Washington Prowler

Marge of the Moderates

A retirement only Jim Jeffords could admire. Plus: More on the Oregon trail.

By 6.11.02

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ROUKEMA MISTAKE
Republicans have always joked that New Jersey Republican Rep. Marge Roukema was a Democrat, given her moderate to liberal leanings. Her impending retirement isn't exactly erasing any doubts on that score. In fact, if her staffers are correct, New Jersey Marge could be saving her best for last. That's because, these sources tell The Prowler, Roukema intends to endorse Democrat Anne Sumers in her bid to win the 5th Congressional District seat long held by Roukema.

A Roukema endorsement would hurt Republican Scott Garrett in the contest, but not doom him. "Representative Roukema simply doesn't like his politics," says a Roukema insider in Washington. "She didn't like him in the primary and she likes him even less as the Republican nominee."

In the GOP primary Roukema endorsed the liberal challenger state Sen. Gerry Cardinale, who some believed was better positioned to win in the general election. But Garrett whipped Cardinale and is actually in better shape than some might think. "We don't need Roukema's endorsement, it's just sour grapes," says a Garrett staffer. "Unlike her, Scott Garrett understands what it takes to get New Jersey's 5th District constituents what they need out of Congress."

That's a shot at Roukema's increasingly deteriorating standing with the conservative House leadership. The longest serving woman in the House, Roukema was left out on the leadership's front porch, unable to push her way inside after clashing repeatedly with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, current House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Republican leaders Dick Armey and Tom DeLay. "She was unreliable," says a current House leader. "Why would we consider her for a leadership position? She did nothing to give us the impression she'd help us when the chips were down." Ultimately, her failure to move into the leadership pushed Roukema to retire.

While Roukema's pending endorsement of Sumers is a slap at Republicans and Garrett, it's not entirely surprising. A former Republican herself before switching parties to run for Congress, Sumers in the past has hosted fundraisers for Roukema in her district. "They are old friends," confirms the Roukema staffer.

In the end, though, Garrett should not be hampered by the lack of support from Roukema in holding the seat for the GOP. This, after all, is a district that voted heavily for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler. "If he runs a smart campaign, and gets Schundler and other Republicans in there to help him, he should have a good shot," says the House leader. "We're counting on him to hold that seat."

SUE FOR SMITH
The Democratic Party always seemed to enjoy the flighty, flaky culture of the Pacific Northwest that provided it with so many loyalists. Now you have to wonder if it's finally paying the price for this arrangement.

Last Thursday the Prowler reported on Oregon's Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden refusing to go negative against Republican colleague Sen. Gordon Smith, who is facing a potentially tough re-election run against Oregon secretary of state Bill Bradbury. Wyden cited his friendship with Smith and his overall satisfaction with being part of a bipartisan Senate delegation as reasons for not wanting to bad-mouth Smith during the campaign. Both the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are up in arms about Wyden's reluctance to play political hardball.

And now the story gets worse. Jackson County, Oregon Commissioner Sue Kupillas, who is also a Democrat, has announced she is forming Southern Oregon Democrats for Smith, to back Wyden's seeming desire to keep the Republican in his job. Kupillas, who claims to be a liberal, is also happy with the Smith-Wyden team and has organized the pro-Smith group in the face of threats and arm-twisting from the state and national Democratic Party. "It's not like she's rescuing people in danger or anything," says a Kupillas supporter in Medford, Oregon. "But in a way she is a hero."

Kupillas has been threatened with ouster from her state party's central committee, and members of the central committee have been spreading rumors about her, "They say she's a conservative, which in our neck of the woods is pretty nasty stuff," says the supporter.

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