Races of the Week October 13

Kansas’s 3rd District

Jordan vs. Moore

Since he first won Kansas’ 3rd District seat by unseating an incumbent Republican back in 1996, Democrat Dennis Moore (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 20%) has always faced spirited opposition. Although the GOP has frequently made an effort to retake the district (Overland Park-Kansas City), it has always fallen short because of either flawed candidates or a divisive primary that left wounds that did not heal by November.

All that changed this year when State Sen. Nick Jordan wrapped up the Republican nomination to oppose Moore. At 58 and a grandfather of three, the conservative Jordan has been a well-liked figure in the state legislature for the past 13 years. He is popular and respected among the business community as the father of the Kansas Economic Growth Act, which broke down many of the roadblocks to fresh businesses’ settling in the Sunflower State and was pivotal to the bioscience industry’s enhancing its presence in Kansas.

Jordan knows what it takes to make job creation come true: Prior to his going into politics, he spent years in the hotel business and headed the Overland Park Visitors Bureau.

“So you could say that I’m my opponent’s opposite number,” says Jordan, noting that Moore serves on the House Budget Committee and wants the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2010. “If that happens, there will be a record tax increase. And he opposes the ‘All of the Above’ oil exploration measure, which includes drilling offshore and in Alaska, which I favor.”

Jordan also notes that Moore “talks about universal health care and I talk about market-driven solutions to health-care problems. And I believe in a secret ballot for union elections, while he backs the mis-named Employee Free Choice Act that would kill the secret ballot.”

But their most dramatic difference, which Jordan repeatedly drives home, is that Moore, in the conservative hopeful’s words, “votes with Nancy Pelosi 97% of the time and is part of a failed system. You can count on me not to be that.”    

Mississippi’s U.S. Senate Race

Wicker vs. Musgrave

Ronnie Musgrove is living proof that there are indeed second acts in politics and resurrection is never an impossibility.

Five years after he was beaten for re-election as governor of Mississippi amid the Magnolia State’s worst-in-memory fiscal crisis, the 52-year-old Musgrove is back. This year, he is the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate against conservative Republican Roger Wicker, who was U.S. representative from 1994 until his appointment last year to the Senate seat that fellow GOPer Trent Lott had resigned.

And, incredibly, there are some polls that show Musgrove within striking distance of Wicker in their state’s first special election for the Senate since 1947.

Now, before anyone starts thinking Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean knows what he’s talking about when he speaks of a net gain of seven Senate seats, including Mississippi, for his party this fall, let’s look at the facts. Given the demographics of Mississippi, any Democrat seeking statewide office starts the race with 40% of the vote. Moreover, on red-meat issues such as abortion and gun control, any Democrat is likely to say “me, too” to a Republican.

But, as State Republican Chairman Brad White put it, “to say that Ronnie Musgrove is a conservative is like saying Jabba the Hut is an anorexic.”

Indeed, a case could be made that Mississippi went from the best of economic times to the worst of economic times during Musgrove’s four years in the governor’s office. The state’s treasury that had a $270 million rainy day fund plunged to a $720 million budget shortfall. Punitively anti-business fees caused the number of manufacturing jobs to drop during the Musgrove era, and the statehouse was riddled with scandal. During the spectacular trial of “super-lawyers” Dickie Scruggs and Paul Minor — both reportedly inspirations for Mississippi novelist John Grisham’s celebrated “King of Torts” — it was revealed that the two met with then-Gov. Musgrove to discuss his choices of state judges. Today, Scruggs and Minor are in prison following convictions for attempting to bribe a judge.

So it is no surprise to find Musgrove commercials that tout his background as state senator and lieutenant governor but make no mention that he was governor. This is roughly the equivalent of a biographical short about George W. Bush that highlights his history as managing partner of a baseball team and governor of Texas but omits the fact he was President.

With Roger Wicker, there is no hiding anything. During 14 years in the House and Senate (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92%), Wicker has almost always been found on the right and, more often than not, in the lead. He was elected president of the 73-member “Gingrich class” of House Republicans in 1994 and led the charge in the House to force Kofi Anon to resign as secretary general of the UN over the “Oil for Food” scandal.

And that says it all about Roger Wicker: You always know who he is and where he stands.    

Pennsylvania’s 17th District

Gilhooley vs. Holden

Mom, I saw Barry Goldwater today and I’m in love with him!”

Then 17-year-old Antoinette D’Agostino scandalized her mother with those words (“Don’t you dare say that! We’re Democrats!”) and had undergone a political baptism on that day in 1964 when she skipped out of Bishop McDevitt high school to see the Republican presidential candidate at a campaign stop in her town.

“What he said about freedom and smaller government made me passionate about politics,” she recalled. The encounter with Goldwater was the starting point in a journey through life that led the lady who is now Toni Gilhooley to be the Republican nominee this year against Democratic Rep. Tim Holden in Pennsylvania’s 17th District (Harrisburg).

Of course, there were some exciting twists and turns along the way. In 1973, Toni joined the Pennsylvania State Police. At a time when American television viewers were only a few seasons removed from female private eye “Honey West” or “Mrs. Emma Peel” on “The Avengers,” tough Toni was doing undercover work with fences in Northeast Philadelphia. She wore a riot helmet to help her colleagues quell a riot at the Camp Hill Prison, became the first female staff instructor at the state police academy, specialized in domestic violence cases, and married fellow trooper William Gilhooley (who, she says, “outranked me.”). As she said upon her retirement in 1998, “I had quite an adventure.”

But a woman of action like Toni Gilhooley doesn’t retire easily. She volunteered for many Republican campaigns, including those of 20-year Republican Rep. George Gekas, who would face 10-year Democratic Rep. Holden when their districts were merged in 2002. Holden edged Gekas by fewer than 2,000 votes, and Republicans have made strong-but-losing bids against him since. Toni Gilhooley worked on all the races against Holden.

Now it’s her turn and, in her words, “I’m running because we were sold a bill of goods by our congressman. He talks conservative here, all right, but as someone once said about his record, he’s ‘Washing-Tim.’”

The son of a powerful Schuylkill County commissioner, Holden (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 44%) votes the pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment line required for a chance of survival in his district. But is he really conservative?

“Not on your life,” snaps Republican Gilhooley, ticking off where she and her opponent differ: “He opposes oil drilling in Alaska, and I say, ‘Drill, baby, drill!’ He backed new gasoline taxes, would keep the death tax and would let the Bush tax cuts expire, and I’m against any new taxes. He backs his liberal leadership on health care and I believe in health care based on the free market. He wants to permit illegal immigrants to form unions and I want to keep them out by enforcing the law. Do you get what I’m saying?”

Conservatives certainly do and, with her engaging personality and energy, Toni Gilhooley regularly wins over converts and new contributors. As she likes to say, “No one will accuse me of selling them a bill of goods. My biggest asset is I tell it like it is.”