Ramstad Could Decide to Stay

Posted December 18, 2007 at 6:49pm

Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) is seriously reconsidering his previously announced decision to retire in 2008 and could reverse course and run for re-election, according to Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill familiar with his thinking.

Ramstad announced in mid- September that he would not seek a 10th term in the House. There were reports soon after his announcement that Republican leaders had leaned on him to reconsider.

At the time, Ramstad lamented that he was among a “dying breed” of political moderates in the House.

But on Tuesday, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said Ramstad’s role as one of the “bridge players” — someone who has the ability to work with Members on both sides of the aisle — could be one of the reasons why he is now reconsidering.

“I think he’s thinking about that,” Cole said.

Cole said he has talked to Ramstad, but he doesn’t know what he will ultimately do.

“I hope he is [thinking about running again],” Cole said. “I would be delighted if he did.”

Calls to Ramstad’s office seeking comment for this story Tuesday were not returned.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who is one of Ramstad’s closest friends in the House, said on Tuesday that Ramstad is indeed having second thoughts about his decision to leave the House. Ramstad and Kennedy have been champions of mental health parity legislation and the Rhode Island Democrat said the possibility that Congress could pass the legislation next year was weighing on Ramstad.

“It’s very much impacting his decision,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he felt that Ramstad would feel more comfortable leaving if leadership on both sides of the Capitol would agree to pass the mental health bill through both chambers early in the new year.

Kennedy also asserted that Ramstad has in some regards become a bargaining piece in the debate over passage of the mental health parity bill, citing the fact that Ramstad’s district is expected to be a hotly contested battleground if he sticks to his retirement decision.

“Democrats know that his seat would be in play,” Kennedy said. “He’s a bargaining chip right now. … If Democrats want to pick up a seat, all they need to say very frankly and clearly is ‘we’re going to make this happen.’”

Meanwhile, speculation has swirled that Ramstad might be reconsidering his retirement in light of Rep. Jim McCrery’s (R-La.) recent decision to retire. McCrery’s departure creates an opening for the top Republican slot on the Ways and Means Committee, where Ramstad is a senior member.

However, sources familiar with Ramstad’s thinking said he was reconsidering his retirement well before McCrery made his announcement.

A race for the top GOP slot on Ways and Means already is under way between Reps. Wally Herger (Calif.) and Dave Camp (Mich.) and observers do not see Ramstad as likely to enter the contest if he reverses course. The fact that he comes from a swing district also would make a run for the Ways and Means position difficult, sources said.

However, with musical chairs being played at the committee in the next Congress it is highly plausible that Ramstad could become the top Republican on the Health Subcommittee, a plum post considering his devotion to the mental health issue. Ramstad is currently the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Oversight.

Ramstad likely would need to make a decision fairly soon about whether to re-enter the race back in Minnesota.

Republicans believe if Ramstad runs again, he will win re-election easily and his decision effectively would eliminate what is expected to be a very costly open-seat race to succeed him in suburban Minneapolis.

State Sen. Terri Bonoff is the leading Democratic contender for Ramstad’s seat. State Rep. Erik Paulsen is the main Republican contender and he has been raising money and campaigning.

Meanwhile, at Tuesday’s GOP Conference meeting, Republican leaders announced they had raised an estimated $3 million from Member transfers and pledges this week. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) gave $505,000 and $500,000, respectively.

Camp and Herger, who are vying for the Ways and Means position, also ponied up hefty sums in their effort to show their colleagues how committed they are to the party’s campaign to regain the majority. Camp gave $400,000 to the NRCC while Herger gave $250,000.

McCrery contributed $200,000 while Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.), Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and John Mica (Fla.) each gave $100,000.

“That was our best fundraiser,” Cole said of the morning Conference meeting. “It will help us.”

Indeed, the NRCC now has more cash on hand than debt left over from the previous cycle. At the end of October, the committee showed $2.5 million in the bank and $3.6 million in debt.

Regardless of what Ramstad decides to do, Cole said Tuesday he is confident most of the retirements for this cycle already have been announced.

“There’s still some possibilities out there,” Cole conceded. “Obviously the bulk of them are behind us.”

Cole said he isn’t going to try to talk Members into running again if they really don’t want to be here or have better opportunities elsewhere.

“In the end, Members have to do what makes personal and political sense,” Cole said. “I’m not going to tell people like [New Mexico GOP Reps.] Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce that they can’t go run for the U.S. Senate when there’s the opportunity of a lifetime opening up.”

But, he added, “I wish that one of them wouldn’t.”

Former Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), a moderate who is now a lobbyist on K Street, said he believes at least a half-dozen or more Republican retirements are on the horizon next year, and that many of them may be from swing districts.

Quinn said he has not spoken to Ramstad about his current dilemma, but when he talked to him just after his retirement announcement he said the Minnesotan seemed very comfortable with his decision to leave.

“It’s really difficult. I look at the situation three years removed,” said Quinn, who retired in 2004. “It seems like moderate Members are being marginalized more and more. I think there’s going to be more [retirements].”