HSU ARE THEY?
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton previously supported campaign-finance reform proposals that would have required immediate and full transparency of donor names involved in bundling of political donations. But now Clinton has ordered that none of the 200 or so individuals who bundled some $850,000 with disgraced Clinton fundraiser Norman Hsu be disclosed to the media.
Clinton’s campaign in New York is now scrambling to get a handle on just how much trouble Hsu has caused. “We still aren’t sure just how bad this situation is,” says a Manhattan-based political consultant working for Clinton. “Hsu obviously brought in a lot of money, but he also brought in a lot of people and some of those folks were bundling funds too.”
The consultant, who has not seen the list of Hsu “bundlers,” says that there is concern within the campaign that many of those involved will be similar to the Daly City, California family that jumpstarted this fundraising scandal in August: working-class or middle-class families with multiple donors in one household.
Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner will announce on Thursday that he is seeking the same Senate seat he sought back in 1996 when he lost to retiring Sen. John Warner. Privately Republicans have said for months that — depending on what John Warner decided — a Warner would be the Senator from Virginia one way or the other. Mark Warner has seen public and some internal polling that indicates he is well ahead of both of his prospective Republican challengers, former Gov. Jim Gilmore and Rep. Tom Davis. But Warner’s advisers have also included in some of their polling a third name: Rep. Eric Cantor.
“Cantor does a bit better than either Gilmore of Davis in the southern part of the state,” says one campaign adviser. “But Cantor isn’t getting into this race.”
Cantor, who’s considered a rising star among conservatives, has low name recognition across Virginia, particularly in the now important Northern Virginia suburbs outside of Washington, D.C., where Democrats have made heavy inroads. In fact, Tom Davis’s district has become so Democratic over the past 15 years that it’s not clear he could defeat a well-financed and popular local Democrat for his House seat in 2008.
South Carolina political insiders aren’t surprised by the controversy swirling about Mitt Romney‘s in-state political consultant J. Warren Tompkins, who along with Romney South Carolina campaign manager Terry Sullivan founded the TTS consulting firm. Earlier this week, a Tompkins employee at TTS was fingered by the Romney campaign as the fall guy for an anti-Fred Thompson website that went live just before Thompson made his first South Carolina visit as an official presidential candidate.
Tompkins’ firm is well known for playing hardball politics, particularly back in 2000, when it was then Gov. George W. Bush‘s instate firm and worked tirelessly to derail the campaign of Sen. John McCain.
For the 2008 election cycle, Tompkins’ firm set up a website, shotpolitics.com, to cover politics in South Carolina, but with a heavy does of pro-Romney news. At one time “The Shot” was the National Journal‘s South Carolina political link, until it was revealed that the website had financial ties to the Romney campaign.
Still, “The Shot” has been active politically for months, sending “reporters” to political events of other candidates and attempting to ask questions of those candidates during the media scrums that follow such campaign appearances.
For months, the Romney campaign has failed to gain traction down in South Carolina, failing to consistently break into double digits in the polls there. Most show Romney running in fourth place, polling at about 8 percent. Those kinds of numbers aren’t bad for a candidate with low name recognition, but not good for a candidate who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in-state, including TV and radio advertising buys. So perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that negative stories, rumors and smear tactics against other candidates have begun to proliferate.
Earlier this year, the McCain campaign found itself once again pushing back on rumors in South Carolina that McCain’s adopted daughter, Bridget, was African-American and an illegitimate child of McCain’s later adopted by him. In fact, she was adopted from an orphanage run by Mother Teresa in Bangladesh. A similar rumor was used against McCain in 2000 in South Carolina. Several months ago, when Thompson made an appearance for the South Carolina GOP in Columbia, an unidentified man attempted to have attendees at the event ask Thompson to confirm a rumor that he’d had sex with a 16-year-old girl. Sen. Sam Brownback‘s campaign, which was making a big push in South Carolina last spring, found itself combating rumors about Brownback’s conversion to Catholicism as well as the adoption of two of the Senator’s younger children from Latin America. The Giuliani campaign has had to on occasion deal with rumors about their candidate’s sexuality. A similar rumor made its way into the Senate campaign of then-Rep. Lindsey Graham back in 2002 after Giuliani endorsed him. During a debate that year between Graham and Democratic candidate Alex Sanders, Sanders said of Giuliani: “His wife kicked him out and he moved in with two gay men and a Shi Tzu. Is that South Carolina values?” Even Romney has taken hits, with blast, anonymous emails being sent to in-state Republican voters and activists raising questions about his Mormon faith.
“The reality is that South Carolina politics has always been a bit rough and tumble,” says a Charleston-based political lawyer involved in GOP politics. “No one should be surprised by any of this. Most folks in-state aren’t. It’s just the outsiders that seem shocked. Every campaign is going to find itself getting down and dirty down here, there are going to be a lot of glass houses built here between now and the primary.”
IT’LL GET WORSE
Rumors on Capitol Hill are spinning that Republicans might have to defend yet another Senate seat they didn’t expect to have to defend. “You keep hearing that there’s another Republican getting ready to jump ship,” says a GOP leadership aide in the Senate. “It’s getting ridiculous.”