Blunt Words on the Leadership Race

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Is a DeLay ally what the House GOP needs? hide caption

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Eugene McCarthy spent much of the 1976 campaign fighting Democrats who tried to keep him off the ballot. hide caption

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Thirty years ago today, Jimmy Carter wins the Iowa caucuses, the first big step on the road to the White House. hide caption

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Q: I'm not so sure, as you claim in your [Jan. 11] column, that Roy Blunt is the frontrunner to succeed Tom DeLay as House majority leader. He was DeLay's hand-picked candidate for whip. The Democrats will eat us alive if a DeLay clone becomes the new majority leader. — Richard Prescott, Washington, D.C.

A: I wouldn't call Blunt (R-MO) a "DeLay clone." There are major differences between the two — in style, effectiveness and temperament. No one, in either party, was able to round up votes on the House floor like DeLay. Also, Blunt doesn't come close to the fundraising prowess once exhibited by DeLay. At the same time, Blunt is not feared by his GOP colleagues. He hasn't alienated them with strong-arm tactics. Though a solid conservative, I don't see him as the type who would associate the party with a Terri Schiavo-like cause. And, to finish off the comparisons, he is not under indictment.

You are correct in saying that he came to power thanks to DeLay. Not long after he was elected to a second term in 1998, Blunt was named by then-Whip DeLay as his chief deputy whip, and has risen rapidly through the ranks ever since. I see him as the frontrunner because as whip, he was always in the perfect position to step in and take over in the likelihood that DeLay fell from grace. More than one House Republican has told me in the past week or so that Blunt deserves the promotion because of his ability to listen and bring various sides together.

But there are concerns. His ties to K Street are well known; in fact, he left his first wife of 31 years to marry Abigail Perlman, a Philip Morris lobbyist, in 2003. If lobbying and lobbyists are the new dirty words on Capitol Hill, many are asking, What message do the Republicans send by elevating Blunt? If this — scandals involving DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, et al. — is the greatest threat to the GOP majority since the party took over in 1995, does electing Blunt change the equation in any way? (Is it overkill to point out that Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt have the same number of letters in their names? I couldn't resist.)

Blunt's chief rival, House Education and the Workforce Committee chair John Boehner (R-OH), is not exactly a fresh face. He was part of the Gingrich leadership team that fell in 1998, and he has been plotting a comeback ever since. Maybe he's an new old face. Whatever, I suspect that if he wins it would send a signal of sorts that the status quo is not acceptable. I would expect him to get the votes of many who have clashed with DeLay in the past. But, as I asked in the Jan. 11 column, would Boehner — who has plenty of lobbyist connections of his own — be enough of a change?

The third candidate in the race is someone who is clearly not part of the old or current leadership: Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ). A late entry, Shadegg, who vacated the chairmanship of the Republican Policy Committee to make the race, is far more of a "movement" conservative (more fiscal than social) than either Blunt or Boehner. But Shadegg is not going to be the next majority leader. Some express concern that by pushing a "throw the bums out" message, he may be sullying the entire Republican leadership. Still, it will be interesting to see how many votes he picks up when the 231 House Republicans vote on Feb. 2.

Finally, regarding the last part of your note, that the Democrats will "eat the Republicans alive," I wonder. Watching them offer their counter-proposal on lobbying reform and trying to make political points at the same time at a Wednesday ceremony, I did not come away impressed.

Q: In your Sept. 12, 2005, column, you gave your predictions on the John Roberts vote in the Senate. Will you please do the same with Samuel Alito? — John Yuengling, West Norton, Pa.

A: Let's see if I can get it closer than I did with Roberts. I expected more Democratic opposition to Roberts than there actually was. I said the final vote would be 71-29 in favor, but it turned out to be 78-22.

The feeling from Day One was that there would be more "no" votes cast against Alito than there were for Roberts. One reason is that liberal special interest groups gave Democratic senators hell for what they saw as timid questioning of Roberts. Plus, there was far more of a paper trail on Alito and his views on such hot-button issues as abortion than there was with Roberts. And finally, Roberts succeeding the late William Rehnquist was, ideologically, a wash. Alito replacing the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, a classic swing vote, is another story.

Still, we're within a week of the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote on Alito, and perhaps a week more until a full Senate vote, and things seem strangely familiar. Democrats on Judiciary tried and tried to throw Alito off his game, but they ultimately failed. When committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein (CA), a strong abortion-rights advocate and probable vote against Alito, said she saw no "likelihood" of a filibuster against the nomination, the left was aghast. Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called Feinstein's comments "disturbing" and said it was "worrisome" that Democrats weren't tougher on the judge. That seems to be the state of the pro-choice forces on Capitol Hill these days.

The Judiciary Committee is made up of 10 Republicans and eight Democrats, and I think that's how the vote will break down next Tuesday. Full Senate prediction: 63-37 in favor of Alito.

Q: I think it's fascinating that with all his badgering of Samuel Alito about discrimination and the clubs he may have belonged to while at Princeton, Teddy Kennedy belonged to a Harvard social club that discriminated against women. Typical Democratic hypocrisy! — Michael Reed, Arlington, Va.

