Defeated in DNC Bid, Roemer Weighs Future

Posted February 8, 2005 at 6:16pm

Now that former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) has exited the race for Democratic National Committee chairman, observers are wondering if the six-term moderate wants back in the political game.

Roemer said he isn’t closing the door on anything.

He left Congress at the beginning of 2003 to join the private sector but quickly re-entered the arena as a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9/11 commission.

The panel gave him a national stage, and he was often seen making the cable news network circuit and quoted in major newspapers.

From there he surprised most everyone when he threw his hat into the wide-open race for DNC chairman, but his candidacy was hampered from the outset because of his opposition to abortion rights.

National abortion rights groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America targeted him, making it difficult for Roemer to present his case to the voting delegates.

He withdrew his name on Monday after it was clear that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean had the chairmanship race sewn up.

Back at the Center for National Policy, a Washington, D.C., think tank where he is president, Roemer said Tuesday that he is busy working on national and foreign policy issues.

He also teaches at George Mason University and continues to travel the country talking about the 9/11 commission.

“I am extremely busy and very challenged,” Roemer said. “Will I run for school board or dog catcher someday? I always want to reserve that possibility. But I have three jobs and four kids that keep me very busy right now.”

Before coming to Congress, Roemer worked on Capitol Hill and taught at the University of Notre Dame. He was elected to the old South Bend-based 3rd Congressional district in 1990, most of which is now in the 2nd, and focused on education, intelligence and security issues.

Coming off of a surprisingly tight re-election campaign in 2000 and facing another term in the minority with no room to move up with both of the state’s Senate seats were locked in, Roemer retired to Johnston and Associates, the D.C. lobbying firm of his father-in-law, former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.).

Some Indiana observers believe Roemer would like to serve in the Senate, but there is no open seat looming in the immediate future.

“I always thought perhaps he had some interest in the Senate [but] Sen. Richard Lugar [R-Ind.] has said he’s running again in two years; I’m not sure how you keep in the headlines [until he retires]. The only other possibility would be if Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) becomes vice president or president,” said Jack Colwell, the South Bend Tribune’s former long-time political reporter and current columnist.

“If Lugar had decided not to run [in 2006] I would think Roemer would have been a pretty attractive candidate for the Democrats,” continued Colwell, who also teaches at Notre Dame. “He’s the type of candidate people in Indiana look for, a moderate. He would go over well statewide.”

Despite dropping out before Saturday’s DNC balloting, Roemer says he is glad he got into the race.

“It was certainly something I wanted to do for my party,” Roemer said. “I saw the outcome of the last election where we lost 97 of the fastest-growing 100 counties in the United States and Republicans are more powerful than they have been in 80 years in the national government. At the same time, it seems Democrats are in vital need of a positive agenda; we can’t just be the anti-Bush party.”

Roemer said Democrats have to do a better job talking about national security and that they have to address values issues.

“It was a good experience,” Roemer said. “The conversation we began will continue for years to come. The venue of the DNC was not a big enough one — we’re going to have to take this discussion to the larger national party audience.”

A Midwestern party leader from a Republican stronghold said Roemer’s failure to catch on as DNC chairman is emblematic of the Democrats’ larger problem.

“Tim Roemer’s failed campaign to head the DNC makes me wonder how big our tent truly is and what, if any place, a social conservative has in the party,” the source said. “His emphasis on our losses in 97 of the nation’s 100 fastest-growing counties was right on the money. Regardless of how active our base is in states like mine, we need to find more customers or we’re finished. Roemer gets it.”

But one Washington, D.C.-based Democratic consultant, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Roemer failed to make a good case for his candidacy and that will hurt him down the road.

“Tim Roemer’s rationale was not apparent in his quest for DNC chair, which sort of leaves him flat-footed looking to the future,” the consultant said, adding that many of the other candidates opposing Dean appeared to have a reason for running — and a political team around them — while Roemer did not.

Roemer said he would not completely shut the door on a job offer from Dean, nor would he rule out a future run for an undetermined office.

“Planing things sometimes isn’t always the right way to go, but waiting for the right opportunity certainly has worked in my life,” he said.

Mike Edmondson, executive director for the Indiana Democratic Party, said Roemer would be welcome back to the Hoosier State if he should ever decide to return.

“He is a very well thought of statesman in Indiana,” Edmondson said. “He has excellent name recognition, not just in his old district but statewide.”

Pressed on which office Roemer would seek, Edmondson said he did not know but that nothing would surprise him.

“He surprised me once, and maybe he’ll surprise me again,” Edmondson said. “I didn’t think he would run for DNC chairman, but I was glad he did. He raised some important issues.”