A New Hampshire Senator's Reverse Midas Touch

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 10, 2008

So much for the Judd Gregg endorsement primary.

For the third straight competitive New Hampshire presidential primary, Sen. Gregg (R-N.H.) has been the most sought-after endorsement among GOP candidates hoping to show their local bona fides to notoriously independent-minded voters.

And for the third straight primary, Gregg has backed a loser.

Tuesday night, Gregg had the task of ushering former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney onstage to claim another "silver medal," as the former head of the Winter Olympics likes to call his second-place finishes.

It was a bitter pill for Gregg, who endorsed Romney on Oct. 29, back when the next-door-neighbor presidential aspirant was flying high in the polls with double-digit leads over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Romney's campaign issued a release trumpeting news headlines hailing the endorsement as everything from a "big name" to "the prize get in New Hampshire."

His handlers should have checked with Gregg's past endorsees about his success rate.

In 2000, Gregg weighed in early with an endorsement of George W. Bush, who was clobbered in New Hampshire by upstart McCain. (That's 0-2 for Gregg against McCain, whose insurgent bid upended Romney on Tuesday.) And in 1996 Gregg backed Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader at the time, who lost to conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.

It's been 20 years since Gregg last backed a winner in a competitive New Hampshire primary, when he supported Bush's father.

The Romney camp happily noted Gregg's solid "track record for picking the eventual nominee," pointing to GOP victories by both Bushes and Dole. "He is also an important validator for any candidate who wants to send a clear message to economic conservatives that they're serious about lower taxes and cutting wasteful spending," said Kevin Madden, Romney's spokesman.

Gregg wasn't the only member of Congress with some political egg on his or her face from the voting in Iowa and New Hampshire. On stage with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in New Hampshire were the state's freshmen Democrats, Reps. Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter, who bucked the establishment and backed the loser in their state.

And let's not forget Rep. Steven King's prescient endorsement of former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson in the GOP field just weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Thompson finished third, more than 20 percentage points behind former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Oh, well. At least they weren't like Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who four years ago was stuck onstage holding Howard Dean's coat during the forever infamous "Dean Scream" speech in Iowa. Gregg and the other endorsement losers may want to take note of Harkin's endorsement decision this year: no one.

Please Pass the Juice

We were hoping to see a pitcher's duel next week, but a House committee has postponed a day of scheduled testimony from two of baseball's best pitchers, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, who are accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs in the recent report by former senator George Mitchell (D-Maine).

Clemens and Pettitte, close friends who have spent much of their careers with the New York Yankees, are now scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Feb. 13, along with another former Yankee, Chuck Knoblauch, trainer Brian McNamee and former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski.

A now-infamous 2005 steroids hearing before the same committee is best known for the testimony of three of the game's most fearsome sluggers: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro.

Which got us wondering how this year's alleged juicers (Clemens vehemently denies the accusation; Pettitte says he briefly used human growth hormone) have fared against the men in the hot seat two years ago.

Palmeiro -- who famously told lawmakers that he never used any performance-enhancing substance "period," then tested positive for steroids five months later -- pretty much owned the Yankee duo. He batted .323 lifetime with three home runs against Clemens, and .348 with five homers against Pettitte. Sosa hit .500 against Pettitte (in just 12 at-bats) and .182, with eight strikeouts in 22 chances against Clemens.

McGwire? Not so much. He hit only .250 against Pettitte and a miserable .080, with 14 strikeouts, against Clemens, one of the game's best.

The committee still plans to hold a hearing Tuesday to hear Mitchell, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Staying Put?

Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) strenuously objected to rampant speculation that he is on the verge of announcing he won't run for reelection in a contested primary field later this spring. "Until you hear from us one way or the other, consider this: He's running," Ron Rogers, Doolittle's chief of staff, told On the Hill after California blog reports predicting his retirement announcement.

Doolittle's home was raided by the FBI last spring in the corruption probe of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. For several years, Doolittle's wife was a $5,000-a-month consultant for Abramoff while the lawmaker allegedly did legislative favors for the lobbyist. GOP leaders have declined to endorse Doolittle, whose fundraising has cratered. At the end of September, he had almost as much debt as cash on hand in his campaign account.

Keep your eyes on the filing period, Feb. 11 to March 7, when Doolittle must make the go/no-go decision.

Craig Appeal

Sen. Larry Craig ( R-Idaho) won't give up the fight. In the latest round of legal maneuvering to clear his name in that Minneapolis airport sex sting, Craig asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday to reverse a lower court's decision preventing him from withdrawing his guilty plea to disorderly conduct.

Craig invoked many of the same arguments he has used before: that he's innocent, was pressured by airport police to cop a plea, and is a "dedicated public servant who continues to serve the people of Idaho with honor and distinction."

But he also says in a 27-page brief that he couldn't have violated Minnesota's public disorder law because the law "requires that the conduct at issue have a tendency to alarm or anger 'others' " -- plural. And he alarmed or angered just one cop.

The brief said Craig's guilty plea failed to support the legal definition of disorderly conduct as "offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous or noisy." Craig quietly tapped his foot and passed his hand under the bathroom stall partition, which undercover Sgt. Dave Karsnia took as a well-known gesture by those soliciting sex. Craig said he was picking up tissue off the floor.

The state of Minnesota has 45 days to respond to Craig, who has decided to stick around the Senate until his term ends next January.

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