Strangers on a Train

Posted January 28, 2008 at 6:46pm

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has never been shy about sharing his opinions, and his thoughts on former colleague Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are no exception. Last week, Santorum, known for his social conservatism and disdain for “man-on-dog” relations, found an unusual way to air his criticisms of the presidential nominee’s conservative bona fides. During a train ride between New York and Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, Santorum apparently made a series of cell phone calls in which he repeatedly slammed the man he once addressed as the “gentleman from Arizona.”

[IMGCAP(1)]The entire Santorum rant was overheard by many of the former Senator’s fellow passengers, including Michael Lux, a Democratic consultant, who later wrote about the unusual in-train entertainment on openleft.com.

Lux, who co-founded the site and is chief executive officer of Progressive Strategies, a consulting firm for progressive nonprofits, tells HOH that he didn’t intend to eavesdrop. Santorum, though, was speaking so loudly, Lux says he couldn’t help but overhear every word.

He says Santorum appeared to be working his way down a phone list of some kind, talking to each person about how Republicans have to find a way to beat McCain, who he said would be worse for conservatives than either of the leading Democratic candidates — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.).

Santorum, whose spokeswoman did not return HOH’s calls, apparently was advocating a strategy in which delegates to the GOP convention would remain uncommitted, leading to a “brokered convention” in which conservatives would have greater sway.

Lux says he eventually felt bad enough to alert the former Senator that he was a Democrat active in Washington politics, displaying candor that HOH wouldn’t have been able to muster in the same situation. But the cell- phone-happy Santorum appeared not to care, Lux says, and after exchanging a few pleasantries, went right back to dialing and dissing.

Friends Like That. It was all back-slapping hugs and mutual admiration on Monday between Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his endorsee for the Democratic presidential nod, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). But the relationship between the Senate’s bulliest of the Old Bulls and its upstart rock-star newcomer hasn’t always been so warm and cuddly.

Back in 2005, Kennedy slipped up while speaking at the National Press Club, accidentally calling Obama “Osama bin Laden” before catching himself and going on to compliment his fellow Senator.

While that might have been an innocent slip of the tongue, Obama once took a much more direct — and intentional — shot at Kennedy. In 2003, then-state Sen. Obama told members of the AFL-CIO (to whom it’s Kennedy who’s the rock star) that the prescription drug bill on which Kennedy helped broker a compromise was too much of a cave-in to the Republicans who then ran Congress.

“We’ve got to call up not just Republicans,” the Illinois Democrat told the union members, “but we got to call up Ted Kennedy and say, ‘Ted, you’re getting a little old now, and you’ve been a fighter for us before. … Ted, get some spine and stand up to the Republicans.’”

A video of the speech was posted on the left-leaning Huffington Post in December.

But all seemed to be forgotten on Monday, when the two engaged in extravagant compliments of one another.

One of Obama’s biggest buzzwords on the campaign trail is “change,” and it looks like the word applies to his relationship with Kennedy, too.

Honky-Tonkin’. Between Monday’s State of the Union and the ever-closer Super Tuesday, there’s plenty of steam in this town to be blown off. One solution? Beer. Another? Beer and a show by the popular Wil Gravatt Band. Expect to see crowds of GOP staffers and maybe even a Member or two on Thursday, when the country musicians and Republican favorites perform at the American Legion on Capitol Hill, with doors opening at 8 p.m.

The five-man band has been playing gigs on Capitol Hill for the last seven years and has been a popular pick for fundraisers. It also opened for President Bush’s campaign events in 2004.

While the band is made up of both Democrats and Republicans, frontman Wil Gravatt tells HOH that the group’s fan base definitely skews rightward. “We’re a nonpartisan band, that’s for sure,” Gravatt says. “An overwhelming majority of Republicans like our music. We don’t try to lean toward that angle, but being on the road for the president, it was hard to get away from it.”

Still, true to the band’s bipartisan roster, Gravatt says it has played for Democrats and even had Kansas Democrat Dennis Moore sit in on the guitar at a Blue Dog Democrat event a couple of years ago.

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