Washington Prowler

A Katherine Harris Counterpart

Another House rookie eyes Senate run. Plus: The American Association of Republican Persons.

By 11.19.03

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HOUSE WOMEN EYEING SENATE
Republican Rep. Katherine Harris isn't the only newbie House member looking to move up to the Senate quickly. Fellow freshman Rep. Denise Majette (D-Ga.), who knocked off incumbent and conspiracy theorist Cynthia McKinney in the Democratic primary in 2002, is looking at George's open Senate seat up for grabs in 2004.

Harris has been a little less coy about her thinking on the Florida Senate seat soon to be contested with the retirement of Sen. Bob Graham. As recently as Wednesday, she was telling donors and Florida supporters that her decision to enter the race had little to do with the thinking of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, who is being pressured to run by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Karl Rove.

"She think she could beat him in a head to head," says an RNC fundraiser. "I'm not sure that's doable, and saying that, I'm being kind."

Harris, while being popular on the cocktail circuit in Washington, has done little to distinguish herself in the House. She was given a leadership position within the Republican caucus, angering some sophomore members who were passed over for regional "whip" positions. Harris has helped to fundraise for other candidates, and would be able to raise plenty for a statewide campaign. It's unclear if the White House would go out of its way to push her over other Republican contenders. Almost certainly it would press her to step aside should Martinez enter the race.

Majette is another story. Georgia Democrats have failed to find a high profile candidate to run for the seat now held by Sen. Zell Miller. Majette actually won her primary race against a sitting House member by garnering a large Republican vote that was mobilized against McKinney. She then easily won the general against a weak Republican candidate.

"Majette is probably the closest thing to a star we've been able to find," says a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffer. "It's been tough. The state party down there is moribund."

Majette would almost certainly require a huge infusion of cash to make the run a possibility, something the Democratic Party on a national level does not want to do, particularly with high profile Senate races in Florida, North Carolina and possibly in California to worry about.

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF REPUBLICAN PERSONS
Democrats on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail were stunned when their friends at AARP turned around and threw their support behind the Bush administration's healthcare reform package. While the AARP's advertisement that will go national later this week highlights that the bill isn't "perfect," the group's support was a huge blow to the Democrats. "We never dreamed that it would get to this point, where we would lose AARP," says a Democratic leadership staffer. "We knew they were being hit hard by the White House and by Republicans, but we had no idea they were that receptive to the attention."

In the hours after the AARP board approved its support of the Bush Medicare reform package, Sen. Tom Daschle was taking heat from colleagues for dropping the ball. But the AARP endorsement had less to do with Democratic ball-dropping and more to do with a pretty good Republican game plan.

From the beginning, AARP was made to feel part of the process. Republican House and Senate leadership made a point of briefing AARP lobbyists on their plans, accepted AARP feedback and moved on it.

"In essence, we treated AARP as though it was a Democratic senator whose vote we desperately needed on a bill," says a Republican Senate leadership staffer. "The White House did the same. This was a classic Bush play."

Democrats, though, were jumping into action, trying the queer the deal. According to several House Democrats, the party has been reaching out to state and local AARP organizations, pressing them to push back hard against the national organization to withdraw its support of the bill. Stay tuned.

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