Washington Prowler

The Whistling Dixiecrat

New GOP rumblings about Trent Lott. Plus: The GOP's absentee margin.

By 12.11.02

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LOTT HANGS ON
Fearing that his own Republican caucus would in fact rise up against him, Republican Senate leader Trent Lott made a third mea culpa on Wednesday, further distancing himself from his own comments. As word spread throughout Capitol Hill that some conservative Republicans were mulling going public with a rebuke of Lott, the Mississippi senator's office began calling TV networks and prominent print reporters on Wednesday morning to say that Lott was prepared to again apologize for remarks he made last week at a 100th birthday fête for Sen. Strom Thurmond.

While Lott was apologizing, he was also fuming over reports that RNC chief Marc Racicot had agreed to meet with Rev. Al Sharpton to discuss the Lott comments. "You know damn well that Racicot is going to get hauled before the cameras with Sharpton, and even if he doesn't say a word, Sharpton's comments are going to keep this thing alive," says a Lott loyalist on Capitol Hill. "The RNC has no business getting involved in this thing. We take care of our own."

Lott's troubles aren't necessarily limited to his big mouth. Republicans and conservatives who have thus far sat out the Thurmond comments uproar continue to raise questions about Lott's ability to lead.

"We're going to be watching him like hawk," says an influential conservative activist. "If he gives the Democrats an inch on anything in the first 100 days of the Senate session, he's not going to know what hit him. He's been handed a second chance, now it appears he's been handed a third chance. That means no backroom deals with Daschle, no give on tax cuts, no give on judicial nominees. Lott cannot screw this up."

ABSENTEE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER
So Republican Bob Beauprez has won the Colorado 7th Congressional District, beating his Democratic challenger, Mike Feeley, by 121 votes. The fact that the GOP has widened its margin in the House by one is no biggie, given that Beauprez has already been voting inside the Republican caucus for the past three weeks on policy issues. No, the big headline should be that what won the election for Republicans was absentee ballots.

Beauprez's narrow victory by a little more than 100 out of more than 163,000 ballots cast should be a light bulb that pops over a lot of Republican strategists' heads. That's because if the election day vote had been used to determine who won the seat, Colorado's 7th would have gone to Feeley. He won more votes on election day. It was absentees who pushed Beauprez over the top.

It used to be that absentee ballots were the mother's milk for GOP candidates in tight or seemingly unwinnable races -- are you reading this Bill Simon, Jr.? -- but in recent years, in part due to costs and coordination challenges, Republicans have not spent the capital to ensure winning the absentee ballot battle. For example, in California two-time Republican Gov. George Deukmejian was swept into his first term, coming back from double-digits deficit against favorite Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, in part by overwhelmingly winning the absentee ballot count.

"We spent a lot of money to make sure those ballots got into everyone's hands and got used," recalls a campaign strategist who worked in that race. "It costs a lot more in a state like California today, but I'm surprised more state parties aren't spending to make sure they have an edge. Those absentees always favor the Republicans."

But despite such evidence, Republicans lately haven't been putting up the cash to secure their absentee ballot advantage. The Bush campaign in 2000 spent almost nothing on the absentee ballot program in California, giving lie to the notion that, despite Dubya's late campaign visits there, his people were serious about making the state competitive. The same thing in Florida, and we know what happened there.

The Simon campaign in California, despite indications weeks before election day that the governor's race was still winnable, didn't spend money on an absentee ballot program. Perhaps even more scandalous, the Gerald Parsky-controlled state party didn't spend a dime, either.

"If we want to continue the winning streak we're on," says a Republican National Committee staffer, "we're going to have to make the investment in absentee ballot programs. Even if it means the national party is underwriting it on the state level -- if it's legal -- somebody has to protect that electoral edge we've historically had."

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