NIGHTHORSE READY TO RIDE OFF
Rumors are swirling on Capitol Hill that Republican Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell is mulling retirement and may make a decision on that score in the next few months. “We’ve heard he might exit before the November elections, but that he hasn’t set anything in stone,” says a Republican staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which Campbell serves.
Campbell, you’ll recall, entered the Senate in 1992 as a Democrat, then changed over when Republicans won the Senate majority in 1994. In 1998, there were rumors back home in Colorado that Campbell might be considering retirement because he failed to announce early on that he would seek re-election. Known as a free spirit, Campbell won his re-election bid then disappeared for several days on a long motorcycle trip, blowing off press queries about his re-election. He says to anyone who listens that he hates Washington and the culture of Capitol Hill.
But Campbell staffers discount the rumors of retirement, instead saying that Campbell has told the Senate Republican leadership that he is interested in giving up his seat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “He’s very busy with Appropriations and Energy. He wants off one committee, that’s all,” says a personal staffer to the Senator.
Another reason Campbell would avoid retirement: Rep. Scott McInnis, a conservative Republican from Campbell’s old 3rd Congressional District. In 1998 McInnis considered running for the Senate seat that might have opened had Campbell retired, and he has made no bones about how he’d love to serve in the Senate.
His hard-line conservative views and perceived anti-environmental positions are anathema to the moderate Campbell, who is said by staff to be concerned that Colorado Gov. Bill Owens might appoint McInnis to the Senate if a seat opened up. “He’d hate to see McInnis get that seat because of something he did, like retire,” says the Campbell staffer.
Someone apparently seriously mulling early retirement is Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot, who RNC staffers say is fed up with a controlling White House that has made political missteps he advised against. “He wasn’t part of the recruitment of Richard Riordan out in California, but Marc was very upset at how that Republican primary was handled. He pressed for the White House to at least talk to [now Republican nominee] Bill Simon before the primary election, but he was ignored,” says a senior RNC aide. “He’s disenchanted with the job, because he feels he’s been cut out of most of the political decisions. Those are made by others inside the White House and then handed off to the RNC.”
Racicot is also said to have felt he should have been consulted more in the decision to bring Mitt Romney back to run for Massachusetts governor.
Racicot served a governor of Montana from 1993 to 2001 and turned down an RNC request that he run for the Senate. Instead, citing the need to earn money for his family, Racicot joined the Washington office of the law firm of Bracewell & Patterson, where he lobbied for, among other clients, Enron. He is not a full-time RNC chairman. Instead, he continues to work for his firm on a number of different issues, but has said he will not lobby or represent clients before Congress or the White House. “I think he feels torn. He has no desire to work full-time for the RNC, but on the other hand, he took on this role out of personal loyalty and friendship to President Bush. He doesn’t want to let him down,” says another senior RNC adviser.
If Racicot does step aside, almost certainly not before this fall’s mid-term elections, RNC staff expect Deputy Chairman Jack Oliver to be the likely successor due to his ties to Karl Rove. Oliver is credited with the RNC’s improved outreach program to Hispanics.