Help for McCarthy,Moran?

Posted September 10, 2003 at 6:30pm

House Democratic leaders aren’t likely to go overboard this cycle lending their support to help politically tarnished Reps. Jim Moran (Va.) and Karen McCarthy (Mo.) overcome primary challenges in 2004, according to key Democratic Members and aides.

Both lawmakers are in overwhelmingly Democratic districts, so party officials are hoping that the embattled incumbents will be able to work out their problems and not drain critical funds from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

With Democrats trying to focus resources on more hotly contested seats in other parts of the country, party insiders said the ideal scenario would be for neither lawmaker to ask the leadership or the DCCC to get involved in their respective primaries.

“It’s safe to say the best scenario for Democrats taking back the House is not to have to support any incumbent in a primary,” noted one well-placed Democratic strategist.

Privately, several senior House Democratic Members said McCarthy would be much more likely than Moran to get the support of the DCCC and House leaders if she asks for it.

The political troubles of McCarthy, who is expected to face at least two primary challengers, stem from her highly publicized battle with alcohol. But she has won the sympathy of her peers in the wake of her decision to seek treatment earlier this year.

Moran, who is also facing at least two Democratic challengers, has been battered by allegations stemming from his personal financial problems and close relationships with lobbyists. He also outraged the Jewish community, which the party can’t afford to lose going into 2004, with controversial comments.

“Rejecting a Member who overcame alcoholism in their re-election — compared to a Member like Jim Moran — is night and day,” said one senior Democratic House aide. “There will be a very silent posture taken toward Moran.”

When asked what it would do if either Member asks for assistance, DCCC spokesman Greg Speed said, “We’re not going to deal in hypotheticals. We haven’t received any requests for help.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said by and large incumbent Members of Congress are traditionally expected to take care of their own fundraising, but did not rule out helping either Moran or McCarthy this cycle. “If and when they ask, I’ll make that decision,” she said.

Moran, who is facing at least two primary challengers in his effort to win an eighth term, stressed in an interview that he has no plans to solicit financial help from the DCCC. The Virginia lawmaker got in political hot water earlier this year when he suggested that the Jewish influence helped push President Bush into launching the war in Iraq.

While Moran apologized, several prominent Jewish Democrats have said they will not support his re-election. Kate Hanley, chairman of the Fairfax Country Board of Supervisors, and attorney Andy Rosenberg are opposing Moran.

Moran has raised $398,000 so far this cycle and has $254,000 in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission records. To date, none of his contributions have come from fellow House Members. “I think I need to do this on my own,” Moran said. “The leadership needs to be focused on the junior Members and open seats. It’s not fair to create an additional burden for the leadership and the DCCC.”

Moran said he has a lot of friends in the House, and they have offered to help him with his re-election. “Maybe it’s a matter of pride,” he said. “I think the DCCC has enough to worry about.”

McCarthy, who is vying for a sixth term, sparked controversy after she fell down a House office escalator while intoxicated. She has also has faced trouble with staff retention, losing two chiefs of staff in as many months, amid questions about her performance in office.

“There is concern that she hasn’t turned the corner,” said the Democratic strategist.

McCarthy, who declined to comment for this story, has collected just $32,000 so far this year but is still sitting strong with $422,000 in cash on hand.

She hasn’t received any money from her colleagues in her attempt to stave off challenges from former Senate aide Jamie Metzl and public policy consultant Damian Thorman.

House Democrats have grappled with how and to what degree they should support their peers in the past.

While the House Democratic leadership traditionally supports incumbents in primaries, leaders and rank-and-file Members alike struggled over their position in the re-election of then-Rep. Gary Condit (Calif.) in the past cycle. In that case, the DCCC remained neutral.

One House leadership aide noted that even though Moran and McCarthy have had their troubles, neither has risen to the level of Condit, who ultimately lost his primary bid to freshman Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.).