Washington Prowler

Why Democrats Win

Crafty interference in Oklahoma's Fourth. Also: The Corporation for Clinton Broadcasting.

By 9.3.02

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UNITIY IN KEY MATTERS
Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe talks a great game, but when it comes time to play hardball all his high falutin' rules go out the door.

In criticizing the White House for interfering with Republican races this year, McAuliffe has always insisted that he would never step into a Democratic primary, whether it be House, Senate or otherwise, and dictate who could run and who could not. Let the best man or woman win, the party is stronger for it, he has told audiences asking him why he has not attempted to give stronger candidates an easier time leading into the general election.

McAuliffe has laughed at the messes created by White House meddling in electoral politics: California, Tennessee, New Hampshire. But now that Democrats sense they might actually have a shot at taking back the House of Representatives, McAuliffe and the DNC are breaking their own rules -- albeit acting a lot more subtly than Karl Rove's shop, it would appear.

Last week, very quietly, Oklahoma House hopeful Ben Odom withdrew from the Democratic runoff Thursday, giving his opponent, former state senator Darryl Roberts, a clear shot at taking back the 4th congressional district currently held by retiring Rep. J.C. Watts. Given that Watts is only the second Republican to ever hold the seat, it's a safe bet that Roberts, who finished ahead of Odom in the August 27 primary, now has a clearer shot at winning in November than he did a week ago.

Republicans have nominated former Oklahoma Secretary of State and Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Tom Cole as their candidate.

Polls have been mixed, with Cole having an edge given his up-front selection as Watts's replacement (here, the White House plan to select one candidate to avoid nasty primary fights seems to have worked).

But Odom's sacrifice gives Democrats perhaps their best chance of taking back what before Watts's retirement was considered a very safe Republican seat.

"Roberts will have more cash on hand to run against Cole than he would have had," says a DNC fundraiser, who says that Odom's stepping aside was due in part to national party hints that he'd be given a role in the party down the road. "Nothing specific, but the message was clear that his stepping aside would be a great help to the party. If we take back the House, Odom is a hero."

Odom, for his part, seemed to realize the stakes were high. "Staying in the race would make me a de facto instrument to the Republican Party, which I refuse to do," he said.

Both Roberts and Odom had made fairly serious media buys leading into the run-off, enough that either man would have had to hold fairly major fundraisers immediately after the party victory to re-load for the November race. Now Roberts has pulled those radio and TV spots.

FRONTLINE CLINTON
Now that Bill Clinton's people have re-stoked rumors of the former president's interest in launching his own TV show, public television is wondering why its favorite president hasn't come knocking on its door. According to a producer working for a show funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, several Clinton appointees to the board are attempting to pull together a pitch to lure Clinton into the PBS family.

"They'd love him to do a show for PBS. The local stations would love it, fundraisers would love it, viewers would love it," says the producer. "It just makes a lot of sense. This is the audience that Clinton loves to pander to, wants to influence. To these folks, it's just a perfect fit."

Some of the initial discussion has involved making Clinton the Bill Moyers of the new millennium. "Moyers has kind of run out of steam," says the producer. "He's not the poster boy for PBS the way he was in the 1980s and 1990s."

Clinton would be invited to front at least one special, multi-part show a year, say, on AIDs, one of his pet projects. These eight- to ten-hour specials anchor the national PBS fundraising drives each year. "Can you imagine the kind of corporate underwriting they'd get for it? The foundation money? It would be like PBS hit the lottery," says the producer.

Along with the annual special, Clinton would also have the ability to host a talk show or appear on air in some regular format as he wished. "He wouldn't have to do it every day, maybe only once a week, and he could shoot multiple shows in a day if he wanted," says a fundraiser for PBS in New York. "I could raise millions for that kind of thing."

One impediment to any deal with a syndicator or network is the amount of time Clinton would have to devote to a daily talk show. But his staffers and network hands haven't been too specific about the format being discussed. Clinton has held initial meetings with CNN and CBS about working with them on a project.

The other hangup is the money. Clinton would be looking for a huge pay day to host anything. "PBS could probably raise enough to offer something in the seven figures, and with corporate or foundation underwriting, Clinton could probably clear something in the $10 million range if he really pushed it," says the New York fundraiser.

"It all depends on the subject and how they marketed it." Financial figures for Bill Moyers specials have never been made public, but it's believed that many of his shows -- with companion books and videos -- have earned him income in the high seven, low eight-figure range.

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