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that helped uncover the UN “Oil for Food” scandal. 

The case for Norm Coleman can be summarized succinctly: His defeat at the hands of Al Franken will be no laughing matter for conservatives.  

Pennsylvania’s 3rd District: English vs. Dahlkemper

The race for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 3rd District (Erie) is another example of what happens when the Democratic National Campaign Committee (DCCC) finds itself with a 7-to-1 money advantage over its Republican counterpart and congressional “wannabes” smell a good year. This situation means significant challenges to Republican incumbents heretofore thought unbeatable. 

Phil English, a seven-term Republican congressman and the fourth-ranked Republican on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is facing Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper. Husband Dan is the owner of Dahlkemper Landscaper, and first-time candidate Kathy is running (in her words) “because of the Iraq War.” (Read:  She takes the Obama line and wants a date for withdrawing all troops). A rabid environmentalist, Dahlkemper has the backing of the Sierra Club and stands foursquare against offshore drilling and oil exploration in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge. She wants the Bush tax cuts to expire (which would result in the biggest tax increase in U.S. history) and supports Big Labor’s cherished “card-check,” which would end the secret ballot in union elections. 

You get the picture. Like many first-time Democratic candidates this year, Dahlkemper follows the party playbook just enough to court party contributors and key constituencies. And carefully maneuvers not to anger less-than-liberal constituencies. For example, Dahlkemper insists she is against amnesty for illegal immigrants, but also opposes the fence along the border. She says she supports the 2nd Amendment and opposes gun control, except for assault weapons. 

With Phil English, there are no qualifying of positions and no explanations needed. Elected as part of the conservative revolution that put the House in Republican hands in 1994, he still believes in and maintains its spirit even after many conservatives think its flame has expired. As a senior member of House’s tax-writing panel, English has been leading the charge to abolish the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which now looms over more and more middle-class families that it was not intended to touch. Were AMT actually taken off the books, skeptics ask, what about the revenue that would be lost? 

What about it, indeed, English replies. Scrapping the AMT, he says, would force future budgets to slash wasteful programs that AMT has been funding all these years. True to form, onetime Erie city controller and state senate Finance Committee staff director English has already calculated just how much to cut from the federal budget over the next three fiscal years to accommodate abandonment of the voracious AMT. 

Democratic House Speaker Sam Rayburn once said there were two kinds of lawmakers: work horses and show horses. In the case of Phil English, it’s easy to see what kind of horse he is — and, for conservatives and all Americans who want smaller government, he’s working for them.


View All