Washington Prowler

Specter Fallout

Poisoning Santorum. Plus: The RNC’s young money.

By 1.23.05

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SANTORUM IN TROUBLE
On Friday Republican staffers in a number of Senate offices were holding meetings to discuss how to proceed with Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter and his recent hire, Hannibal G. Williams II Kemerer, who until recently was the NAACP's assistant general counsel. Kemerer was hired by Specter against the advice of senior Republican Judiciary staff and was to serve as a key vetter of Bush Administration judicial nominations. As word of Specter's hiring decision leaked off Capitol Hill, Specter is said to have shifted Kemerer into a job that would not deal with judicial nominations.

"That is not true," says a Judiciary Committee staffer. "Kemerer may have a different stated responsibility, but we've been told he will be working with Specter on judicial nomination issues regardless of what his stated role is supposed to be."

More disturbing than the hiring itself was Specter's willful behavior in hiring the left-wing litigator. "I wish I could say this was a one time, freak event," says another Judiciary Committee aide. "But I don't think I can. We got the distinct impression that Specter is going to continue to hire people like this. If conservatives care, they need to mobilize now. Because it's largely out of our hands."

Midday Friday there were unconfirmed rumors that Specter had spoken with ranking Judiciary Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy about shifting Kemerer into a Democratic staffer slot, but that Leahy was not receptive to the notion.

Beyond an expected backlash against Specter, there was growing concern among aides to Sen. Rick Santorum, who chose not to support then-Rep. Pat Toomey, a conservative, pro-life challenger to Specter in the Pennsylvania Senate primary last year. Instead, Santorum backed Specter, campaigning and fundraising for him, and then openly backing him for Judiciary chairman when that position was in doubt. Santorum is preparing for a tough re-election campaign, and was counting on strong support among Catholics in-state for votes and across the country for fundraising. But Santorum's decision to put politics before core beliefs may now backfire.

On Friday Santorum staffers were meeting with allies to discuss how best to deal with what could become a crisis for the conservative junior Senator from Pennsylvania. Compounding Santorum's Specter problem was word that Robert Casey, Jr., a pro-life Democrat and the son of one of Pennsylvania's most popular politicians, was poised to announce his decision to seek the Democratic Senate nomination.

"To say that Santorum's people are upset does not quite portray what is happening up here," says a Senate leadership staffer. "Without Specter's thumbing his nose at conservatives, Santorum could focus on issues and his candidacy. Now he has to worry about fallout from every step Specter takes."

All of this adds to what appears is going to be a congressional session full of Judiciary issues. Some Judiciary Committee staffers are already looking at the calendar for spring and summer and telling friends and family that they can not make too many plans as they expect there will be a Supreme Court confirmation fight to be dealt with this summer, perhaps into August.

MAIN STREET MAVERICKS
One byproduct of the successful Bush/Cheney campaign fundraising program is the Mavericks group (fundraisers age 40 and under who committed to individually raising $50,000 for BC '04). During inauguration week, a number of Mavericks were in town for the festivities and met on several occasions, including a meeting on Friday afternoon with Bush/Cheney finance chair Jack Oliver and new RNC chairman Ken Mehlman.

The Mavericks are looking to establish some kind of institutional role for the group within the RNC, but one that is more active and influential within the party than other Republican fundraisers. "We don't want to have a title and just fundraise when the party needs the money," says a Maverick. "We want to be active in the party on policy level, on a finance level. We want a seat at the table and to have a voice. It's a bit different from what Ken and the old-line RNC is looking to do, but no one has really tried this, and we have to find a way to make it work."

One thing that is clear is that the Maverick group isn't going away any time soon. Because it raised more than $12 million for Bush (more than $10 million than had been initially budgeted by the campaign), Mehlman and the RNC understand that this group is critical to the party's future growth. Mehlman, according to RNC sources, is looking to use the Maverick program to set up a whole new network of fundraising operations across the country that would support national, state and local Republican candidates. Organizationally, "it would be the first of its kind," says an RNC staffer.

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