Washington Prowler

More Senate Trouble

How to lose an Illinois seat. Can a Pennsylvania seat be saved?

By 12.17.02

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ILLINOIS' LOOMING REMATCH
Apparently the consulting work or whatever it is former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun's been doing since her defeat in 1998 hasn't flourished, so she's looking to get back into the political game. Recall that Moseley-Braun lost her seat to Peter Fitzgerald, today one of the few vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in 2004.

It wasn't that she deserved to win. Her tenure in the Senate was marred by scandal: from reports that she verbally abused staff and used them for personal business to charges that she used her Senate position to help friends in their lobbying efforts in the U.S. and abroad.

Rumors in Chicago, where Moseley-Braun has a residence, but where she has not resided full time for several years, have also had her looking at a possible challenge of Democratic mayor Richard Daley. But reality must have set in. Daley, who recently announced that he was running for a fifth term, won better than 70 percent of the vote last time. "She wouldn't have a prayer," says a Chicago political consultant. "He'd destroy her."

So now Moseley-Braun apparently wants her old seat back. And don't count her out, because Republicans may ease her way.

Fitzgerald has angered a number of Republicans, most pointedly House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who believes the junior senator didn't support the speaker's pork-barrel projects strongly enough. As well, Fitzgerald was practically invisible during the fall campaign. He did little fundraising for the party or for candidates and did not actively campaign for the party in state.

Fitzgerald's seeming lack of enthusiasm didn't help in a season that saw the GOP lose the governorship and state legislature seats.

"You can't pin the party losses on Pete," says a state representative. "Hastert and his crew ought to look at each other for blame. Whether they want to believe it, Pete's the future of the party. If he ran for governor this time around, he probably would have won. He's that popular."

Debates about popularity aside, Fitzgerald will at the least have to deal with ongoing talk of a challenge in the Republican primary. And he will face new scrutiny from a media eager for a Fitzgerald rematch with Moseley-Braun.

STUCK WITH SPECTER
Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania faces a similar situation. Conservatives in the state GOP are agitating for a challenger to Specter in the primary, an attempt to push the moderate senator more to the right. But if the recent Pennsylvania elections are any indication, the state party isn't being wholly realistic. Democrats ran well across the state, particularly in the urban centers where they have to win big in to offset suburban and rural GOP strongholds.

Faced with a strong Democratic governor pressing for his party, the national GOP will probably step in and block any attempt by state Republicans to put Specter in too much danger.

"That's one seat we can't afford to put in play," says a Republican National Committee staffer. "We apparently are going to have too many other issues to worry about in the next couple of years."

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