Washington Prowler

Rivers Runs Through It

John Dingell done in by upstart feminism? Also: Erskine Bowles tries the four-corners. Plus: A Principled McCain.

By 8.2.02

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BIG JOHN
For a mere mortal, it would probably be enough to make him want to turn Republican. But this is Democrat colossus Rep. John Dingell we're talking about, and one has to wonder if Republicans would ever feel comfortable enough to accept him in their ranks. "Hey, if we're desperate enough, we'd take him," says a Republican House member. "Lord knows we probably wouldn't have allowed what's happening to him to have occurred on our watch."

Just "what's happening to him" begins with congressional redistricting, which has left Dingell, a 23-term institution, forced to run for his political life against fellow Democratic Rep. Lynn Rivers, a much more liberal member of the Democratic caucus.

Dingell's humiliation has been compounded by his having to watch many of his fellow Democrats pick sides -- and not choosing his. Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi is backing Rivers. The liberal PAC EMILY'S List is backing Rivers. Sarah Brady and her anti-gun nuts are backing Rivers. And then there is Hollywood celeb Michael Douglas, who in backing Rivers has raised more than $40,000 for her.

And Dingell has? Tipper Gore.

"The reality is that Dingell has probably done more for women's health issues than Rivers has, but no one wants to hear that since there is a woman in the race. They just assume that must be her passion," says a Dingell staffer in Washington. "We're all nervous about this one. It's been a real fight, an ugly fight."

It's a nip and tuck race headed toward the August 6 primary, with Rivers given the better shot of pulling out a victory. But no one wants to sell Dingell short. "He's had to run a real campaign for probably the first time in 20 years, and he hasn't done a bad job," says his Republican colleague. "I'd hate to be those Democratic colleagues who backed Rivers if he wins."

DEAN'S LIST
If anyone's still searching for a reason to back moderate North Carolina Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole, here it is: retired University of North Carolina coaching great Dean Smith says he likes Democratic candidate Erskine Bowles.

Smith, one of the most liberal men college basketball history (assuming anyone cares), and the only man beyond Father Time who could contain Michael Jordan's offensive game, is throwing a high profile fundraiser for Bill Clinton's former chief of staff later in August.

While there is little doubt that Smith is a card-carrying Democrat, it is doubtful he'd be involved in the fundraiser if there weren't some payback involved. Seems Bowles and his rich pappy raised a lot of money for the UNC Tarheels' new basketball arena that everyone from the start knew would be dubbed the Smith Center. (The hoops haven quickly became better known as the "Dean Dome.")

It all may be for naught. Recent polls show Dole with a commanding lead over Bowles. In one of them her favorability ratings are at 72 percent, his at 45. But Bowles has raised plenty of money and should have more than $4 million available by August's end.

McCAINIANA
Sen. John McCain recently was much in the news when even more eagerly than Democrats he imposed a hold on Bush judicial and other nominations. In fact, ask any Redskin fan and he'll likely tell you that McCain does more holding than a typical NFL offensive lineman or defensive back. It's surprising, then, that during the recent contretemps that saw McCain punish the White House for opposing his selection of a well-connected Democrat to fill a post on the Federal Election Commission, no one called McCain on what he said earlier this year when Sen. Joe Biden put a hold on a couple of nominations of importance to McCain (in retaliation for McCain's opposition to Amtrak measures of importance to Biden).

"I just think it's wrong to hold up people's nominations that are otherwise qualified because you have an agenda item," McCain said at the time, as reported by the Hill last March 6. "I intend to tell Sen. Biden that I won't negotiate with him on Amtrak issues until he lets these people go."

Why was it wrong then and not now?

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