McKinney’s New Controversy

Posted July 21, 2004 at 6:59pm

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) on Wednesday dismissed concerns that former Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s (D-Ga.) dramatic political comeback in a suburban Atlanta district would jeopardize the party’s chances of holding the solidly Democratic seat in November.

Matsui’s comments came one day after the controversial ex-Congresswoman won a resounding primary victory, paving the way for her likely return to the House next year.

“I think it’s a safe Democratic seat,” Matsui said.

He said that with the conclusion of the primary, in which McKinney received 51 percent of the vote, the race to succeed Rep. Denise Majette (D) is “pretty much over.”

McKinney, who lost badly to Majette in a high-profile 2002 primary, will face little-known Republican Catherine Davis on the November ballot.

Matsui’s comments came in response to Democratic consultant Bob Doyle’s suggestion Wednesday that the nomination of McKinney, both adored and demonized for controversial comments during her 10-year career on the Hill, could end up costing the party the seat this fall.

Doyle was a consultant to state Sen. Liane Levetan (D), who placed second to McKinney on Tuesday with 21 percent of the vote.

“I do have to say that I think if I’m sitting over at the DCCC office today there’s another race that I have to look at,” Doyle said.

Doyle credited McKinney’s win on Tuesday to a severe drop in Democratic turnout from the contentious 2002 primary that garnered national attention. While Georgia has a closed primary and voters are forced to chose either the Democratic or Republican ballot, Doyle noted that voters will be allowed to cross party lines this fall.

“In November there’s going to be a broad turnout,” Doyle said. “The electorate that turns out is going to be a completely different kind of electorate than the one where Cynthia McKinney barely broke 50 percent last night.”

Doyle went as far as to compare the situation in the 4th district to the Democratic debacle that unfolded in Georgia’s 12th district last cycle, when the party lost a seat drawn to help elect a Democrat after nominating a candidate who turned out to be unelectable.

Matsui characterized Doyle’s assertion as “sour grapes” on the part of a consultant on the losing end of a campaign.

“I don’t have a lot of respect for his political skills and judgment,” Matsui said, describing Doyle as someone with a predilection to “always find something wrong.”

Matsui suggested that Doyle ought to spend more time working to elect his clients, such as Democrat Rick Crawford in Georgia’s 11th district, than handicapping the committee’s chances in the 4th district. Doyle has often sought out and worked to elect more conservative Democrats, something that has not always set well with Democratic leaders.

“He lost his race,” Matsui said. “He should be going home with his tail between his legs.”

Doyle defended his record.

“With respect, my firm has helped House Democrats pick up six GOP-held seats since 1996. We’ve helped elect 17 Members, most in tough districts. So I think my political skills and judgment have been established. No one is more personally invested in a Democratic majority than I am,” he said.

A series of polls conducted for Levetan’s campaign had shown her and McKinney strongly positioned to make what had been viewed as an inevitable runoff.

Doyle noted that McKinney got about 700 fewer votes this year than she did two years ago, when she lost to Majette by 16 percentage points.

“I don’t think our polling numbers were faulty. I think that the samples that we were looking at with respect to how turnout was going to come about just never materialized,” Doyle said.

While McKinney pulled much of the same vote that she got in 2002, the voters who turned out in droves to vote for Majette last time largely chose to stay home this year or take part in the high profile GOP Senate primary.

Rep. Johnny Isakson cruised to victory in the three-way Republican Senate race Tuesday, beating out pizza magnate Herman Cain and Rep. Mac Collins with 53 percent of the vote. Isakson has lost two previous bids for statewide office and is the heavy favorite to win the seat of retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D) in the fall.

Isakson attended the Senate Republican Steering Committee’s weekly lunch on Wednesday and was received with warm applause, sources said.

Reaction to McKinney’s resounding primary victory largely overshadowed Tuesday’s other primary results in Georgia.

McKinney captured 51 percent of the vote in five-way contest, skirting what was expected to be a high-profile run-up to the Aug. 10 runoff. Former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard finished third with 19 percent.

Speaking to supporters Tuesday night, McKinney called her victory “one of the greatest political comebacks in history.”

Beyond the surprise of political handicappers and observers, reaction to McKinney’s primary win was mixed in Washington.

Some Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, several of whom donated money to McKinney’s comeback effort, voiced support for their former colleague.

“I certainly feel that people are tending to overreact to Cynthia’s election,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.).

Hastings, who was once impeached from a federal judgeship, added, “I would hope everyone settles down and gets down to business. … There are a lot of controversial Congresspersons who have been through this institution, including yours truly.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.). “She was a great Member.”

Asked about McKinney’s relations with other Democratic lawmakers, Watt said, “It’s not about whether she gets along with other Members of Congress. She’s not answerable to us. She answers to her constituents.”

A spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that because no deal was reached with McKinney on seniority prior to the primary, if elected, McKinney will not be able to recoup the time already served in the chamber when it comes to committee assignments.

“In this case, as far as I know there’s no deal,” Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said.

“But she would be the most senior of the freshman,” Daley added, noting that she would retain the seniority from her previous service when it comes to matters such as office space.

While McKinney escaped a runoff, her former nemesis Majette was not so lucky in her effort to win the Democratic Senate nomination.

Majette will face millionaire technology entrepreneur Cliff Oxford, who pumped more than $1 million of his own money into the race, in the Aug. 10 runoff. Majette garnered 41 percent compared to Oxford’s 21 percent.

But while Majette finished way ahead of the still largely unknown Oxford in the first round of balloting, she is by no means considered a lock to win the nomination next month.

Questions remain about whether Majette can adequately finance a runoff race, especially while Oxford is expected to continue self-financing his campaign.

Also, the absence of a runoff in the 4th district could dampen the pro-Majette turnout in the runoff.

The contest between Majette and Oxford will be one of three federal races in the state moving to an Aug. 10 runoff.

State Sens. Tom Price and Robert Lamutt will square off in the GOP contest to replace Isakson in the heavily Republican 6th district. The runoff is expected to break down largely along geographical lines, as Price hails from north Fulton County and Lamutt is from Cobb County, the population center of the district.

Price will have to peel away voters who aligned themselves with one of the other Cobb-based candidates in the primary in order to win the runoff.

The 8th district race to succeed Collins is also headed for a runoff, after former Bush administration official Dylan Glenn (R) delivered a stronger-than-expected showing Tuesday.

Glenn, who is black, will face state Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R) in the runoff.

Glenn has run for Congress unsuccessfully twice before, but his primary showing has given some Republicans new cause to take note of a potential rising star.

“Dylan is now an experienced campaigner, and he’s an experienced fundraiser, which is critical,” said Alvin Williams, executive director of BAMPAC, a D.C.-based PAC for black Republican candidates. “He already had a great profile.”

Meanwhile, the general election fireworks began almost immediately on Wednesday in the sprawling 12th district, a race that is expected to be one of the most hotly contested battles in the nation this November.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow escaped a runoff by capturing 52 percent of the vote against former state Sen. Doug Haines in the Democratic primary.

Barrow’s showing — and more importantly, his ability to avoid a bruising and resource-draining runoff — left national Democrats ecstatic about their ability to knock off freshman Rep. Max Burns (R) in the fall.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we’re going to win that seat,” Matsui said.

At the same time, Burns came out of Tuesday’s primary swinging, releasing a statement pegging Barrow as a “liberal trial attorney” who made good use of of his “good old boy” connections. He also challenged Barrow to radio and television debates before the November election.