BILL AIN'T HILL
Democratic Senate candidate Ron Kirk is a man of contradictions. He wants to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, but by all accounts has spent much of the last three weeks raising money out of state. He comes to Washington for a fundraiser hosted by Sen. Hillary Clinton, among others, but doesn't want to appear in public with her for fear of bad press and giving Texas voters the wrong impression. Yet then he goes on party very publicly with Clinton's husband.
You'll recall that in late June, Kirk held two fundraisers in Washington, D.C., hosted, by among others, Sen. Hillary Clinton. But Clinton wasn't visible at those events, and despite comments from Clinton's office that she was there, and denials that she avoided them, rumors circulated that Kirk's people had asked that she not be present during the media coverage for fear that pictures of Kirk and Mrs. Clinton would circulate back home. So imagine what Hillary must have thought when she heard that Kirk ignored his advisers' pleas and partied with Bill Clinton in a tony New York restaurant earlier this week. "The president offered to headline an event, and Democrats who live in New York love the president," says a Kirk supporter who attended the fundraiser. "If Clinton can help us win in Texas, then who cares? He'll have the last laugh."
Hanging with Bubba at Jimmy's Downtown, a hot Latin-flavored restaurant run by a Clinton friend, Kirk raised more than $100,000 for his campaign from such high powered Democratic donors as Vernon Jordan, who pledged to raise $25,000 for Kirk's run against Texas attorney general John Cornyn. The event was co-hosted by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which helped front part of the tab for the swanky event that featured fried artichoke salad and Jimmy's renowned snapper and roasted chicken, both Clinton faves.
Kirk needs every dime he can raise. Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission indicate he trails Cornyn by a million dollars, $4.8 million compared to Cornyn's $5.8 million. Cornyn has raised about $700,000 out of state. Kirk has raised well over a million in his out of state treks.
Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt may have been gotten away with throwing out big numbers in predicting huge Democratic gains this fall. His spokesman, Erik Smith, told reporters on Thursday that his boss didn't actually say anything like that, but at least three Democratic congressman who were present have told reporters that Gephardt did in fact talk tough and did talk numbers during their sit-down. By all those accounts, Gephardt did claim during a recent meeting with his leadership team that his party could pick up 30 to 40 House seats this November.
Never mind Gephardt's numbers. What Republicans need to worry about are all the polling numbers about so-called corporate accountability and ethics that candidates and both parties are currently swimming in. "Everything appears to be cutting the Democrats' way right now," says a Republican pollster. "But it's all broad and unfiltered data that they're looking at. Republicans can't allow themselves to get too carried with it. I mean, who isn't going to say they support laws that protect investors and retirement plans? For every poll the Democrats have that says they are getting political traction out of this, I can show you another poll that shows they aren't."
Republicans, nonetheless, are worried. On Thursday they were going on the offensive. Out front, look for Senate Republican Whip Sen. Don Nickles, who has small business experience in private life, to step up and defend the Republican position, which opposes tarring with a broad brush. He was slated to appear on several CNBC and MSNBC programs in the next couple of days.
One senator they wish they could put out there, as unreliable as he has been, is John McCain. "This is the kind of situation where you wish you had him on your side, that you could trust him to represent the party. The media just love him and he could spin them to look just as hard at the Democrats," says a Republican Senate staffer. "But we don't have him, and it just shows how much we need leadership from the president on this one. We don't have anyone here who can carry the corporate accountability issue."
The Republican pollster says that, by the end of July, both parties should have much clearer polling results to build into their push for the fall campaign. "I'm telling my clients to hold tight."
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