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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    What Ever Happened To...?

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Friday, May 7, 1999

    Question: What is going on with the potential presidential candidacy of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R)? I have read that he has all but decided not to run, but I haven't seen a final decision from him. – Heather Holdridge, Corvallis, Ore.

    Answer: Thompson, the nation's longest-serving governor, clearly wants to be president. He is itching for the job, and has been frank in listing the shortcomings of the other Republican wannabes.

    Thompson is one of the more innovative thinkers among the nation's governors, and his welfare-reform plan has been cited as the model by many academics. But he knows he cannot raise the kind of money that it will take to win the nomination, and has said he can't compete financially with candidates such as George W. Bush and Steve Forbes. That sounds like a no-go. A vice presidential hopeful in 1996, he may find himself on a similar list for 2000.

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    Kemp's bid for the 1988 GOP nomination ended shortly after a poor showing on Super Tuesday. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Question: Why isn't Jack Kemp running for president? – John Posey, St. Louis, Mo.

    Answer: I've heard a whole assortment of reasons – everything from no fire in the belly to Kemp's usual reluctance to ask folks for money. But the plain truth is that there is no great demand for a Kemp candidacy in 2000.

    Kemp's 1996 debate performance against Vice President Gore perhaps ended his national political prospects. By most accounts, Kemp was awful. He was reluctant to attack President Clinton on campaign finance and the "character question," fumbled on U.S. policy towards Haiti and lost much of his audience with detailed mumbo-jumbo on tax reform.

    The '96 debate reminded me of a Kemp speech I covered for ABC News during his 1988 presidential campaign. Addressing a group of Iowa farmers, Kemp spoke at length about the benefits of returning to the gold standard. He seemed oblivious to what the farmers came to hear, while the farmers seemed clueless as to what Kemp was trying to say.

    Kemp is a bright fellow with a particular vision on which path the GOP should take, notably about race and affirmative action. And he retains a great deal of affection among many in the party. But I'm not convinced he is capable of connecting with a majority of the Republican rank and file.

    Question: I once had the privilege of meeting Michael Dukakis outside Fanueil Hall in Boston during an election rally in 1996. Can you please tell me if he is still actively involved in U.S. political life? – Damien Kerr, Belfast, Northern Ireland

    Answer: Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor, currently teaches politics at Northeastern University in Boston. He also teaches at UCLA in California and is on the board of directors of Amtrak.

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    California Democrats captured the governorship and a Senate seat with this ticket in 1958. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Question: I'm particularly interested in the career of the late California Sen. Clair Engle, a Democrat who served from 1959 to 1964. His career was cut short by a brain tumor and Pierre Salinger claimed this seat briefly. I've always wondered what kind of man Engle was and whether he accomplished anything of note in the Senate. – Dick Levinson, Philadelphia, Pa.

    Answer: In 1958, when Engle was in his eighth term as a congressman from northern California, he became the beneficiary of one of the biggest Republican blunders in state political history.

    William Knowland, the minority leader in the Senate, was plotting a bid for the 1960 GOP presidential nomination. He knew that a fellow California Republican, Vice President Richard Nixon, was the overwhelming favorite to succeed Eisenhower as the party's standard bearer. But Knowland felt that his chances for the White House would increase if he were governor. So he announced he would seek the gubernatorial nomination, despite the fact that a fellow Republican, Goodwin Knight, was already governor and planning to run for reelection.

    Knight, a liberal, was outraged, but ultimately he was pushed out of the way. In a deal brokered in part by Nixon, he reluctantly ran for Knowland's Senate seat. With the Democrats united and the GOP split, the results were a foregone conclusion: Pat Brown, the state attorney general, clobbered Sen. Knowland in the gubernatorial race, and in the Senate contest, Gov. Knight lost convincingly to Engle.

    Engle proved to be extremely popular with voters from both parties, but his career in the Senate was brief. Just 4 1/2 years into his term he underwent a brain operation and came out of it in pretty bad shape. Democratic leaders had pleaded with him to step aside, but he insisted on running again. Despite his incumbency, Engle was challenged for renomination. State Controller Alan Cranston (D) was the first to jump into the race. And in a surprise, White House press secretary Pierre Salinger – a registered voter in Virginia (Hillary, take note) – resigned to run as well. It wasn't until after Engle underwent a second brain operation in April 1964 that he dropped out of the race. He died three months later and Democratic nominee Salinger was appointed to fill the seat. This time it was the Democrats who suffered factional discord, and the Republicans won the seat in November, despite the LBJ landslide.

    Engle's greatest legacy came during his 16 years in the House. He was the author of the 1958 Engle Act, which forbade the president or the secretary of interior to withdraw more than 5,000 acres at a time from public lands for the creation of any military installation.

    Question: Was James Rhodes of Ohio the longest serving governor of the 20th Century? – Harry Strabala, Youngstown, Ohio

    Answer: No, but his tenure of four terms – 16 years – is tied with Alabama's George Wallace, Iowa's Terry Branstad, and Louisiana's Edwin Edwards for the longest. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (see above) is in the midst of his fourth term, which he won in 1998. But he can't join this select group because the final two years of his term will take place in the 21st Century.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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