WASHINGTON: State Lawmakers, Parties Still Feuding on Primary

Posted March 9, 2004 at 5:47pm

It seems as if the political parties and state lawmakers are determined to play chicken with the state’s Congressional and local primary system.

Lawmakers have been struggling with how to replace the state’s outlawed blanket primary — in which voters could select candidates from any party on one ballot — ever since a federal court ruled it unconstitutional and the Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal last month.

Democratic, Republican and Libertarian party officials sued to kill the blanket primary in 2000, arguing that it trammeled their First Amendment rights to free association and won.

Since then, three main alternatives have been floated — one party leaders like, one they could live with and one they hate.

Just a week ago, it seemed a compromise had been reached and everyone would walk away happy, said Suzanne Tomlin, spokeswoman for the Washington Republican Party.

Then state lawmakers — who are set to adjourn Thursday — adopted a “top two” system styled on Louisiana’s free-wheeling primary and threw the compromise out the window, she said.

The top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the general election under the plan, which party leaders detest.

The Senate did its will last week and the House followed suit Monday. The House version includes a backup plan in case the parties sue again — which is likely.

In that case, under the House plan, an open primary would take effect. The parties prefer that voters register and select only candidates from one party’s slate. The contingency plan does not include party registration.

If the Senate signs off on the House bill, all eyes will turn to Gov. Gary Locke (D). Locke has not used the “V” word but issued a “pretty bold statement” against the Cajun — or Top Two — plan, Tomlin said.

Locke has said he fears a Cajun primary would continue the cycle of litigation and supported a modified Montana plan, as it is called, that satisfies the parties.

Both parties have vowed to end-run primary voters and select nominees through caucuses and nominating conventions if the state insists on holding a Cajun primary.

That could produce two nominees of the same party for the same office — one chosen by party delegates and one by primary voters.

In light of the fluid situation, Republicans were moving ahead with their caucuses Tuesday night. Delegates to GOP county conventions were scheduled to be selected who would then move on to a state convention, where the official party nominee would be selected this summer, Tomlin said.

Democrats have said their state committee would select party standard-bearers if a Cajun primary is held.

— Nicole Duran

Cheney Helps Thune Campaign Raise $250K

Vice President Cheney raised $250,000 for the Senate campaign of former Rep. John Thune (R) on Monday night.

“You’ll never hear John Thune say one thing in South Dakota and something else in Washington, D.C.,” said Cheney, hitting on what is expected to be a major line of attack by Thune in his race against Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D).

The Cheney event was the first major fundraiser of the cycle for Thune, who only formally entered the race in January.

He faces a significant task in matching Daschle’s fundraising pace; the South Dakota Senator had $3.9 million in the bank at the end of 2003.

Daschle has said repeatedly that he expects to raise and spend $10 million on the race; Thune’s budget is closer to $6 million.

Although Thune entered the contest late, observers on both sides of the aisle expect an extremely close race given the state’s Republican lean and Thune’s near-miss Senate candidacy last cycle.

In that race, Thune lost to Sen. Tim Johnson (D) by just 524 votes, the closest margin of any of the 34 Senate contests on the ballot.
—Chris Cillizza

GOP Calls Herseth’s Big Apple Trip Rotten

Attorney Stephanie Herseth (D) traveled to New York City on Tuesday for a breakfast fundraiser hosted by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), a trip that was immediately attacked by state and national Republicans.

Herseth is the Democratic nominee in the state’s June 1 special election and will face off against state Sen. Larry Diedrich (R).

The event, which was billed on the invitation as “A Woman’s Place in the House,” was organized by Maloney; former New York Rep. Liz Holtzman (D) was one of 10 co-chairwomen.

Herseth has already raised more than $800,000 for the race; Diedrich has brought in more than $400,000, according to informed sources.

Republicans immediately attacked Herseth for her ties to Maloney, who they contend is significantly more liberal than the conservative-minded South Dakota voters.

“You can learn a lot about a candidate by the friends they keep,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti.

Kori Bernards, Forti’s Democratic counterpart, retorted: “Given the almost $600,000 ad buy Republicans made today Stephanie Herseth needs to do all she can to defend herself against their attacks.”

Both Herseth and the NRCC have TV ads running. Herseth holds a clear lead over Diedrich at this point due in large part to positive name identification from her 2002 race against former Rep. Bill Janklow (R).

Janklow resigned the seat in January after being convicted of second-degree manslaughter for his role in an August 2003 automobile accident that left a motorcyclist dead.
— C.C.

Polls Showing Obama, Ryan Leads for Senate

A new poll released Tuesday in the Illinois Senate race shows clear frontrunners have emerged in both parties’ crowded fields with less than a week to go before primary day.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Barack Obama surged to an outright lead in the latest Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll.

Obama got 33 percent in the poll, ahead of state Comptroller Dan Hynes, who got 19 percent, and millionaire securities trader Blair Hull, who had 16 percent.

