Washington Prowler

McKinney and McCain

Rep. Cynthia McKinney received some very bad news this week. Also, Sen. John McCain fights Tom Daschle's latest battle against Republicans.

By 6.27.02

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SOUNDING THE ALARM
If they had them, alarm bells would be going off right now in the offices of the Congressional Black Caucus. This, after the stunning defeat on Tuesday of five-term Rep. Earl Hilliard, who after his 7th District in Alabama was redrawn found himself challenged in the Democratic primary by moderate Artur Davis.

The Alabama 7th was a heated race. Both men are African-American and had bases in the black community. But Davis was able to raise money in the white community, as well, particularly among Jewish voters. It was this Jewish support for Davis that made some of the ugly headlines for Hilliard, who criticized his opponent's source of financial backing. In the end, Davis beat Hilliard soundly, 56% to 44%.

And that has the Black Caucus nervous, because another of its members, Cynthia McKinney, she of the "George W. Bush knew of September 11th attacks beforehand, but didn't do anything so his friends could make money off the tragedy" conspiracy theory, is facing a tough August 20 primary vote against an opponent who is virtually identical to Davis.

"I think if the election is held today, Cynthia wins because she's the incumbent," says a member of the Caucus, who asked not be named. "Two months from now? I don't know. Cynthia's got herself a bit of a fight."

This is the first time in six years that McKinney has faced a primary challenge, and it's the first time a black female Democrat has run against her in the DeKalb County, Georgia district. The challenger is Denise Majette, a former DeKalb County State Court judge, who is considered a moderate.

What has the Black Caucus upset is that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee refused to step into the Georgia race to dissuade Majette from running. "The campaign committee didn't do it for Rep. Hilliard, we weren't going to do it for Rep. McKinney," says a House campaign committee staffer. "We try not to get into the middle of these kinds of things."

"If this was Dick Gephardt facing a primary challenge, you damn well know the party would be doing something," said the Black Caucus member. "If this was Nancy Pelosi, they'd be doing something."

And, in fact, the Democrats have been taking sides in the McKinney-Majette race, but not in the way the Black Caucus would like. Very quietly, Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt has steered some Democratic donor money toward Majette's campaign, while cutting McKinney a check from his own leadership PAC. Similar back door assistance for Majette has also come from Rep. Martin Frost of Texas.

Majette has been officially in the race for less than a week, but already she's gaining attention from the same kinds of voters who flocked to support Davis in Alabama: white, Jewish, moderate to liberal Democrats.

Meanwhile, McKinney has made a career of coddling Yassir Arafat, the Palestinians, and Islamic extremist groups in the U.S. and abroad, and it has paid off. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that "a full third" of McKinney's campaign donations come from Arab-Americans and Islamic or Muslim groups.

McKinney has labeled Majette a "Republican," her code word for someone with white support. But that's a similar line Hilliard used against Artur Davis in Alabama. McKinney will have to do a lot better in coming weeks if she wants to hold on to her current job.

ANOTHER POISON LETTER
Karl Rove just about went through the West Wing roof after seeing a copy of the letter Sen. John McCain sent to Senate leaders Trent Lott and Tom Daschle earlier this week. McCain's letter promised to block confirmation of all Bush administration nominations unless Ellen Weintraub gets confirmed for a seat on the Federal Election Commission by early August.

"In light of recent actions by the FEC to undermine the bipartisan campaign finance reform act, it is critical that Ellen Weintraub, who has been recommended for a seat on the commission, be appointed as soon as possible," McCain wrote. The Bush administration has stated that Weintraub is in line to fill a Democrat seat on the election commission (split between three GOP and three Democratic members). She was expected to replace Democrat Karl Sandstrom. Weintraub is liberal campaign warrior. She's worked as a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. McCain has backed her nomination because of her support for his McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.

According to a White House source who operates on Capitol Hill, McCain has been pestering the White House about the Weintraub nomination for weeks. The pestering turned to outright petulance last week when Sandstrom voted with the Republican members of the FEC to allow soft money to flow more readily to state party coffers.

"He's watching his hallmark piece of legislation get butchered by the FEC and now he's pissed," says the White House source.

But what really angered Rove was that McCain had once again gone off the reservation and leaked the letter to the media before talking to anyone in the White House about it.

McCain's letter comes just as Rove is finishing a deal with Daschle on a series of nominations the White House has seen held up by Democrats for months.

"It's just like McCain to do this at the 11th hour, when we're so close to getting something done," says a Senate leadership staffer, who added the McCain had never raised his concerns with Republican leaders. "He hadn't mentioned anything about bottling things up, no threat, no discussion, no nothing. Just a letter."

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