NANCY AND THE RENEGADE
According to a Democratic House leadership staffer, leader Nancy Pelosi declined the requests of several moderate Democrats, Reps. Steny Hoyer and Martin Frost included, to begin increasing the heat on Virginia Rep. Jim Moran for his anti-Semitic comments made to a community group last week.
“They wanted her to begin doing to him what Republicans did to Senator Lott, begin pushing him out,” says the staffer. “But she wouldn’t do it.”
Pelosi, like Moran, is now very visibly opposed to the Bush Iraq policy, and thus far has refused almost every moderate entreaty for her to be more moderate herself in her leadership style.
“All she cares about is the liberal wing of her caucus, the rest of us are just along for the ride, I guess,” says a moderate House member.
Already, there have been calls for Moran to step down, which so far he has refused to do.
Moran was re-elected last November by a smaller margin — albeit double digits — than many expected. But he has had one of the safer seats in the House. His congressional district covers parts of Alexandria (where he served as mayor), and Arlington County, which is a haven for left-leaning politicians (no Republican serves on the county council or in a senior management position in government).
Moran’s narrowing margin of victory may be due to his seeming inability to avoid the appearance of impropriety in his personal and political life — from a messy divorce to voting for a bill that helped the credit card industry after he received a favorable debt consolidation package from one of the affected companies. The Washington Post declined to endorse Moran, and recently called on Northern Virginian Democrats to find an alternative to Moran in 2004.
All of this should be energizing Republicans, but it isn’t, in part because they don’t have a clear candidate who could step up and challenge in that district, even if Moran did resign. “It would be tough to find someone who could make that run in that district and win, ” says a Virginia Republican Party official. “We’ve tried and tried, and just come up short.”
In light of Moran’s most recent embarrassments, the party has begun looking at mid-level to higher-level officials serving in the Bush Administration who live in the congressional district and who might avail themselves to run in a campaign should one develop.
“It hasn’t been a competitive district for us for some time, but we’ve felt we were making headway,” the Republican official. “We’re looking at 2004 as a pivotal year, where perhaps if Moran remained, we’d have a real shot. The timing on this might not be right.”
A broader political question is how far Pelosi feels comfortable slapping down one of her own. She was quick to call Moran’s comments offensive, but privately, say other House members, she was hesitant to encourage anything greater than the verbal wrist slap she provided.
“If you accept, as many Democrats do, that this guy is a slightly smoother character than [former Rep.] Jim Traficant, then why bother drawing more attention to him and the party?” asks another Democratic House leadership staffer. “Moran isn’t worth the effort for the leader. This is just smart politics.”
FLORIDA CAN WAIT
Much was made earlier this week about White House attempts to draw current Housing and Urban Development secretary Mel Martinez into a possible Senate race in his home state of Florida. Should current Sen. Bob Graham decide to run for president and not seek re-election, that seat might come into play.
But Martinez’s future campaign plans have more to do with what Graham does than with what the White House wants. Martinez has been coy about his political future, even though he has held elective office before in Orange County, Florida. He is perhaps the most visible and well-connected Hispanic-American politician in the state, and a natural choice to run for the Senate or governor, particularly given his strong support among Cuban-Americans. But there seems little doubt that he will return to Florida and seek elective office again.
Prior to the presidential campaign of 2000, Martinez took a trip to Washington and made the rounds to conservative think tanks and publications to introduce himself and raise his Washington profile. It was apparent to all who met him that these meetings were intended to build name recognition for somebody who someday, sooner rather than later, intended to run for statewide office.
Martinez — and Republicans — may be trying to keep their powder dry because of growing uncertainty about Graham’s plans. Until a month ago, it appeared certain that he would run for the Democratic presidential nomination. But what was supposed to be comparatively minor heart surgery became more complicated, with a longer recuperation time. Graham has been fundraising for a presidential run, and has been pulling in money, but he has yet to formally announce, and he has not appeared at a single major Democratic Party function where other prospective candidates were speaking. He remains in Florida, recuperating.
“Graham knows the clock is ticking, and while there is still time, he’s given everyone else a huge lead time to get out there in Iowa and New Hampshire and even South Carolina,” says a Democratic National Committee staffer. “It may be that his surgery set him back just too much timing wise, and he’ll just focus on the Senate.”
If Graham were to decide not to run for re-election, Martinez would immediately become the frontrunner. But Graham remains one of the most popular politicians in the state of Florida. If he does run again for the Senate, it’s doubtful the GOP would put Martinez up for that fight, leaving it instead to someone like former Rep. Bill McCollum, who has announced he will run for the seat regardless of Democratic competition, and who lost in his Senate bid in 2000.
“You don’t burn a guy like Martinez if you can avoid it,” says a Republican National Committee staffer. “He’s one of those guys with the potential to be a big political star. But even guys like that can’t overcome a strong incumbent.”
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