Hull, who has poured more than $29 million in personal funds into the race, had surged to the lead in the last Tribune/WGN poll conducted three weeks ago. But he has seen his support drop after the release of divorce documents unleashed a storm of controversy amid allegations that he verbally and physically abused his then-wife as their marriage deteriorated.

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico, who are also seeking the Democratic nomination, polled 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

The latest poll also shows a significant decline in undecided voters. In the poll taken three weeks ago, roughly one-third of Democrats were undecided, a number that shrunk to 16 percent in the latest survey.

The survey of 602 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted March 3-6 by Market Shares Corp.

On the Republican side, millionaire investment banker turned teacher Jack Ryan continues to hold a double-digit lead over his primary opponents. Ryan, who has also been plagued with questions about sealed portions of his divorce file, got 32 percent in the latest Tribune/WGN survey.

The poll showed that Ryan, who has spent more than $4.7 million from his own pocket on the race, has not been been harmed by the divorce controversy in the same way Hull has.

Among the other leading GOP contenders, dairy magnate Jim Oberweis had 10 percent, businessman Andy McKenna had 10 percent, state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger had 8 percent, and retired Gen. John Borling had 2 percent. Still, 35 percent of those surveyed were undecided, an indication that the race remains volatile in the final weeks. The survey polled 580 likely GOP voters and had a margin of error of 4 percent.
— Lauren W. Whittington

Redistricting Reform Will Pass, Costa Predicts

Ted Costa, the father of the Golden State term-limits movement and the mastermind of the 2003 recall of ex-Gov. Gray Davis (D), is taking his push for redistricting reform on the road next week.

Costa and his allies, including some legislators and Members of Congress, hope to change the way House and legislative boundaries are drawn in the hopes of making more districts up for grabs. Few of California’s 53 Congressional districts are even remotely competitive now.

Costa, whose Sacramento-based political organization People’s Advocate Inc. is circulating petitions to get a redistricting question on the statewide ballot in November, is trying to drum up support for the measure from editorial boards around the state.

Costa said he is heartened that the liberal San Jose Mercury News has embraced redistricting reform — despite the fact that he and most of the leaders of People’s Advocate are hard-core conservatives. He predicted that the measure, which would take Congressional and legislative redistricting away from the Legislature and put it in the hands of a nonpartisan three-judge panel, would pass after failing a few times in the 1980s and ’90s.

“Sometimes these things take time,” Costa said.
— Josh Kurtz

Isakson Uses Collins’ Attack for Fundraising

In the GOP showdown for the Peach State’s Senate nomination, Rep. Johnny Isakson (R) has wasted little time using the first negative attack from Rep. Mac Collins (R) to help pad his campaign coffers.

Last month, Collins released a Web ad criticizing Isakson’s record on abortion and touting himself as the only candidate in the Senate race who is “100 percent pro-life.”

But in a new fundraising pitch, Isakson touts his legislative record and asks GOP donors to invest in his campaign in order to help him respond to the negative attacks yet to come.

“Unfortunately, one of my opponents has already begun a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign of false and misleading advertising,” Isakson wrote to donors. “Such negative campaigning only divides our party and helps the Democrats win in November.”

And, in true over-the-top fundraising pitch form, the letter also implores donors to contribute to Isakson’s campaign because the seat is a top target for Democrats.

“We know all too well that Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and the National Democratic Party have targeted this seat, and we want to do everything we can to see that it returns to a Republican,” Isakson wrote.

In actuality, Democratic hopes of fielding a top candidate in the race are at this point considered unrealistic. So far, little-known state Sens. Mary Squires and Nadine Thomas are the only announced Democrats running to replace retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D). The state has an April 30 filing deadline.
— L.W.W.

2 GOP Members Back Webster’s Senate Bid

State Sen. Daniel Webster got the endorsement of Sunshine State GOP Reps. Tom Feeney and Dave Weldon this week in his bid to win the state’s GOP Senate primary.

In making the endorsement, both lawmakers credited Webster for helping build the state party, and they praised him as the best candidate in the race from an ideological standpoint.

“Probably in the past 10 years, the most important person in terms of transforming the Republican Party in Florida politics has been [Gov.] Jeb Bush [R],” Webster said. “But if you look back for 20 years, it clearly has been Dan Webster.”

Feeney considers Webster, a former state House Speaker, his mentor.

Feeney was also state Speaker of the House before being elected to Congress in 2002.

The man who currently holds that post, state House speaker Johnnie Byrd (R), is also in the Senate race.

While Byrd doesn’t have any Congressional endorsements, other Sunshine State Members are taking an active role in the race.

Rep. Mark Foley, who at one point was in the race, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have endorsed former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, who entered the race at the urging of national Republicans and is widely viewed as the White House favorite.

GOP Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart have endorsed former Rep. Bill McCollum, the Republican Senate nominee in 2000.

Former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith (R) and Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman are among the other Republicans in the crowded race.
— L.W.W.