Washington Prowler

Senatorial Peanuts

Georgia Democrats ponder Jimmy Carter. Florida Democrats fear another big loss.

By 1.21.03

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SENATOR PEACE PRIZE
Former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia is publicly mulling a run for the Senate seat being abandoned by retiring Sen. Zell Miller, but the state Democratic Party, clearly in panic mode, is tossing out other names it thinks may be more attractive to state voters. How 'bout former President Jimmy Carter?

"Yeah, it's pretty bad down here. We're reacting like a bunch of amateurs," says a Democratic state party operative. "Unless they offer some kind of award in the Senate that Carter can campaign for, he isn't going to run."

Carter famously campaigned for more than two decades for the Nobel Peace Prize, which he finally won late last year. Carter himself has expressed no interest in running for the Senate. Nor, it should be added, has he said he's not interested. But a draft Carter campaign wouldn't be surprising given the old party war horses the Democrats have had to fall back on of late: Mondale, Lautenberg, even talk of a Mario Cuomo or Gary Hart comeback.

The root of the Carter rumors seems to be comments Carter made to the press in the aftermath of the stunning Republican sweep through Georgia in the last election. The retired peanut farmer complained about the fall campaign's tone and negativity.

"I guess the thinking is that Carter's presence in a race would force a more civil tone, but if this is the best we can do, we're in bad shape," says the party loyalist. "I know we're tearing about looking for anyway to stop the bleeding from November, but a Carter candidacy is ludicrous."

Republicans are lining up for the opportunity to run for Miller's seat. Best known among the rumored potential candidates: former Rep. Bob Barr and current state party chairman Ralph Reed.

Cleland might be in the best position to run on the Democratic side, his grassroots operation having just disbanded, but not so long ago that it couldn't be back and operational in a few months.

SUNSHINE GLOOM
It isn't just in Georgia that Democrats are having problems with the 2004 campaign. In Washington, the DNC is concerned about a possible announcement later this week or early next that Florida Sen. Bob Graham may not run for re-election in order to enter the presidential sweepstakes.

The Graham bid creates problems on two fronts: "Well, we'd have to find another candidate to run down there," says a Democratic National Committee staffer, "and then there's Graham's financial base, which runs across the state. If he's taking money to run for president, he's almost certainly going to be affecting other candidates counting on the same pool of donors for support. If he isn't happy with the candidate [the DNC chooses to back], he could hurt us."

Even more frightening is the name that has been floating down in Florida like a slowly deflating floaty off the Miami shoreline: Janet Reno. "We have to nip that one in the bud," says the DNC staffer. "We can't afford to go through that again. But if Graham goes for the presidency, we go from a seat that is pretty safe to a seat that's up for grabs. When you look at what we're up against, defending another at-risk seat is not what we need this time around."

Despite those concerns, the DNC source said there was no talk of Terry McAuliffe or other party elders stepping up to persuade Graham not to run.

Already, Republican Rep. Mark Foley has been staking out Washington and Florida donors for his possible run for Graham's seat should Graham decide to run for president. Earlier this month, Foley met with a number of lobbyists, laying out his campaign plans should he run for higher office.

DEMOCRATIC FEED
And then there is Kansas, where Democrats, fresh off their upset win in the governor's race there, are looking to duplicate that success in finding a challenger to Sen. Sam Brownback. Brownback won re-election in 1998 with more than 60 percent of the vote, yet the state Democrats feel emboldened by their recent success. So whose name are they dropping as a 2004 challenger? Former U.S. congressman and Clinton Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

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