Waiting For Carol
With speculation mounting that former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) is on the verge of announcing a bid to reclaim her old seat — possibly as soon as today — party strategists worry that her candidacy could cost Senate Democrats one of their best pick-up opportunities of the cycle.
The former Senator has flirted since last spring with the idea of running for the seat that Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) wrested from her in 1998. Fitzgerald, who won 50 percent of the vote, is one of the few vulnerable GOP Senate incumbents up for re-election in 2004.
For weeks, speculation has swirled in Chicago and Washington that Moseley-Braun would announce her intention to run in early January.
“It’s clear to all Democratic political operatives in Illinois that Carol Moseley-Braun is about to throw her hat into the ring,” said one Democrat working in the state. “With her name recognition as high as it is, clearly she starts out with a commanding lead.”
Still, the operative said that Moseley-Braun faces a tough road to victory in a primary because of “residual frustration” left over from her 1998 campaign and the fact that several other candidates have spent months mining support within the party’s traditional base.
“She has a lot of catching up to do,” the operative said. “Labor organizations and other powerful groups are not about to jump on the bandwagon a second time around without an indication that her campaign operation will change drastically.”
David Axelrod, a Chicago-based Democratic consultant who has been advising state Sen. Barack Obama’s (D) Senate campaign, agreed that Moseley-Braun may have a difficult time garnering support. Obama, the only other black candidate in the race, has indicated that he would not run if Moseley-Braun gets in. However, some believe the prospects for him remaining in the race are growing as Moseley-Braun remains coy with her intentions.
“It’s certainly true that a lot of the folks who have been active and supportive of her in the past have chosen to align themselves with other candidates,” Axelrod said.
Among those people is Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), a prominent black Democrat from Chicago.
“Carol Moseley-Braun made all of Illinois proud by becoming the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate,” Jackson said in a statement yesterday. “However, I think the past, rather than the future, would plague a Carol Moseley-Braun campaign.”
He added: “I believe it is now time for her to step aside and allow new leadership, with new energy, and new ideas to step forward.”
Jackson recently signed on to Obama’s exploratory committee and his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., attended a recent fundraiser for the state Senator.
In a December interview with The Associated Press, Moseley-Braun said her “phone has literally been ringing off the hook” with calls from supporters urging her to enter the race, especially in the wake of last month’s controversy surrounding Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). Lott was eventually forced to relinquish his job as Republican leader following remarks he made endorsing retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-S.C.) segregationist presidential bid in 1948.
“If I ran, I’d win both the primary and the general election,” she told The Associated Press. “That’s what people are telling me, and that’s my feeling as well.”
In 1992, Moseley-Braun became the first black woman ever elected to the Senate, and the body has been without a black Member since her re-election defeat.
Her tenure in the Senate was marred by controversies that weakened her re-election bid. Republicans would no doubt point to those troubles again if Moseley-Braun wins the nomination.
Several Democratic insiders said it is unclear who is advising Moseley-Braun at this point and that it is unlikely she is listening to the people who may be discouraging a run.
“From the time she won the nomination in 1992, when she was first struck by lightning, this is not a person who goes to people and asks for their advice,” said one party strategist in Illinois. “She doesn’t talk to people. … I think when she talks to real people and real donors she doesn’t get a lot of feedback.”
“It’s not clear who her supporters are and who’s telling her to run,” added the Illinois operative. “It would hurt the party tremendously if she were to win because she would not be able to beat Fitzgerald.”
Another strategist suggested that Moseley-Braun has a history of unpredictability and that it is hard for other candidates to gauge the seriousness of her candidacy.
“There’s a big difference between putting out a press release in January and saying you’re running and actually filing papers in December — petitions — putting you on the ballot,” said Chicago Democratic strategist Pete Giangreco.
One strategist said Moseley-Braun’s interest in the Senate was rooted in the fact that she has been searching for her next career move since her tenure as Ambassador to New Zealand ended in 2000.
“This is a woman who literally needs a job,” the strategist said. “This is a person who’s trying to figure out what to do with her life, and one option is running for the Senate.”
Moseley-Braun has been lecturing at DePaul University outside of Chicago. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
If and when Moseley-Braun enters the Senate contest she will face an already crowded Democratic field. Ex-Chicago school board President Gery Chico (D) is the only candidate who has formally announced, but at least four others have made their intentions to run clear.
Besides Obama, the other Democrats expected to enter the race are state Comptroller Dan Hynes, wealthy investment banker Blair Hull and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.
Obama, as the only other black candidate, is most affected if Moseley-Braun enters the race.
“I think it’s fair to say that what he has said is that he would evaluate the race at that time,” Axelrod said. “I think that’s still the case.”
Obama has also been working to shore up support within the black community and has attracted the backing of several high-profile leaders, including the Jacksons and state Sen.-elect James Meeks (D), head of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
If Obama and Pappas both remain in the race, it would negate Moseley-Braun’s once-perceived status as the only black candidate and only woman in the race.
A spokesman for Pappas said this month that she will take steps in coming weeks to “make it clear she’s running.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), whose name has been floated as another potential candidate, is also said to be close to making an announcement about her intentions. However, few observers expect her to enter the race, citing, among other things, her close personal relationship with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Regardless of who else runs, Moseley-Braun is widely viewed in Democratic circles as the weakest nominee against Fitzgerald.
“I think there’s a real sense among Democrats in Illinois … that there needs to be a very strong challenger to Peter Fitzgerald, and there is a very real concern that she would go into that race with very serious baggage,” Axelrod said.
He also said he hoped Moseley-Braun would make a “considerate decision” that will last throughout the cycle. “What we can’t afford is a lot of stops and starts here.”