Washington Prowler

Wrestlemania

Speaker Hastert goes to the mat. Gore fights off Hillary.

By 8.5.02

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PIN THE DONKEY
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has stepped in the middle of one of the interesting races in the county: the Senate contest in New Hampshire. Against the advice of the Senate Republican leadership, Hastert ventured up to the Granite State to campaign for his colleague, Rep. John Sununu, who is challenging Republican Sen. Bob Smith for the GOP nomination and the right to run against Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. "It looks like Sununu is going to pull it out," says a Republican leadership staffer. "But you never know. We didn't think it was a good idea for a party leader to travel up there and campaign against a sitting Republican.

But you know "The Coach," a guy who doesn't take a lot of advice. The moniker followed Hastert into politics after his earlier career as a high school wrestling coach. And true to his life on the mat, Hastert didn't shy away from getting into it in New Hampshire. He body slammed Smith for his decision to briefly leave the Republican Party in an ill-advised presidential run in 2000. "I just think John Sununu is a strong, consistent Republican," Hastert said.

Sununu is favored to win the Republican nomination and polls indicate he would be favored head to head against Shaheen. "It isn't like Hastert is up there trying to bail out a losing candidate," says a House leadership staffer. "Sununu has been a loyal soldier for us in the House. Hastert isn't going to avoid getting into it just because some Senate feelings might get hurt. It's the Republican senators that wanted Sununu to challenge Smith to begin with."

LADIES FIRST
It wasn't all smiles at the Clinton/Gore reunion at George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. last Wednesday night. President Bill Clinton had made it clear several weeks earlier that he would not attend, doing so not coincidentally after Al Gore had announced he would be there. Bill sent his senator wife instead, the Hon. Hillary, which didn't sit well with the Gore people.

According to one former Gore associate who attended the event, the Hillary camp asked that Gore introduce Mrs. Clinton after making his remarks, something the Gore people were loath to agree to. These situations have arisen in the past. At various times during the eight-year Clinton-Gore cohabitation, Al was put in the uncomfortable position of having to introduce or give way to Hillary during public appearances. Gore's staff would chafe at having their boss serve as Hillary's opening act.

But this time, Gore's people apparently won out. Hillary opened the session with 300 or so former junior and senior West Wing and Old Executive Office Building staffers and interns. Gore stood on stage next to her and then spoke after she did. The two spent little to no time together and while Gore chose to mingle with his former aides, Clinton ducked out quickly.

"If they don't vote in New York, why should she care?" said a former Gore staffer. "Then again, she has a job." Ouch.

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