Gizzi on Politics February 1, 2010

Berry-ing It In Ark-1
Two weeks after Rep. Vic Snyder (D.-Ark.) announced he was retiring in 2010, the second of the three Democratic House members from Arkansas told reporters that he, too, is calling it quits this year. Marion Berry said last week that he would not seek re-election in the Razorback State’s 1st District. 
At 67 and after 14 years in Congress, Berry (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 39%), like 62-year-old colleague Snyder, had just had enough, people could easily conclude. And, a few wags said, the former Clinton White House staffer was fed up with all the quips about the onetime District of Columbia mayor who went to jail for possession of cocaine. (D.C.’s Marion Barry, however, actually spells his last name with an a.)
But there could be another factor: In the only one of Arkansas’ four U.S. House districts that has never sent a Republican to Congress in the last three decades, Berry was facing his strongest challenge since he was first elected back in 1996. Republican Rick Crawford, who owns a regional agricultural radio network, had been earning high marks for his speaking style and fund-raising prowess. 
With Berry not running, a crowded Democratic primary is likely. State Atty. Gen. Dustin McDaniel would be the strongest candidate, but the betting is he will instead seek re-election this year and run for governor in 2014. In Arkansas, the top law enforcement officer has had excellent success in moving up to the governorship, with the ranks of attorney generals who became governor including Bill Clinton in 1978. 
Three moderate state legislators are considered formidable candidates: State Senators Steve Bryles of Blytheville and Paul Bookout of Jonesboro and State Rep. Keith Ingram from West Memphis. Also seriously eyeing the Democratic primary are former State Senators Tim Wooldridge of Paragould and Kevin Smith of Helena-West Helena.
Although Crawford is in the catbird seat for the Republican primary, this could change. Under former Gov. (1995-2006) Mike Huckabee, Arkansas elected more Republican office-holders than at any time in its history and open offices increasingly have contests for the GOP nomination. Crawford could get a primary challenge from State Sen. Johnny Key from Mountain Home and State Rep. Davy Carter of Cabot (Little Rock suburbs). Both lawmakers, like Crawford, are considered strong conservatives on cultural and economic issues. 

Who’s Your Hoosier Senate Candidate?
Few announcements that a candidate is not running for an office get as much publicity as did that of Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) last week when he said that he would not challenge Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh this fall. 

As chairman of the House Republican Conference and a popular figure at campaign events and on Sunday talk shows, five-termer Pence (lifetime ACU rating: 97%) had been the subject of a boomlet from Washington to Indiana to take on Bayh (lifetime ACU rating: 22%). The “Run, Mike, Run” cries grew louder after a Rasmusssen Poll showed Pence actually defeating Bayh, who has come under fire in the Hoosier State for his votes in favor of the Obama-backed healthcare reform and economic “stimulus” packages. According to the latest Rasmussen survey of likely voters, Pence defeated Bayh by 47% to 44% statewide. 

But after long discussions with supporters and a conference with his wife and three children, Pence finally said no, he would stay in the House.

“It was the toughest political decision of my career,” Pence told me. “But in the end, my family and I decided that my duty was clear: As important as winning a seat in the Senate is, the most important thing is to finish the job that conservatives have begun in the House.” Pence did not, however, rule out running for governor in 2012, when incumbent Republican Mitch Daniels will have to step down after eight years.

 But Bayh is not home free by any means. Conservative former Rep. John Hostettler (lifetime ACU rating: 89%), who has a strong following in his state’s Tea Party movement, had indicated he would run for the Senate even before Pence made his announcement. Hostettler, who served in the House from 1994 to 2006, won conservative hearts by opposing the prescription drug package pushed by the Bush Administration in 2003 and was a major opponent of the “No Child Left Behind” federal education program. 
Also in the GOP race is State Sen. Marlin Stutzman, who farms 4,000 acres in the Michiana area of Indiana and has served in the state legislature ever since he was first elected in 2002 at age 26. Considered one of the most tireless campaigners in either party, Stutzman is also a strong conservative—albeit with stronger ties to the GOP establishment than Hostettler has. 

The same Rasmussen poll that showed Pence defeating Bayh showed the Democratic incumbent edging Hostettler by 44% to 41% statewide and defeating Stutzman by 45% to 33%.

Team Kasich: With the Republican nomination for governor of Ohio a slam dunk for John Kasich, the former U.S. House member (1982-2000) and onetime House Budget Committee chairman, scored a major political coup last week when State Auditor Mary Taylor agreed to be his lieutenant governor running mate.
A strong conservative on fiscal and social issues, Taylor was also the lone Republican to win a statewide office in Ohio during the Democratic sweep of ’06. 
Days before Kasich announced Taylor as his running mate, a poll conducted by the Ohio News Organizations found Kasich defeating Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland by 51% to 45% statewide. 

Greer Out, Thrasher In:  As Republican National Committee members prepared for their winter meeting in Hawaii last week, one significant change came at the helm of the state GOP in Florida. After a clash with party conservatives and allies of former Gov. (1998-2006) Jeb Bush, moderate State Party Chairman Jim Greer threw in the towel and said he would quit the party post. Greer, considered one of the closest political friends of Gov. Charlie Crist, told me while on a family vacation that he would also give up the chairmanship of the RNC Rules Committee “as soon as [RNC Chairman] Michael Steele tells me he has chosen a new chairman.”

The 250-member Executive Committee of the Florida Republican Party was expected to elect conservative John Thrasher, a state senator and former state House speaker, as the new state chairman On February 20. Greer had come under strong fire from the right for endorsing Crist in the Republican U.S. Senate primary over conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. Thrasher is likely to remain neutral in the Crist-Rubio primary, which will be held August 24.

Take a Number to Take On Delahunt: That’s about what Republicans in the Cape Cod-area 10th District of Massachusetts may have to do. In the wake of Scott Brown’s breath-taking win in the January 20 special U.S. Senate race, at least three heavyweight Republicans and two GOP newcomers are lining up to challenge Democratic Rep. William Delahunt (lifetime ACU rating: 4%). Last week, former State Treasurer Joe Malone told reporters he was “moving very quickly toward announcing” against seven-termer Delahunt. Malone was the 1988 GOP nominee against Ted Kennedy for the Senate and lost a bid for governor in 1998. 

State Sen. Robert Hedlund of Weymouth and State Rep. Jeff Perry of Sandwich are also seriously exploring the race. So far the only two announced candidates are political newcomers Don Hussey of Hingham and Ray Kasperowicz of Cohasset. All are considered “center-right” GOPers in the same mold as Brown, who swept the 10th District with about 55% of the vote against Democrat Martha Coakley.