Democrats Cut Aid to Alexander

Colleagues Insist Flirtation With GOP Is Not a Factor

Posted May 5, 2004 at 5:21pm

Louisiana Rep. Rodney Alexander (D) received only one contribution from a fellow Member after he publicly contemplated switching parties in early March, according to an examination of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Alexander took in a total of $3,000 in contributions from his colleagues from Jan. 1 to March 31, the third-lowest total of the 18 most endangered, so-called “Frontline Democrats” during the period.

“The rough patch they went through for a week or so not knowing whether he would switch parties didn’t curry him any favors with the Caucus,” said one Democratic House leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) was the only Member to make a contribution after Alexander flirted with becoming a Republican, before ultimately deciding to remain a Democrat on March 5.

Murtha donated $1,000 to Alexander on March 31, the final day to accept donations in the first quarter.

Alexander also received $1,000 from Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) and Mike Ross (D-Ark.) in the first three months of the year.

Ross, a fellow member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said he never considered asking for his donation back.

“Rodney is a conservative Democrat and went through a process where he had to make a personal decision,” Ross said.

He added that he had already given the maximum of $2,000 to Alexander’s campaign but “if I could give him another $2,000, I would.”

For his part, Alexander said that “people still treat me nice” after he nearly joined the Republican party. “I have not had a person who said anything to me but good.”

Alexander’s near-switch was clearly a traumatic event for House Democrats, however, as they sought to ride the momentum of the Feb. 17 special election victory of Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler (D).

That victory reduced the Republican majority to 12 seats and counteracted the party switch of Texas Rep. Ralph Hall (R) in January.

A second competitive special election is set for June 1 to replace former South Dakota Rep. Bill Janklow (R), who resigned his seat Jan. 20.

One of the most conservative Democrats in the House Caucus, Alexander has sided with GOPers on key issues including support for President Bush’s tax cuts and the Republican prescription drug proposal.

Despite Alexander’s willingness to buck party leadership on these crucial votes, Ross insisted that the Louisiana freshman will have the full financial backing of his peers.

“You will see him get a lot of support between now and November,” Ross said. “Everyone in our Caucus recognizes that this was a seat held by a Republican for a number of years.”

A Democratic strategist agreed, noting: “Now that he is committed to the Caucus and Members know where his loyalties lie, his fundraising will pick up.”

It remains to be seen, however, how some of the more liberal Members in the House view Alexander after his near defection.

Alexander won the northern Louisiana 5th district in 2002 by 974 votes in a December runoff.

The seat was vacated by former Rep. John Cooksey (R), who held it for three terms before embarking on an ill-fated Senate candidacy.

A crowded field produced a runoff between Alexander and former Cooksey chief of staff Lee Fletcher (R), with Fletcher given the clear edge.

Touting his conservative credentials from his time in the state House and benefiting from a divide between Fletcher and former Rep. Clyde Holloway (R), Alexander eked out a 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent victory.

The narrowness of his margin coupled with the Republican tilt of the district — Bush won 57 percent there in 2000 — installed Alexander as perhaps the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent heading into this cycle.

And Republicans remain confident that Cooksey will attempt a comeback this year; he is seen by observers on both sides as the strongest possible Republican challenger to Alexander. Democrats express skepticism that Cooksey will run.

Although Cooksey has not yet announced, he recently released a poll showing him within 3 points of the Democratic incumbent.

“I am assuming Dr. Cooksey is running,” Alexander said.

Given these circumstances, Alexander’s lack of support from his colleagues in the first quarter stands out all the more.

The only two Frontline Democrats to take in less money from Members during that time — Reps. Tim Bishop (N.Y.) and Lincoln Davis (Tenn.) — are expected to have much easier re-election races than Alexander.

Bishop won his Long Island-based seat by knocking off freshman Rep. Felix Grucci (R) in 2002.

Davis won a Republican-held open seat and faces his 2002 opponent, though national GOPers are significantly less enthusiastic about the race this time.

Alexander had received roughly $64,000 total from Democratic Members this cycle, putting him roughly in the middle of the Frontline pack.

Rep. Chet Edwards, one of five Texas Democrats facing a difficult re-election race as the result of a Republican-led redraw of the state’s lines in 2003, had raked in more than $115,000 from Members this cycle.