Senate Jeopardy

Posted January 16, 2004 at 6:04pm

Tom Walsh, a former top aide to Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), has set the record for most consecutive wins on the game show “Jeopardy” — snagging a cool $184,900 along the way.

Thanks to the recent elimination of a rule prohibiting contestants from winning for more than five

consecutive days, Walsh became reigning champ for a record seven straight episodes.

Walsh, who spent eight years advising Grassley on health care and Medicare on the Finance panel, was thrilled by the experience of appearing on the show with millions of viewers.

“It was an absolute blast, and it would have been a blast even if I didn’t win,” Walsh told HOH. “It’s nerve-racking, but it’s also fun.”

Walsh, who was in the lead heading into Final Jeopardy for eight straight games, was tripped at the end of the eighth episode when asked to name the nation that has the longest coastline on the African continent and borders the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. He scribbled down Ethiopia, but it was Somalia.

“I’m just lucky it came up in my eighth game instead of the first,” he said. “There’s such a fine line between winning and losing in the game.”

Since he’s now a freelance writer living in D.C., Walsh plans to live on some of his winnings. But he has an altruistic plan for the rest: “I’m going to give away a lot to Third World organizations that help really poor people.”

Lieberman Could … Go … All … the … Way. ESPN anchor Chris Berman’s decision to endorse Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) presidential campaign has sparked a nice little battle between “The Swami” and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Kerry spokesman David Wade claimed to HOH that Berman predicted at the beginning of the NFL season that the Buffalo Bills would win the Super Bowl. They finished with a horrible record and their coach was sacked.

Noting that Berman’s gridiron prediction doesn’t look so good now, Wade added of the Lieberman endorsement: “I thought for sure The Swami would know that even Pete Rose wouldn’t make that bet.”

Reached at his office in Bristol, Conn., Berman told HOH he was “honored that someone as esteemed as Senator Kerry would come out and rebut my statement” and he thought Wade’s quip was pretty funny.

But Berman noted one big problem: While he has traditionally picked the Bills and San Francisco 49ers to face off in the Super Bowl, this season he predicted the New England Patriots vs. the Philadelphia Eagles, so Kerry’s “campaign staff better get their facts straight.”

“I’m sure they’ll button it up next time,” Berman teased. “They made a mistake. I won’t hold it against them.”

As for whether he caught any flack from ESPN management for issuing an endorsement, Berman responded, “No — not yet. They were probably caught on the on-ramp when I was in the passing lane.”

Berman explained that as one of Lieberman’s constituents, he has consistently voted for the Senator and has been impressed with the way the lawmaker has “handled the public’s trust” and feels that he has every right to make his preference known.

The Swami also confessed to some Senatorial ambitions of his own. “There was a time when I was growing up when I wanted to be a Senator,” he said. “You get to run every six years. I never wanted to be president. [Being a Senator is] a pretty good job.”

HOH noted that if Lieberman wins the White House, there will be an open seat in Berman’s home state, but he quickly suggested that his dream has died: “Let’s not get carried away.”

All Downhill From Here? Facing an uphill battle to take back control of the House, Democrats were hoping to begin the second session of the 108th Congress on a positive note with a fundraising weekend earlier this month at the swank Sonnelap resort in Aspen, Colo.

But the troops returned to Washington looking a bit like the walking wounded: A young skier crashed into Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), who wound up with a nasty shiner on one eye. And Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) brought along a younger sister, Martha Cannady, who got stuck in the hospital for a few days and faced a few hours of surgery after breaking her leg in two places.

Cannady is the middle sister of the two Sanchez sisters in Congress. “She’s supposedly the best skier of the three,” joked Carrie Brooks, spokeswoman for Loretta Sanchez.

Maloney spokesman Afshin Mohamadi told HOH that his boss was not to blame. “She is, by the way, an excellent skier,” he said. “Some kid, who was skiing recklessly, cut across” and knocked her over.

Mohamadi stressed that the lawmaker will be “rested and ready to go for another year of legislative battle.”

But since the fundraiser was organized by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, all of these injuries could be an ominous sign in the drive to take back the majority.

But Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), tried to put a positive spin on the mishaps: “Democrats are playing hard and they’re playing to win.”

Family Time. Ranit Schmelzer, longtime communications director for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), has decided that it’s finally time to leave the Capitol Hill grind.

With a second child on the way in a few weeks, Schmelzer wants to find a job with a more predictable schedule.

“When your 2-year-old says for the umpteenth time, ‘Momma, it’s your BlackBerry again,’ you know something has got to give,” Schmelzer told HOH.

Daschle has already tapped Todd Webster to serve as his new communications director. After her maternity leave, Schmelzer will stay on as a consultant until the end of the year.

Nunes Gets Hitched. Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) were among the pols who turned out for the Jan. 4 wedding of freshman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Nunes married Elizabeth Tamariz, a schoolteacher, at a Catholic church in his district. The 30-year-old lawmaker had the Rev. Daniel Coughlin, the House Chaplain, help officiate with Monsignor Richard Urizalqui.

Urizalqui joked to the crowd of 700 at the church that a Congressman is most quiet during his vows, according to the Visalia Times Delta, while Nunes’ top aide, Johnny Amaral, told the paper: “He’s known for a long time that she was the one.”

Must-See TV. One great place to watch the upcoming Super Bowl might be the newly refurbished office of House GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio).

A pricey plasma TV was just delivered to the Cannon office where Pryce has merged her previously scattered leadership and personal offices. “I’m sure the taxpayers would appreciate that a Member is spending thousands of dollars on getting a nice, clear picture of C-SPAN,” cracked one insider.

But Pryce spokesman Greg Crist noted that the stylish television was a necessary expense since the Conference is in charge of communications operations for the GOP leadership. The TV might even be put on some wheels so it can be taken to important meetings.

Crist added that the Conference is known for being frugal with its VCRs, which are 7 or 8 years old. “A couple of them don’t even rewind,” he said. “They just play.”

He also pointed out that the Conference arranged for 660 appearances on network and cable television programs in 2003. “Critics should stop worrying about what kind of TVs Republicans have and start worrying about the fact that we are consistently on a lot more of them than Democrats,” he said.

Homeland In-Security. Homeland Security officials appear to be asleep at the switch — as well as the switchboard — these days.

The House Homeland Security Committee recently uncovered the fact that U.S. Park Police officers failed miserably when inspectors placed a suspicious black plastic bag near the Washington Monument to test response time to an incident. One officer was caught napping.

But then HOH called the Homeland Security Department and twice found this recording: “Due to the high level of interest in the new department, all of our lines are busy. However, your call is important to us and we encourage you to call back soon.”

What if someone was calling in to report an emergency? Tom Ridge, call your office — if you can get through.

Gold Standard. Senate insiders have bid adieu to Martin Gold, an expert on floor procedure who will be missed by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

Gold was wooed out of the private sector by Frist for a year. After a series of victories against the odds in the closely divided chamber, Gold has been named a partner at Covington & Burling.

“He will be greatly missed for his expertise and easy going manner,” Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson told HOH. “There’s not a nicer guy in Washington.”

“Of course,” Stevenson added with a laugh, “that’s a fairly low threshold.”