Would-be Senators, Need to Ask, Is This Trip Really Necessary?

Posted February 21, 2003 at 12:01pm

Everyone is a potential candidate for something, but some current and former elected officials receiving mention as possible statewide candidates next year ought to take a lesson from Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun, who wisely decided against trying to regain her Illinois Senate seat. [IMGCAP(1)]

For a handful of would-be Senate candidates, cooling their heels rather than heating up their campaigns is the right move for 2004.

Take Rep. Katherine Harris (Fla.) for example. The freshman Republican apparently is considering a Senate race if possible presidential hopeful Sen. Bob Graham (D) swears off a bid for re-election.

Harris, the former Florida secretary of state, has near-perfect name recognition and remains popular among Sunshine State Republicans. But as a Senate candidate in 2004, she could be a disaster.

Florida voters backed Gov. Jeb Bush (R) for re-election last year, demonstrating that much of the post-2000 presidential election anti-Bush frenzy that was apparent after the Supreme Court ended the Florida recount debate has ebbed.

But having Harris on the ballot as the GOP Senate nominee would give state Democrats more ammunition, making it tougher for President Bush to carry the state when he seeks a second term. Why would he need that headache? Of course, Bush’s political team can’t say that openly, since they’d look like ingrates given her role in his election.

Or Jerry Springer (D). The former Cincinnati mayor, who has earned his celebrity status by hosting a TV show, has indicated that he is considering a run for the Democratic Senate nomination in Ohio. The only worse candidate than Springer would be Ozzy Osbourne.

Incumbent Sen. George Voinovich (R) may be invulnerable, but that doesn’t mean that Springer’s nomination would be without impact. Democratic candidates throughout Ohio would have to spend time distancing themselves from the talk show “celebrity,” and his candidacy would make it difficult for the already weak state party to begin its recuperation. [IMGCAP(2)]

Springer is personally articulate and, I expect, intelligent, in spite of the fact that, as mayor, he paid a hooker with a check. But he has chosen to be identified with a television show that features freaks and trailer trash guests screaming at and fighting with each other. That’s enough to disqualify him as a serious public figure. He ought not run for office ever again.

Bill Simon (R), the businessman who came within 5 points of defeating California Gov. Gray Davis (D), has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) next year. My advice to anyone pushing him to run: Get real.

Simon was a weak candidate who put together an abysmally bad campaign. His showing against Davis said much more about the governor’s weakness than Simon’s strength. It’s laughable that he is receiving mention as a possible Senate candidate next year. He simply did not earn another opportunity to run statewide.

How about Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.)? He is in a different category than Simon, Springer or even Harris. Moore is a sitting House Member who is mentioned as a possible challenger to Sen. Sam Brownback (R), and he probably would be the Democrats’ strongest nominee. But he shouldn’t run. The reason: George McGill.

McGill was the last Democrat to win a Senate race in Kansas. It happened in 1932. The election of Kathleen Sebelius (D) as governor doesn’t mean that Kansans suddenly have changed their partisan stripes. It only draws a distinction between state offices, which sometimes go Democratic, and statewide federal races, which rarely do so in Kansas.

Moore, who narrowly won re-election last year, will have a tough race for another term in 2004, and Senate recruiters use that as an argument for a statewide run. After all, if he might lose his House seat anyway, why not take a shot at Brownback?

Here’s why: While Moore’s re-election is far from certain, he’d have a better chance in 2004 as an incumbent than as a statewide challenger, especially if President Bush is popular enough to be returned to office.

Harris, Springer, Simon and Moore aren’t the only possible Senate candidates who should decide against a Senate campaign in 2004. You can add Rep. Bill Janklow (R) to the list. Janklow, South Dakota’s at-large House Member and former governor, is a popular statewide figure, and he’d certainly be a serious opponent for Sen. Thomas Daschle (D). But Janklow can’t beat Daschle and a Senate bid would put the state’s at-large House seat at risk.

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Henry (D) should also take a pass on a Senate race next year. Henry’s legal problems have forced him out of this year’s Kentucky gubernatorial race, but he’ll reportedly take a look at next year’s Senate race if his legal problems are solved. But those problems aren’t likely to disappear completely, and running for the Senate in a state that is moving Republican would be an invitation to disaster.