Gizzi on Politics, Dec. 21, 2009

Gordon Out, Gore Seat Could Go GOP

Three days after Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D.-Hawaii) announced he was resigning to run for governor full-time and less than two weeks after Rep. John Tanner (D.-Tenn.) said he was stepping down after 21 years in Congress, Tanner’s fellow Tennessee Democrat Bart Gordon announced that he, too, was leaving the House after 26 years.  

Within hours, the earlier prophecy to HUMAN EVENTS of Republican Van Hilleary, who represented Tennessee’s neighboring 4th District in Congress from 1994-2002, appeared to be coming true: that if Gordon ever opted not to run, Republicans, who were already gunning for Gordon’s 6th suburban Nashville District, would have the advantage in an open-seat race.

Self-made millionaire and former Rutherford County GOP Chairman LouAnn Zelenik, who had planned to run regardless of what Gordon did, now finds herself in a primary battle. State Sen. Jim Tracy of Murfeesboro has signaled he will also seek the GOP nomination. Both Zelenik and Tracy are considered strong conservatives.  

Incredibly, no heavyweight Democrat has emerged as a major contender so far.

“My guess is that the Democrats in the 6th District will line up behind someone early on and the likely nominee will soon become obvious,” Hilleary told me. “And that has to do with the fact Republicans have done so well in legislative races that a number of the folks who were in the legislature and would have been strong congressional candidates have been defeated already.”  

Although redistricting has changed the make-up of the district over the years, this is essentially the same district that Al Gore held from 1978-84, when he was elected to the Senate and the House seat was won by close family friend and former Democratic State Chairman Gordon. Gore’s father Albert Gore, Sr. had held the district from 1938-52, before beginning his 18-year career in the Senate.

So far, there are no signs that the former Vice President’s son, Albert Gore III, or any of the three daughters of Al and Tipper Gore, are interested in picking up on the family history — not in the 6th District and not in 2010, at least.  

Gilmore Succeeds Weyrich

Eight years after he left the governorship of Virginia and one year after losing a U.S. Senate race in the Old Dominion State, Jim Gilmore is back in the political wars: The board of directors of the Free Congress Foundation has just elected Gilmore president and chief executive officer of the foundation started and run by late conservative activist Paul Weyrich.  

“We will keep the organization going strong and I will be speaking out on key issues,” Gilmore told me, noting that the “leftward move of the Obama Administration necessitates strong conservative voices on the values issues Paul Weyrich championed so forcefully and also, most importantly today, on healthcare, cap and trade and the giant deficits.”

The selection of Gilmore, who also served as a state prosecutor and Virginia attorney general, ends a year of speculation about who would take over the foundation launched by well-known conservative leader Weyrich, who died in December of ’08.  

Paul was perhaps best-known for mobilizing evangelical conservatives and “values voters” into the political mainstream. One longtime Virginia conservative mentioned to me recently that Weyrich was known for holding candidates to rigid standards on the cultural issues and had occasionally criticized fellow Virginian Gilmore for not being pro-life enough.  

“Not everyone agrees on everything within the conservative movement,” Gilmore told me. “And when someone criticized my record on abortion, I would just point to my record on pro-life issues as governor and the appointments I made to the state judiciary. I would say that a fair examination of that record shows I have the best pro-life record of any Virginia governor.”

But Gilmore believes the most serious issues to be addressed by the conservative movement right now deal with spending, taxes, and regulation.

“The current administration is out to run everything from Washington,” he said, “and we have to stop it. That’s the agenda for conservatives today.”

Regarding his own defeat at the hands of Democrat Mark Warner in the Senate race last year, Gilmore said: “I got caught up in the voter rejection of the Bush administration and was running against a candidate who had personal wealth and could raise a lot of money.” But, he added, “those were circumstances limited to ’08. Look what happened in ’09 when Republicans won all three statewide offices in Virginia and gained seats in the state legislature. That’s a turnaround.”  

“I may have lost.  But now, I’m back to help.”
GOP Pick-up in Obama Country?

Although Rep. Neil Abercrombie had said he was running for governor of Hawaii months ago, the very liberal ten-term Democrat still stunned many people last week when he said he would resign his House seat to campaign full-time to succeed termed-out Republican Gov. Linda Lingle in 2010.  

So the first special U.S. House election of 2010 will be held in the 1st District (Honolulu) of the state that claims Barack Obama as a native son. And this is what makes the upcoming contest most interesting: It could well be won by a Republican.

The 1st District is considered the less-Democratic of the two House districts in the Aloha State and, in fact, elected Hawaii’s only Republican House member in its 50-year history as a state: Patricia Saiki, who held the 1st District seat from 1986 until she ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1990.  

As in 1986, the Democrats in the 1st District are set for a bitter primary. State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former 2nd District Rep. Ed Case are the two most important candidates so far. Hanabusa considered a bid for governor earlier this year, but then focused on a race for Congress once Abercrombie made it clear the statehouse was his goal. Case, cousin of AOL tycoon Steven Case, is considered an anti-establishment Democrat. In ’06, after two terms, he gave up his House seat to unsuccessfully challenge veteran Sen. Daniel Akaka for renomination.  

And, also as it was in ’86, Republicans have a first-rate contender: Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou, a former state legislator and minority leader of the Hawaii House of Representatives. The 38-year-old Djou (pronounced “Zhou”), son of Chinese immigrants, has been likened to Louisiana GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal as a first-generation American who has excelled through hard work and study. A graduate of the Wharton School of Finance in Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California Law School, Djou is an adjunct professor at the University of Hawaii’s Law School and a JAG officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.  

“And you could call me a strong conservative on fiscal issues and a moderate on cultural issues,” Djou told me over lunch during a recent trip to Washington. In emphasizing his fiscal conservatism, the GOP hopeful made it clear he was willing to oppose much of what the Democratic Congress has spent money on or wants to spend money on — from the stimulus package to cap and trade to healthcare reform — all favored by Obama (who carried the 1st with 70% of the vote last year).

A Footnote:  The one “glitch” in the 1st District’s holding an early special election could be that the cash-strapped state might not be able to afford it. Last week, State Chief Election Officer Kevin Cronin said that it would cost Hawaii about $2 million to hold a special election and, because of budget constraints, a special election may need to be piggy-backed on the September primary or the November general election, thus requiring only small additional costs.