Washington Prowler

Pickering Your Fights

Another senator pays for opposing Bush's nominee. Also: Florida Dems stuck with Janet: Will Bill ride to the rescue? Plus: A major White House opening?

By 3.21.02

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DURBIN DECLINE
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin's vote against Judge Charles Pickering in the Senate Judiciary Committee may have far-reaching implications for his constituents. For several years Durbin has been pushing big federal financial guarantees to help fund the expansion of O'Hare International Airport outside Chicago.

It is a pet project of Mayor Richard Daley and former Clinton-Gore crony William Daley.The airport expansion has been fought by Illinois Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.

The Bush administration had expressed a desire to help Durbin and the Daleys get the funding. But while dining with the Daley brothers in Chicago during St. Patrick's Day festivities last weekend, Bush told them that Durbin's refusal to support Pickering may very well doom their sky-high airport plans.

"Durbin wouldn't even speak to Lott about the Pickering matter," says a Republican leadership source. "This is personal now, and the Pickering thing is going to have some far reaching effects on pet legislation on the Democratic side."

Fitzgerald has struggled in the past to keep the airport financing deal off the books, but has been told by Lott that this year's fight won't be half as hard. Republicans won't the let the deal go through. Across the Capitol, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a fellow Land of Lincoln resident, has similarly agreed to keep O'Hare expansion backing off the books to spite Durbin's and the Daleys' dreams.

JANET'S LOST LABOR
Former Attorney General Janet Reno has finished driving around Florida in her "little red truck tour," and Democrats who hoped she might get lost now fear she has locked up their party's nomination to face off against Republican incumbent Gov. Jeb Bush. And it isn't just Reno who scares them. It's her polling numbers. According to internal Florida Democratic Party polling, Reno has a sizable lead over her Democratic competition, Tampa Bay attorney Bill McBride, state Sen. Daryl Jones and state Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida recount fame.

"We're stuck with her," says a state Democratic Party official of Reno. "She has a better than 50 percent backing inside the party and guys like McBride are far behind by 25 or 30 points." But when Reno faces off against Bush she's buried. "We're talking landslide losses in our numbers," says the party official. "Real bad. We show her losing 65 percent to 35 percent; numbers like that. That gap can certainly narrow, but with a candidate with her kind of name recognition, it isn't looking good."

The primary race might not be over just yet. While McBride isn't a household name, he apparently has the support of former President Bill Clinton and some FOBs in Washington. It's expected that the Florida state AFL-CIO will soon endorse McBride on the recommendation of national AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington. "We're hearing that Clinton and [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Terry McAuliffe aren't backing Reno but won't do it publicly," says the state party official. "But they're steering support to McBride, though, through political friends and supporters. How else to you explain the biggest union backing an also-ran?"

CARD PLAY
Rumors have Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card either resigning or taking an extended leave of absence to direct the Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign of close friend Mitt Romney, who will be the Republican candidate now that acting Gov. Jane Swift has been pushed aside.

"Card was expected to be a short-timer in this White House," says a legislative staffer in the White House. "I think some people are surprised he lasted this long."

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