There were certainly a lot of losers in the Trent Lott debacle, and a few winners too. Perhaps the biggest winner in the long run will be retiring Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. Watts surprised some Republicans by stepping away from Congress at a time when he could have gained more power and influence inside the GOP House caucus. Instead, he announced he wanted to seek new challenges outside of Washington.
Now, with the issue of minority outreach taking center stage at least for a while, Republicans are looking to Watts to step in and lend a hand. In the longterm, it could mean that Watts has a U.S. Senate run in his future. The near future. With Sen. Don Nickles deciding not to pursue the Majority Leader slot, instead remaining as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, the thinking is that Nickles will serve out the final two years of his current term and then retire.
“He hasn’t been talking about it, but if you look at what he’s done over the past several years: not fighting to remain in leadership, not pursuing the Majority Leader position, you have to think he’s winding down, not gearing up,” says a Nickles staffer.
Watts has said that he wouldn’t mind a Senate run, and now Republicans will be far more eager to see a Watts run than before. There were thought to be several other candidates in line to fill the Nickles Senate seat should he decide to retire. Outgoing Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating was thought to be a leading candidate.
But with the Lott mess “the thinking would have to be that Watts is the man,” says an RNC staffer. “He’s seasoned, has a huge name recognition in the state and is a national figure who can fundraise beyond the state’s borders. We’d probably clear the decks for him so he’d have an easy primary. Everything we’re hearing now indicates that this is something he’d want to do now.”
RUDY WHEN YOU ARE
With Rudy Giuliani‘s book selling off the shelves, his personal life apparently in improving shape, and his star ever brighter inside the Republican Party, rumors in New York have him mulling whether to run for the U.S. Senate in 2004 against Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Giuliani has been given internal state and national Republican polling data that shows him as by far the most popular politician in New York state. And a recent Marist poll showed the former New York City mayor beating Schumer by more than 20 points in a head to head race. Schumer is committed to running for re-election, say staffers and advisers, but is said to be alarmed at the prospects of taking on Giuliani while at the same time having to share media time with Hillary Rodham Clinton, who in two years has pushed Schumer out of the political spotlight.
“In an election year, a presidential election year, she’s going to be the one everyone wants to talk to, not Chuck,” says a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffer. “If Giuliani is serious, Schumer’s situation rhymes with ‘Chucked.'”