For once, Republicans were able to play and succeed in a political game at which Democrats almost always seem to be better. Last Tuesday, Republicans had 228 members and a 23-seat margin over Democrats in the House of Representatives. On Friday, they had 229, and their newest member appeared to beat his old party at their own game.
Last Wednesday, Democratic freshman House member Rodney Alexander, who represents Louisiana’s 5th District, registered his name for the ballot as a Democrat. Louisiana has an open election, and Alexander was already facing both a Republican and a Democratic challenger on November 2nd.
Democrats in Washington breathed a sigh of relief over Alexander’s decision to sign on as a Democrat. There had been rumors for months, some fueled by Alexander himself, that he was mulling a switch to the Republicans, after voting with the party on just about every critical issue in the House this session.
Then Alexander whacked the Democrats by announcing late Friday that he was in fact jumping over to the GOP, leaving his old party with no time to register a stronger candidate than the obscure Zelma “Tisa” Blakes, already on the ballot.
Alexander’s decision virtually assures that Republicans will hold the seat they didn’t even know they had until Friday night. “It was a pleasant surprise,” says an RNC regional coordinator. “We knew Rodney had been thinking about it, and he had talked to House Republican leadership about it. This is great news for the party, and it’s great news for Louisiana.”
It’s actually great news for the Louisiana Republican Party, which held a convention this past weekend to help further unify its membership. With Bobby Jindal, a rising political star seemingly assured of winning a seat in the 1st District, with Billy Tauzin III, the son of Rep. Billy Tauzin, on his way to holding his father’s seat, and with a legitimate shot of gaining a Republican Senate seat for a state that hasn’t had a GOP Senator since Reconstruction, the party is feeling good about itself.
The Senate seat may turn out to be one of the most critical for the national party. Rep. David Vitter is running for the open seat, vacated by retiring Sen. John Breaux. As it stands, Vitter is leading all three of his Democratic challengers, but not by an overall majority. Already, Republicans are expecting that Vitter will face a runoff in December against one of the three.
Should the Senate elections nationally cut the way current polling indicates, Republicans could be looking at a pickup of two to three current Democratic seats should Vitter emerge victorious, and Republicans win in Florida, as well as South Carolina and North Carolina.
On a campaign conference call on Friday, Kerry advisers in Washington tore into regional and state party organizers for not getting U.S. Senators out pushing the Kerry candidacy.
“Only a third of the Senate is running for re-election, so it’s not as if all of our guys have to run away from their presidential candidate,” says a Kerry campaign adviser. “But you sure get that feeling out on the road.”
Most prominent in her lack of campaign energy: New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. While the junior senator has been attending party fundraisers, and was prominent during Kerry’s Boston party, she has been less than cooperative in attending Kerry campaign events. She isn’t alone. Few if any sitting Southern Democratic senators want to be seen with Kerry or for that matter his running mate, Sen. John Edwards.
Meanwhile, there are some U.S. Senators Kerry would prefer not be around. In Illinois, Kerry and his staff have tried to hold Sen. Dick Durbin at arms length, instead attempting to ride the coattails of Senate candidate Barack ObamaThe seeming lack of enthusiasm is more a symptom of the candidates, and less about any real dislike for them on the part of their former colleagues, says a senior Democratic Senate staffer.
“Both of our guys are senators. You don’t need more of the same guys out there pushing them, unless they are national figures, like Hillary or Obama are,” says the staffer. “If Kerry really wanted these guys out there, he would make a point of asking. But he’s never up here on the Hill to ask. Maybe that’s the problem.”
Last week Sen. John Kerry ridiculed President George W. Bush for continuing to sit with school children in Florida after chief of staff Andrew Card informed him that a planes had hit the World Trade Center buildings. Bush sat with the children for seven minutes, before cutting short his appearance and pulling together senior staff for a briefing.
Kerry claimed he would have done better. But he didn’t, and even admitted it.
Kerry has stated on several occasions publicly that he literally froze up after hearing about the terrorist attacks in New York. According to Kerry and several of his staff members, Kerry was meeting with several other U.S. senators in Washington when word came about the New York attacks. Kerry claims that he and his Democratic colleagues sat together for more than 45 minutes, stunned by the news. Even after word came about the attack on the Pentagon, Kerry was immobilized.
“It was not his finest hour, or two hours,” says a former Kerry staffer, now advising the campaign. “But there were a lot of folks in this town who didn’t perform up to snuff. That said, Kerry shouldn’t be slapping Bush around about his seven minutes. Kerry had ten-times that, maybe more.”