Leaders Do Plenty of ‘Heaving Lifting’ for Renzi

Posted March 8, 2004 at 5:43pm

Last April, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) led an official trip to Europe, keeping a packed schedule that included landing on an aircraft carrier and visiting wounded troops at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

Normally, the Speaker would conclude such an overseas tour by returning home to Illinois or heading back to work on Capitol Hill. Instead, he flew from Europe straight to Arizona to headline a fundraiser for freshman Rep. Rick Renzi (R).

Hastert’s intercontinental trek was just one of dozens of small and large gestures House Republican leaders have made on both the legislative and financial fronts to boost the re-election prospects of Renzi, who is one of the two or three most vulnerable GOP incumbents this cycle.

“That’s a heavy lift for [Hastert] to do that for me,” said Renzi, adding that Republican leaders “have really gone out of their way to help me.”

Along with freshman Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.), Renzi has been at the top of Democratic target lists since he was narrowly elected in a newly drawn swing district in 2002.

The Arizonan is expected to face a tougher opponent in November, former Flagstaff Mayor Paul Babbitt (D), than he did two years ago, when he defeated businessman George Cordova (D) by just 3 points despite a huge fundraising advantage and ample assistance from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In this cycle, Renzi has benefited from the GOP’s high-profile rhyming fundraising campaigns — ROMP (Retain Our Majority Program) and FROMP (Freshman Retaining Our Majority Program) — and had netted more than $150,000 from other Republican Members’ campaign and leadership political action committees as of Dec. 31, when he reported having $405,000 in the bank.

That total includes the maximum $10,000 apiece from the leadership PACs run by Hastert, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas), NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and Rep. John Boehner (Ohio), as well as a host of smaller donations from other top lawmakers.

After his win in 2002, Renzi irked some Hill Republicans by criticizing the NRCC and its chairman at the time, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), for the committee’s negative campaign tactics on his behalf. But any bad blood between the NRCC and Renzi appears to have given way to political realism, as Davis’ leadership PAC handed the freshman $6,000 last year.

Like Hastert, several senior Republicans have traveled to Arizona to headline events. Last month, Reynolds, Boehner and Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio) took time out from an NRCC retreat in the Grand Canyon State to raise money for Renzi in the 1st district.

The Bush administration has also kicked in. White House senior adviser Karl Rove hosted an Arizona fundraiser for Renzi last year, while Chief of Staff Andy Card did one in Washington, D.C. Vice President Cheney is expected to headline an event for the freshman this month.

On the legislative front, GOP leaders and committee heads such as Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (Calif.) have helped Renzi get a number of politically popular bills passed.

“I watch out for the guys on my committee,” said Pombo. “I’ve been to Renzi’s district, and I’ll probably go back.”

Pombo said Renzi has shown a strong interest in the panel’s work and has been “way out front” on many of the issues it has dealt with. The chairman cited Renzi’s presence on a Resources trip to Alaska’s North Slope last year as an example of the freshman’s work ethic.

Some combination of that work ethic and the leadership’s largess has enabled Renzi to put together a prolific legislative record. In his 14 months in Congress, Renzi has introduced 17 bills, of which seven have passed the House and three have become law.

In November, President Bush signed a bill to increase death benefits for the families of fallen soldiers. The measure, which passed the House 413-0, was similar to an earlier one that had been introduced by Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), but with DeLay’s help Renzi was named the original sponsor on the version that became law, allowing him to reap credit for the popular bill.

More recently, when Renzi wanted to introduce a measure aimed at giving rural housing assistance to American Indians, he sought out the help of veteran Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio).

“Ney immediately ran it up the flag for me,” Renzi said.

And as is traditionally the case with vulnerable lawmakers, Renzi has received more than his fair share of funds through the appropriations process, allowing him to put out a steady stream of press releases trumpeting the money he is bringing home to Arizona.

The leadership’s help has gone beyond raising dollars and greasing the legislative wheels. In December, Renzi, a former Defense Department employee, wanted to complete a senior intelligence training course at Arizona’s Fort Huachuca. He considered it “continuing education” that would help him as a legislator.

Knowing it would be difficult to juggle the course with his House work, Renzi said he went to the leadership to discuss his plans and that DeLay helped “clear my calendar.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to have that opportunity without Tom DeLay,” Renzi said.