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Jul 15, 2004 5:24 pm

Political Matters

Those on the lookout for an interesting primary might want to follow the race in Missouri’s 5th District, which includes Kansas City and its suburbs and once sent one of the House’s most creative liberals, Richard Bolling, to Congress. When incumbent Karen McCarthy decided to retire after a bout with alcoholism and widespread reports of hostile treatment of her staff, it seemed as if former Kansas City mayor Emmanuel Cleaver, would easily capture the nomination. (The district previously had elected an African-American, Alan Wheat, at a time when blacks made up a smaller proportion of the Democratic electorate.) Cleaver, however, has run a lackluster campaign and has been hounded by ethics allegations; he now seems threatened by a talented young Democrat, Jamie Metzl, a former NSC staffer who specialized in homeland security issues during the Clinton administration and who received an endorsement from Richard Clarke. Metzl has clearly demonstrated a more impressive command of key issues than has Cleaver (in a recent debate, Cleaver responded to a question about whether the Patriot Act should be repealed by remarking, “America is great because America is good. When America is no longer good, it will no longer be great.”) The primary, on August 3, should provide a good test of whether name recognition alone can secure a congressional seat.

When Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, it appeared as if the issue would play well for the GOP; now, it’s less clear-cut. This morning, House GOP leaders announced their intention to: introduce a bill stripping from the federal courts the power to decide matters relating to the issue; offer an amendment to prevent the District of Columbia from allowing same-sex marriage; and consider bringing up the gay marriage amendment in the lower chamber sometime this fall. This is the sort of behavior that caused Republicans problems in 1998; two recent state-by-state polls suggest that there has been noticeable movement to Kerry in the last 10 days or so.

In 1982, the Texas Republicans came up with the intriguing idea of deliberately running a weak candidate against Democrats senator Lloyd Bentsen, expecting that by doing so, the senator would not activate his campaign apparatus, which was especially powerful in the rural areas that once formed the key area of Democratic strength in Texas, and thereby Republicans running for other offices would have a better chance of victory. I’m beginning to think that this approach might best serve the Illinois Republicans, who have been reduced to a pitiable state following Mike Ditka’s refusal to run. (Today’s Chicago Tribune suggests that Ditka’s temper was not the only reason he passed on the race.) The party’s two top choices now are Jim Oberweis, the dairy magnate obsessed about the non-existent flood of illegal aliens to Illinois, and former deputy drug czar Andrea Barthwell, who, it was revealed this morning, was the subject of a complaint for making lewd and homophobic remarks in the workplace. (Barthwell described her comments as “inappropriate banter.”) I doubt either of these two will make Illinois Republicans forget Abraham Lincoln.

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