Will Norton Get a Vote and a Race?

Posted March 9, 2009 at 4:57pm

If the D.C. voting rights bill eventually passes Congress, gets President Barack Obama’s signature and survives any court challenges, a city full of wannabe politicians will elect its first Member capable of exercising a full vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

But could full voting privileges also spark the first competitive primary challenge for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who is widely expected to run for the new seat if it materializes?

Most observers say it’s not likely, since Norton is viewed as having earned the right to be the federal city’s first voting Congresswoman. And most potential candidates said they are still focused on shepherding the voting rights bill into law.

All three members of Washington, D.C.’s shadow delegation, Democratic Sens. Paul Strauss and Michael D. Brown and Democratic Rep. Mike Panetta, shot down the possibility of running against Norton. Brown was particularly emphatic.

“You understand that Barack Obama is the second-most-popular politician in the District of Columbia,— he said. “If I chose to run and she was running, I’d vote for her.—

Panetta, who will lose his unpaid side job as the District’s shadow Representative if the D.C. voting rights bill is signed into law, said he would never run against Norton. He didn’t think other Democrats would either, but he added that he believes “half the city— will run when she leaves the office.

Marie Johns, who lost to now-Mayor Adrian Fenty in the 2006 Democratic mayoral primary, said she hasn’t given the possibility much thought but counted herself among Norton’s supporters.

“Certainly it’s exciting that we’re on the cusp of getting a vote, and hopefully Congresswoman Norton gets to exercise it,— she said.

Fenty, who once served as an intern in Norton’s office, has also said he would not run for the seat.

Norton is only the second person to serve as D.C. Delegate. She was first elected in 1990 to replace Walter Fauntroy when he left to run for mayor (he lost in the primary). She has since been re-elected nine times with little or no opposition in either the primary or the general election. She has never raised more than $500,000 in an election cycle.

Andy Miscuk, the Democrat who ran against Norton in 2006, gave two reasons for challenging her. First, he said his long-shot race was about educating District voters about their representation in the federal government.

“It was more about visibility,— he said. “As I talked to people a lot about it, there were just long-term D.C. residents who did not know who Eleanor Holmes Norton was.—

Second, Miscuk said he believes every elected official should have an opponent. Still, he referred to Norton as “a bona fide civil rights leader— and himself as definitely “a dark-horse— candidate.

Miscuk said he raised about $25,000 in addition to the money he gave to the campaign himself, and he spent nine months meeting District voters full time. The property manager and IT consultant said running for political office again was a possibility, “but not in the near future.—

No Republican has stepped forward to oppose Norton either — although like virtually all other local government elections in heavily Democratic D.C., the Congressional race is all but certain to be decided in the primary.

However, one possible Republican, failed at-large D.C. Council candidate and former Hill staffer Patrick Mara, had some advice for anyone who does decide to run.

“No one’s seriously run against her, and they would have to take a look at her record,— he said. “She would have wind at her back because it was on her watch that D.C. received a vote in the House.—

A candidate could highlight Norton’s opposition to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which funds school vouchers, and her cautious approach to the D.C. Council’s efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. That would appeal to the high percentage of District families with students in charter schools and to the homosexual community, according to Mara and Paul Craney, communications director for D.C. Republican Party.

Both Mara and Craney emphasized that anyone who hopes to defeat Norton will have to start early and campaign across all eight wards.

Miscuk only hopes that someone will run.

“Somebody should consider running against everybody who’s out there,— he said. “Every elected official needs competition, both in the primary and in the general.—