Washington Prowler

Soft Summer Politics

A GOP California possibility. Meanwhile, Democrats go home empty -- but might be able to afford their Boston convention next year.

By 7.28.03

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YOU HEARD IT HERE
It's unclear how many Republicans will jump into the race for governor of California, but a lot of people are looking. No one Washington seriously expects former Rep. Jack Kemp to enter the race, however.

"He hasn't shown an interest to run for anything in his entire career other than from defensive linemen and for his safe House seat," says a Washington insider, who knows Kemp. "He wouldn't run for a leadership post in the House when the party needed him. He wouldn't run for Senator in New York or California, when the party needed him. Why do people think he'd run for governor?"

Another name being floated is that of radio talk show host Michael Reagan. A rookie of sorts, Reagan would energize the conservative base that has been looking for a candidate more in line ideologically than the moderate Ah-nold, and more appealing than Rep. Darrell Issa.

SUMMER PLEADING
Before leaving town for the summer recess, members of both House caucuses receive binders full of talking points and issue briefings for use during public appearances during their time back home -- but the briefing books House Democrats were sent home with turn out to be mighty slim. Whereas Republicans were sent off to tout the work and achievements of this session, Democrats were instructed to complain about the Bush Administration's prescription drug plan, the war on terrorism, and unemployment and the weak economy.

"Don't see how those issues help us," says a Democratic member from a Southern state. "The economy is looking better, we didn't have a prescription drug plan and the Republicans did, and we just took out Saddam's kids. This is all pretty weak stuff."

House Democrats complained that there was nothing for them to tout back home, no real Democratic alternatives, no new ideas. "We've got nothing, and we've had nothing for a couple of sessions now," says a House Democratic leadership staffer. "When Gingrich and those guys were backbenchers, they were always pushing ideas, even if they didn't have a chance since we were in control. Now that we're back there, we don't have anything. At some point, something has to give."

CATCHING A BREAK
According to Democratic National Committee staffers in Washington, the DNC has failed to raise the $50 million it says it needs to pull of its national convention in Boston next year.

"We're down; we're not getting the corporate backing we did for Los Angeles three years ago," says a DNC staffer, who puts their total take thus at about $30 million.

DNC boss Terry McAuliffe shouldn't feel too badly, though. Those numbers mirror just about all Democratic fundraising -- House, Senate, presidential, party -- when compared to Republicans. The GOP has outraised the Dems in just about every area, including the national party coffers. Already the Republican Party has raised $60 million of the $65 million it is seeking for its convention in New York next year.

Part of the problem for the Democrats was the soft-money ban imposed by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and enforced by the Federal Election Commission. The Dems are so dependent on the soft money for anything they do, it was killing them in preparing for Boston, especially since their biggest benefactor in all things political, organized labor, was hamstrung on floating big bucks for the convention.

But Democrats caught a break last week when the FEC reversed itself and said that soft money was allowable for convention donations. Its reasoning in part is that corporate and union donations for conventions are made not for overtly political reasons, but to market the entities that contribute. "The FEC ruling should help us a lot," says the DNC source. "But the concern now is will we be robbing Peter to serve Paul. If we take money for the convention, that is money that could have been used for campaigns. The unions don't have bottomless wallets. At least their members don't."

The poor fundraising for the convention is also putting an unwanted spotlight on one of McAuliffe's pet projects, an updating of the DNC's antiquated donor database system. Two years ago, McAuliffe was claiming an updated database with tens of millions of new small donors who would put the party on par with the GOP's successful small donor program.

As it turns out, McAuliffe's lists have been a disaster. The party remains far behind the GOP's donor pool, which is what continues to give Republicans hope that their grassroots programs will again help them pull off victories in the fall of 2004.

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