A: One difference, of course, is that Kennedy is not a nominee for the United States Supreme Court. Still, your question takes me back to the 1989 Senate confirmation hearings of John Tower, who was the choice of the first President Bush to be secretary of defense. Tower's nomination was rejected by the Senate on the basis that he was (a) a heavy drinker, (b) a womanizer and (c) too close to the defense industry and its lobbyists. And I remember thinking at the time with bemusement that senators, of all people, were criticizing Tower for these faults.

Q: In all of the tributes regarding Eugene McCarthy, I have not heard anyone talk of the role he might have played in the 1976 election. For reasons I cannot recall, McCarthy was kept off the ballot as an independent in New York. Had he been on the ballot, he likely would have taken many votes from Jimmy Carter, and President Gerald Ford would have won the state. And if Ford had carried New York, he would have had enough electoral votes to win the 1976 election. — Stephen Dennis, Kansas City, Mo.

A: The actions taken by Democratic Party officials to prevent McCarthy's independent presidential candidacy from reaching state ballots in 1976 are very similar to what happened to Ralph Nader in 2004. The reasons are the same: Both candidates would take most of their votes away from the Democratic presidential nominees. In the case of New York in 1976, for example, the legal counsel for the Democratic State Committee led the drive to challenge McCarthy's petitions to keep him off the ballot. But it's not clear that McCarthy's presence on the ballot would have given the state to Ford. Carter carried New York that year by nearly 289,000 votes — a larger margin than any state other than Georgia and Massachusetts. There's no indication McCarthy would have come close to that total. But, for argument's sake, if Ford did carry New York, he would have won the election. And Democratic officials in New York were not willing to take the chance. McCarthy didn't raise that much money in '76, but much of what he did raise was spent on ballot drives and court battles.

McCarthy's largest vote total was the 65,000-plus he won in Massachusetts, and his largest percentage was the 3.9 percent he got in Oregon. Nationally, he finished with 751,000 votes, just under 1 percent of the vote.

Q: Who would have been vice president if McCarthy had won the 1976 election? I've read that William Clay Ford at one point agreed to run but then later withdrew his name. Isn't having a running mate required in order to gain ballot access in some or all of the states? — Mike Dowling, West Palm Beach, Fla.

A: Yes, some states do require a vice-presidential running mate to gain access to the ballot. In 1968, George Wallace, because of some states' early filing deadlines, named former Georgia Gov. Marvin Griffin as a "stand-in" running mate for his third-party presidential candidacy; Griffin later gave way to Curtis LeMay. Now that I think of it, I don't recall anything ever said about any McCarthy running mate in '76.

Perhaps this is why: McCarthy, during the campaign, expressed his disdain with running mates and at one point said he favored the elimination of the office altogether. He said, "Vice-presidential candidates just clutter up the campaign. We should not ask the country to make two judgments. Everyone knows vice presidents have no influence on presidents once elected. Presidents' wives have much more influence. Perhaps we should have candidates' wives debate." (An interesting thought from someone who worked to become Lyndon Johnson's running mate in 1964.)

I had completely forgotten what the deal was with McCarthy and his ticket mate; fortunately, Richard Winger, the editor of Ballot Access News in San Francisco, reminded me of what happened. McCarthy decided to have a different running mate for nearly every state ballot! And none of these folks were political household names; most were just local McCarthy supporters. For example, in Missouri, his running mate was one Marlene K. Barrett of St. Louis. In Kentucky, it was Rollie Bartlett of Paducah. In Nebraska, it was Phyllis Paine of Omaha. And so on. (One fun fact: in Florida, Mississippi and Texas, the running mate was Sharon Stone Kilpatrick, who was the daughter-in-law of conservative columnist James Jackson Kilpatrick.)

And to think some people called McCarthy quixotic!

Q: A mistake in your Jan. 11 column. Rep. Charles Halleck (R-IN) was not the GOP whip when he ousted Joe Martin as leader in 1959; he was the former majority leader under Martin during the two Congresses in which Republicans controlled the House. Rep. Les Arends (R-IL) held the whip job for many years while the other Republican leaders rotated around him. — Matt Pinkus, Silver Spring, Md.

A: You are correct. When Halleck unseated Martin, he held the unofficial title of "assistant leader." That title is often a synonym for whip, but that was not the case with Halleck. By the way, Halleck — who chaired the House Republican campaign committee from 1943-46 — was on the "short list" for vice president in both 1948 (when Thomas Dewey instead picked California Gov. Earl Warren) and 1952 (when Dwight Eisenhower instead picked California Sen. Richard Nixon).

This Day in Campaign History: Nearly a year of hard work pays off for former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, who outpolls every other Democrat in the Iowa presidential caucuses. Carter trailed only "uncommitted." Finishing behind him were, in order, Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, ex-Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris, Rep. Morris Udall of Arizona, 1972 VP nominee Sargent Shriver, and Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington. It is the first step for Carter, who went from "Jimmy who?" to the Democratic presidential nomination (Jan. 19, 1976).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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