Lewis and Hulshof Join House GOP Exodus

Posted January 29, 2008 at 6:45pm

House Republicans received two more jolts on Tuesday, chalking up their 26th and 27th retirements of the cycle when Rep. Ron Lewis (Ky.) withdrew his papers to run for re-election and Rep. Kenny Hulshof (Mo.) announced that he would run for governor.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) also is expected to announce in the next few days whether he will seek an eighth term, and he widely is expected to step aside.

Lewis’ 11th-hour decision to withdraw from the race came as a surprise to both parties on Capitol Hill, especially after his office had vigorously denied retirement rumors that were circulating in the Bluegrass State in November.

But perhaps even more surprising was the unexpected candidacy of Lewis’ chief of staff, Daniel London, who filed for the race at about the same time that Lewis’ papers were withdrawn on Tuesday.

London acknowledged in an interview Tuesday evening that he and Lewis timed their announcements for just before the 4 p.m. filing deadline in an attempt to avoid a Republican primary battle.

London said Lewis decided over the weekend not to run, though London spent Sunday and Monday trying to talk Lewis back into it.

Only when it became clear that the Congressman did not intend to change his mind did the two come to the conclusion that London would run, and “we didn’t think it was best to go through a primary,” he said.

The effort to keep out other Republican challengers didn’t work as the National Republican Congressional Committee, anticipating the possibility of Lewis’ retirement, had recruited state Sen. Brett Guthrie into the race.

When asked about the late-day developments surrounding Lewis and London, NRCC spokesman Ken Spain chose to tout Guthrie’s candidacy.

“We had been monitoring the situation closely and were able to successfully recruit Sen. Brett Guthrie to run,” Spain said. “He is truly an A-plus candidate and we welcome him into the race.”

Kentucky’s top Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also chose to focus on Guthrie rather than London in a statement released Tuesday night.

“I am sorry my friend Ron Lewis chose not to continue his public service,” McConnell said. “However, I am delighted to learn that Sen. Brett Guthrie has thrown his hat in the ring and I look forward to a spirited race.”

In 2006, Lewis won re-election with 55 percent of the vote after spending almost $2 million on his race, more than double the amount spent by his opponent, state Rep. Mike Weaver, who was Lewis’ first serious Democratic challenger in a decade. It was Lewis’ lowest winning percentage since the May 1994 special election that brought him to Congress.

London, who has served as Lewis’ chief of staff since late 2003 and has worked for the Congressman since 1997, said that Lewis, 61, made made his decision not run for a ninth term after consulting with his wife and family after last week’s House Republican retreat.

“Given the recent wave of retirements … and the fact that he was missing home more and more he felt it was time to come home and spend time with his family,” London said.

Mike Dodge, Lewis’ spokesman, said the staff was informed about Lewis’ decision not to run again shortly after the state’s filing deadline on Tuesday.

“He said he’s always believed this is a citizens Congress and it’s a healthy thing for the party and democracy to have fresh faces every now and then,” Dodge said. “He said he’s been thinking about this for a while. … He said the decision not to run was made today. I’m not privy to the conversations he’s had with his chief of staff.”

“I’ll be the first to admit that [the 11th-hour filing] does [look bad] but as we talked about it over the weekend, I didn’t know if I wanted to do it,” London said. “We could have [let people know earlier on Tuesday that Lewis would not run] but when you do that you open it up to a primary. … Knowing it would be that late and that it would be difficult to find anyone to run,” the two decided it would be better to just avoid a primary.

Whoever wins the Republican primary will have to face one of two highly touted Democratic candidates, state Sen. David Boswell or Daviess County Judge/Executive Reid Haire.

Haire has served as the chief executive of Daviess County, which includes the Congressional district’s biggest city, Owensboro, since 1999.

Boswell is an 18-year veteran of the state Senate who has also served as state agricultural commissioner.

The two men are conservatives, which Democrats need to be to compete in a district that President Bush carried by more than 30 points in the 2004 White House election. Both oppose abortion rights and favor gun rights.

“In Kentucky’s 2nd district, Democrats have two credible challengers who reflect the values of the district and voters’ desire for change,” said DCCC spokeswoman Kyra Jennings on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Hulshof officially took himself out of the running for a seventh term on Tuesday, declaring his candidacy to replace Gov. Matt Blunt (R), who announced last week that he would not seek a second term in November.

“The people of Missouri’s 9th Congressional District have trusted me as their representative in Washington for the last 11 years. From getting our fair share of federal highway dollars to being an advocate of the poor and disabled, I have always sought tangible solutions, because that is what people expect from their government,” Hulshof said in a statement.

Already nervous after a rash of recent retirements, Republican House leaders acted quickly to ensure that credible candidates stood stabled awaiting Hulshof’s anticipated announcement. Hulshof, who deferred to Blunt in the 2004 gubernatorial race and was a candidate to run the University of Missouri last year, now joins a growing Republican field in the gubernatorial race that includes Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. The GOP contest quickly has all the makings of a bruising primary to take on the lone Democratic candidate Jay Nixon, the Show-Me-State’s attorney general.

A state Republican source said one of Hulshof’s primary selling points, ironically enough, may be his status as an outsider — to Jefferson City, that is. Both Kinder and Steelman are entrenched in state GOP politics, which has suffered from recent infighting and ethical clouds.

“He brings a fresh perspective on things,” the source said.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), also named early as a possible gubernatorial candidate, confirmed earlier this week that she will stay put. A state Republican source said late Tuesday that Hulshof’s announcement likely indicates that the “field is settled,” perhaps quashing suggestions that former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) might throw his hat in the ring.

NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said in a statement, “There is a solid bench of Republican candidates that are interested in running for Missouri’s Ninth Congressional District.”

Washington, Mo.-area state Rep. Kevin Threlkeld (R); state Rep. Mike Sutherland, based in the western St. Louis outskirts; state Rep. Steve Hobbs (R); and Blunt’s economic development director, Greg Steinhoff (R), all are weighing runs.

Cole said he will meet with potential candidates in the coming weeks.

Hulshof’s departure poses interesting questions for the DCCC, which is already targeting northwest Missouri Rep. Sam Graves (R) this cycle. Prior to Hulshof’s announcement, the committee paid little more than a passing glance at taking on the well-liked incumbent. But with his departure, the DCCC may see a two-fer, another potential pickup opportunity with a bargain price tag.

For now, state Rep. Judy Baker, who has shown some fundraising potential, is the lone Democrat in the race. But she soon may be joined by electoral mainstays like former Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell (D) or former state Speaker Steve Gaw (D).

Regardless of the field, Democrats say they like their chances now that Hulshof has his eyes on Jefferson City.

“Missouri families are hungry for change and this district presents an opportunity for a Democrat who will stand up for children’s health care, strengthen Missouri’s struggling economy and champion the needs of troops and veterans,” DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said.