Newly minted Democrat and presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark showed up in Washington at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel on Sunday for the Oxford University Society of Washington, D.C.’s party for Rhodes Scholars.
The reception he received was muted, but Clark took to the dais anyway and in a hoarse voice stumped for his own campaign. Clark was under orders from his Clintonista handlers not to make a full stump speech at the D.C. gathering, particularly since he’s due to make a major speech today in New York. “We didn’t want him giving the D.C. media types in attendance at the Oxford thing any insight into what was going to be said in New York,” says a Clark hand in Little Rock.
But Clark sources say that speech in New York will be nothing more than an updated speech on the so-called “New Patriotism” that Clark made in Little Rock and at the Citadel in September. “It will be full of specifics,” the Clark staffer said.
Clark spent little more than an hour at the Oxford event, enough time for one of his aides to ask organizers for a mailing list of all members, no doubt for fundraising purposes.
The Republicans don’t have a candidate to seriously challenge him, but Sen. Tom Daschle remains a concern among Democratic Party officials, who say their leader in the Senate is showing increasing signs of not having his heart in a campaign.
Daschle, who has a book coming out shortly on the 2002 election and fights in Congress, has been raising money and even spending it on radio and TV spots in his home state of South Dakota, this despite the fact that the Republican Party has thus far failed to attract a top tier candidate to run against him. GOPers remain hopeful that they can persuade former Rep. John Thune, once thought to be a natural challenger to Daschle, to run against him.
But Daschle has surprised some party loyalists by declining the opportunity to bash the Bush administration over the economy, the Iraq war and the Wilson leak scandal, leaving those tasks to his deputy, Sen. Harry Reid.
As well, there are persistent rumors out of South Dakota that Daschle remains in hot water with the Catholic Church there for his political positions, and that the ongoing war of words between the bishop in Sioux Falls and Daschle’s office may escalate to an embarrassing resolution for the Democrat.
Adding to Daschle’s difficulties is the loss of former spokesman Jay Carson, who most likely would have filled a senior adviser role in any Daschle run. Carson walked away from Daschle to sign on with the campaign of Howie Dean, when Daschle chose not to run himself.
“We’re worried about him,” says a DNC political staffer. “If Daschle’s heart isn’t in this, and if he doesn’t have the right people helping him, this could be long year for us. We need him focused and ready to get down and dirty. He doesn’t look like he’s ready at all for that.”
Some Republicans in Washington and California continue to scratch their heads over the tight alliance formed between conservative Southern California Republican Rep. David Dreier and Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenneger. “I would not have expected David to be the one to emerge as the powerbroker in here,” says a California member of the Republican National Committee. “But give him credit, the opportunity was there, and he took it.”
The question now is what Dreier intends to do with it. Dreier is viewed inside the House as an upper-tier leader, second only among California colleagues to Rep. Chris Cox, who heads the House Policy Committee and the Homeland Security Committee. But now that Dreier has played such a prominent role in knocking out California’s Democratic establishment, it’s unclear where he will go from here.
Some Republicans hope he will use the success of moderate Schawarzenneger to jump-start a Senate challenge to Barbara Boxer.
“We need a high profile candidate, and David would be perfect, particularly given what he has just helped to accomplish,” says the RNC member. “That, and there is this strong network now to build on to take Boxer on.”
Dreier would have the fundraising clout and the name recognition to piggyback off the Terminator’s successful run, say some party insiders, even if he doesn’t have the calendar on his side. “It’s late in the game for a state like California, but then again, look what they accomplished in a six-week period of time with Arnold,” says a New York-based political consultant who did work for Schwarzenneger’s run.
Were Dreier to enter the Senate race, he would become the immediate Republican frontrunner and might even clear the middling field, such as it is. His presence would further force the Democratic Party to spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in a state it thought little about six months ago.
Dreier, though, still has some hurdles, and surprisingly, or not, they involve the new governor. “If the transition doesn’t go well, and if conservatives and moderates don’t emerge from the process happy, Dreier will take a hit,” says the political consultant. “He has to balance those two sets of interests and make both camps feel they are coming out ahead. If he keeps them both happy, he’s golden.”
Dreier, who famously has dated actress Bo Derek on and off in the past few years, has been approached about seeking higher office in the past by his Senate colleagues, but has declined. This time, the opportunity might be too good to pass up, which was exactly how Dreier described how he took the role of his political life with the Schwarzenegger run.