Democrats in Washington and Pennsylvania apparently are putting winning above pleasing leading financial supporters and ideologues. Late Thursday, less than a day after announcing she would challenge Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey, Jr. for the Democratic Senate nomination, former state treasurer and Allegheny county commissioner Barbara Hafer pulled out of the primary race.
Hafer had received political backing from Democratic financial backers EMILY'S List and the National Organization for Women, and she was expected to press ahead, at least for a time, despite warnings from Democratic Senate leaders Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer. EMILY's List, in fact, had sent two Washington-based staffers up to Pennsylvania to open a campaign office for Hafer.
Schumer, according to a source on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, placed a call to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell early Thursday, and Rendell and Hafer spoke later in the day. Rendell owes Hafer politically, after she endorsed him for governor while she was still a Republican. (Hafer switched parties two years ago.)
According to the DSCC source, Rendell offered Hafer little beyond a promise that if senior Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter were to leave office, he would back her as the replacement. Hafer was angered by the Rendell power play, telling supporters that he refused to explain why he was backing a candidate who differed with him on issues critical to the Democratic Party.
"We have a pro-choice governor backing a pro-life candidate," says an EMILY'S List staffer in Washington. "Beyond wanting to win something for a change, it doesn't make sense, and it certainly isn't good for the party."
Hafer, according to the DSCC source, had sought to speak to DNC chairman Howie Dean, but her call went unreturned. "This was a Senate matter, handled by the Senate leadership," says a DNC staffer. "This wasn't the kind of thing to get into the middle of."
Rendell also did the dirty deed for Schumer and Reid with former Rep. Joe Hoeffel, who lost to Arlen Specter in 2004, and was mulling another Senate run. In the case of Hoeffel nothing had to be promised, by all accounts, since he had little support from the state party, and no support from the DSCC.
State polls showed Hafer and Hoeffel losing badly to incumbent Rick Santorum head to head. Casey has a slight edge over Santorum, but that lead is thought to be due more to the heavy polling done around Philadelphia, with lighter response in the Pittsburgh area where Santorum has his base.
Santorum is already gearing up. Last week he held a high profile Senate conference on faith-based initiatives that put a spotlight on an issue in which he has taken a leadership role. That meeting got wide play in Pennsylvania.
For the Democrats' part, both NOW and EMILY'S list have let Schumer and Reid know how unhappy they were with Hafer's treatment. Both men claimed to know nothing about the strong-arm tactics, and said it was Rendell's decision and a state party matter.
SPECTER'S FRESH DIMPLE
Republicans and conservatives around Washington cheered the hiring by Sen. Arlen Specter for hiring to the Judiciary Committee former Justice Department lawyer, Dimple Gupta. Gupta, a 26-year old graduate of Harvard Law School, was a leading member of its Federalist Society chapter, and earned a reputation in conservative legal circles for co-authoring an article in the Harvard Journal on Law and Public Policy (not Harvard Law Review, as has been reported elsewhere) on how Republicans could use Senate parliamentary rules to impose the so-called "nuclear option" on filibusters.
Gupta, according to Specter and committee spokespeople, is going to lead the committee's judicial nomination process. But Judiciary staffers dispute Specter's portrayal. "She was hired to get the conservatives off our backs," says a Judiciary staffer. "She's bright, but she's young. She isn't going to be leading anything."
Specter has been under heavy heat from just about everyone lately. White House Counsel Harriet Miers has been pressing Specter to move quickly on the President's renominations of previously filibustered judicial nominees. Meanwhile, Specter has been meeting privately with Democratic leaders. Specter attempted to explain those meetings as negotiations to break the Democratic threats of future filibusters over judicial nominations. But Democrats say the meetings were less about negotiating, than about the liberal Republican chairman briefing Senate leader Harry Reid on the perceived strategies of conservative Republican Judiciary Committee members.
"Specter wants this to go away," says a Republican Senate leadership staffer. "On one side he has the White House and conservatives making his life miserable. On the other, he has Democrats putting pressure on him to give them a greater voice in the process on the committee. He's just up against it."
GOING TO THE MATTRESSES
Much was made of a seeming face-off between Sens. Harry Reid and John Kerry last week during a Democratic Senate caucus meeting. Kerry, according to sources at the luncheon, called out Reid for failing -- in his view -- to move aggressively against President Bush and Senate Republicans. Kerry called on a Reid to set up what amounted to a campaign and opposition research strike force to counter the GOP. Reid shot back that he had already done that -- three months ago.
Press reports portrayed the exchange as the first noticeable conflict between the two men who believe they should be running the Democratic Party. But according to Reid staffers, Kerry has been a pest to the minority leader ever since the man from Massachusetts lost the presidential race.
"He has been sending the boss memos and calling him it seems like all the time. He loves that cell phone," says a Reid staffer of Kerry. "At some point you have to stop showing this guy deference and just get back to work. Kerry wasn't interested in any of this before he started running for president. Now after six months and losing Senator Reid is just going to roll over and let this guy get involved in stuff he has no right to be involved in? No way."
Reid is said to have told advisers that he rues the day he agreed to sit down with Kerry and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi soon after Kerry's election loss. That photo-op, in which Reid was essentially pushed aside by Kerry, created a public impression that Kerry was somehow now moving into legislative and political leadership roles. In fact, the meeting was nothing but a courtesy to a man whom Reid and Pelosi were attempting to buck up.
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