There’s Something About Doro

Posted November 18, 2003 at 6:27pm

Since moving to the Old Line State a dozen years ago, Doro Bush Koch, the self-described “background girl” of the Bush dynasty, has emerged as a much sought-after figure in Maryland state politics, according to state party officials and other prominent Republicans.

“She’s a hot commodity,” gushed John Kane, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, referring to President Bush’s little sister.

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a former chairman of the state GOP, praised the 44-year-old mother of four as “a strong, but understated presence in the [party].”

“She brings a little credibility to the Republican Party that for many years people didn’t even know existed,” Steele observed.

During the buildup to the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia — where Koch would officially announce Maryland’s 31 delegate votes in favor of Bush — Steele said that “everybody was coming up to me and saying, ‘We gotta find a role for Doro.’ Doro’s view was, ‘Hey, it’s not a big deal, I’ll have Thanksgiving dinner with my brother.’”

Despite her hectic 2000 campaign schedule and despite being the member of the president’s family who lives closest to the White House, Koch said then that her post-campaign life would be as “mother of four in Maryland.”

But while Koch has maintained a low-key presence in state GOP politics, the reluctant politicker hasn’t exactly faded into a life of total domesticity since her brother’s narrow victory three years ago.

Armed with the instantaneous starpower that comes with her family’s famous name, the Montgomery County resident wields an undeniable ability to attract big bucks for state party coffers — when she chooses to get involved.

“Does she sit down and get on the phone? No,” said one Koch friend who has worked with her on campaigns. “She’ll give us people that we can put on the invitation list.”

Koch hosted an enormously successful Texas-themed gala event in honor of Bush for the state party just before his inauguration in January 2001, at the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. More recently, as an honorary co-chairwoman — along with former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp — of the state party’s annual Red, White

and Blue dinner in October, Koch helped rake in more than $500,000 — about four times the event’s usual take, according to Kane. And Koch also makes time to attend fundraisers for state legislators such as Del. Jean Cryor (R), who said Koch always “buys her own ticket” to the events she attends.

“She truly loves being a wife and mother,” Cryor said. “[But] when she can … she will come out.”

Even so, state party officials said her importance is more pronounced in her ability to generate enthusiasm among the rank and file.

“You have friendraisers and fundraisers,” Kane said. “She clearly is a friendraiser. … She’s like the Energizer queen, she gets people going.”

“It’s just a great public relations coup to be able to produce the sister of the president of the United States,” added longtime Maryland Republican consultant Carol Hirschburg.

For instance, during the hotly contested 2002 Maryland gubernatorial race between then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) and then-Rep. Bob Ehrlich (R), Koch “worked her neighborhood in Potomac … hosting friends at her home [and] sharing the Bob and Mike message,” recalled Steele.

And Koch, although known for her usually understated activism when it comes to fundraising and other party-building efforts, isn’t above braving the front lines of the political battlefield when circumstances demand it.

During the 35-day dispute over the 2000 presidential election, a disguised Koch — who has said in the past that there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for her presidential sibling — picketed on two occasions outside then-Vice President Gore’s Naval Observatory residence.

“I was there with her,” recalled Kane, whose children are in the same carpool as Koch’s. “She had a hat on and a trench coat. We were basically yelling, ‘Get out of Cheney’s house.’”

A spokeswoman at the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign said Koch was not available to comment for this article.

With her oldest brother up for re-election next year, look for Koch to focus her efforts primarily on the national scene. A Bush- Cheney event in July, hosted by New York Gov. George Pataki (R) and headlined by Koch, brought in $125,000 for the campaign. And state officials said she’ll likely reprise her 2000 role, stumping for Bush across the country and raising funds for Bush-Cheney ’04. She already represented her brother earlier this month in New Hampshire, filing his candidacy papers for him in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Koch will also serve as a Maryland delegate at next summer’s Republican National Convention in New York, Kane said, adding that Koch will be in such demand at the quadrennial event that “she won’t have much time to do any sightseeing.”

Still, those close to Koch — who is married to Robert Koch, president of the Wine Institute and former aide to Democratic Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) — said her Republican politicking is more a function of her family’s unique political position than a reflection of any burning personal political passion.

“This is all about her family,” said the Koch friend, referring to Koch’s efforts on behalf of both the state and national party.

As for Koch’s own politics, “She is just like her mother,” said the friend.

When asked if this meant she harbored more moderate political views than that of the president, the friend demurred. “I’ve never sat down and quizzed her exactly on what her politics are. She supports her brother and is very adamant about supporting her brother.”