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    The Other Forbes

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, July 23, 1999

    Question: Do you think Rep. Michael Forbes (formerly R-N.Y., now D-N.Y.) is likely to suffer the same fate as Greg Laughlin of Texas, who switched from the Democrats to the GOP, only to lose his primary in 1996? It's hard to see how a pro-life, anti-gun-control, pro-impeachment former U.S. Chamber of Commerce staffer could thrive in the New York Democratic party, even in conservative Suffolk County. – Richard Skinner, Charlottesville, Va.

    The last GOP House member to switch to the Dems was Donald Riegle in 1973. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: Forbes's switch to the Democrats was startling, to say the least. Just last week, in's "Political Junkie" column, there was a question about possible upcoming party switches by disenchanted Republicans, and the guy who writes the column didn't even mention Forbes. Shows how much he knows. (See the July 16 column.)

    Forbes's relationship with party leaders was poor, dating back to his vote against Newt Gingrich for speaker in 1997. But few expected the generally conservative, three-term congressman to jump ship. For an anti-abortion, pro-impeachment fiscal conservative, who endorsed George W. Bush for president, and who represents a district where Republicans have a 3-to-2 advantage, switching to the other side is a bit mystifying.

    Forbes's situation is similar to that of former Texas congressman Laughlin, who went over to the GOP in 1995. While party officials in Washington welcomed both moves, the folks back home were less than thrilled. In Laughlin's case, Speaker Gingrich came to Texas to campaign for him. But local Republicans resented Laughlin, and failed to give him a majority in the GOP primary; Laughlin was defeated in a runoff. In Forbes's case, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt helped engineer the switch as part of his effort to recapture the House by next year. But Democrats back home are preparing to take Forbes on in the primary, and a handful of strong Republicans are planning to run as well. Forbes might have been better off had he become an independent.

    By the way, the last Republican House member to switch to the Democratic Party was Donald Riegle of Michigan, who jumped in 1973.

    Question: I am interested in finding out whether Gov. Bush saw military service in Vietnam or whether he "pulled a Quayle" by getting into the National Guard to avoid active duty. I assume he saw active duty in the war front as his father made this a big issue against Clinton. If by some chance Gov. Bush did not see actual service in Vietnam, how did he manage to avoid the war? – S. Ramanand, East Lansing, Mich.

    Answer: Bush did not serve in Vietnam, but it would be unfair to characterize his six years in the Texas (and Alabama) Air National Guard as "pulling a Quayle." Recent media reports claim that Bush received "favorable treatment" while in the Guard. The truth is, Bush went through dangerous jet-fighter training, an exercise that could have gotten him killed. New York Daily News columnist Lars-Erik Nelson, hardly a Republican apologist, wrote this week:

      "Let's stop for a second. George W. Bush volunteered to fly a high-performance military aircraft – one of the world's most dangerous occupations, even in peacetime – in a unit that was liable to be called up for service in Vietnam. That doesn't sound like somebody trying to save his skin."

    If Vietnam service becomes a key issue in next year's presidential race, nobody will be able to outflank Arizona Sen. John McCain (R). A Navy pilot during the war, McCain was shot down in 1967 and spent six years in a Hanoi POW camp. As for the others, New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith, an independent presidential candidate, did a year's tour of Vietnam with the Navy. Vice President Al Gore spent five months in Vietnam, but as a military journalist, away from the fighting.

    According to an Associated Press survey of the presidential hopefuls, no one else served in Vietnam:

    • Lamar Alexander: student deferment.
    • Gary Bauer: student deferment.
    • Bill Bradley: in the Air Force Reserve for 11 years.
    • Pat Buchanan: no service "because of rheumatoid arthritis in his knees."
    • Elizabeth Dole: no service.
    • Steve Forbes: spent six years in the New Jersey National Guard, "primarily as a clerk but also as a cook for six months at Fort Dix, N.J."
    • Orrin Hatch: no service.
    • John Kasich (has since dropped out): no service; had high draft number.
    • Alan Keyes: no service; had student deferment, then high draft number.
    • Dan Quayle: in the Indiana National Guard for six years.

    Question: Is Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) going to run again next year? I remember his '94 campaign being continually described as his "last hurrah." – Mark Smith, London, England

    Kennedy's name often appeared on Democratic candidate "wish lists." (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: Before last week's tragic events off Martha's Vineyard, the 67-year-old Kennedy was well on his way to winning a seventh full term. The plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and his sister-in-law presumably has distracted the senator from his reelection bid. Speculating on whether his plans have changed at this point is useless. But it's worth noting that Kennedy was looking unbeatable for 2000. His fund-raising was way ahead of where he was in 1994, when he rallied from a single-digit lead in the early polls to defeat venture capitalist Mitt Romney by 17 points.

    Republicans are talking up the potential candidacy of another venture capitalist, Geoffrey Renhart, who presumably has millions to spend on his own effort. But Renhart has said he won't be a sacrificial lamb, which is probably the fate of any Republican who challenges Kennedy in 2000.

    One last thought about young JFK Jr. Debate already rages on whether the media coverage of his death has been excessive. Still, I can't help but wonder what he would have been like in the political arena. Many Democrats hoped he would run for the Senate to succeed New York's Pat Moynihan (see the Feb. 5 column), and others pegged him for even higher office. His future seemed limitless, which makes his death ever more tragic.

    Post Script: In the July 16 column, I listed the members of Congress, all Democrats, who switched parties in the past 20 years. Unfortunately, I left out two representatives who switched in the fall of 1981.

    Matt Pinkus of Silver Spring, Md. mentioned Rep. Bob Stump, an Arizona Democrat, who announced in 1981 that he would seek reelection in 1982 as a Republican. Stump, who still serves, was elected to his 12th term last year.

    And Tim Tuinstra of Harrisburg, Pa. remembered the unusual case of Pennsylvania's Eugene Atkinson. A traditional labor Democrat, Atkinson actively supported Ted Kennedy over President Carter in 1980, and so his party switch the next year was seen as a shocker. Although he denied it, many felt that Atkinson switched because his district was about to be eliminated under a GOP redistricting plan. By defecting to the Republicans his chances of keeping his congressional district intact improved. But Atkinson struggled to defeat a lightly regarded former aide in the 1982 GOP primary, and lost his seat that November.

    Also in the July 16 column was a list of 20th Century independent and third-party governors and senators. Richard Winger of San Francisco, the publisher of Ballot Access News, added one more: Sidney J. Catts, who was elected governor of Florida on the Prohibition Party ticket in 1916. Winger notes that after Catts lost the Democratic primary that year, the Prohibition Party named him as its gubernatorial candidate, and he won the three-way general election in November.

    Finally, in the July 2 column I wrote that the business dealings of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, are a potential roadblock to her landing on the Democratic ticket in 2000. "Democrats, well familiar with how the choice of Geraldine Ferraro backfired in 1984 after the business dealings of her husband, John Zaccaro, became a central issue, will make sure Blum checks out before they ever put Feinstein on the ticket."

    Dave Beckwith, who covered Ferraro's vice presidential campaign for Time magazine, adds these thoughts:

      "You could have added that in 1984, Mondale's final two choices were exactly those two women. As I recall, Mondale eliminated Feinstein and selected Ferraro because of concerns over Blum's business dealings. This proved extremely ironic since it was Ferraro's husband's financial dealings that bogged down the ticket and stopped the post-convention Mondale-Ferraro momentum dead in its tracks."

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

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

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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