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    Can McCain Afford to Skip Iowa?

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, August 6, 1999

    Question: What do you think of John McCain's campaign? The Arizona senator has all but ruled out competing in Iowa and will not participate in the straw poll later this month. If he doesn't do anything in Iowa, will it really matter what type of organization he tries to put together in the other states? – Micah Bergdale, Dewey, Ariz.

    Sen. Gramm (R-Tex.), the co-winner of the 1995 Iowa straw poll, finished fifth in the caucuses a year later. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: Given the track record of Iowa caucus winners – George Bush in 1980 and Bob Dole in 1988, for example, as well as Democrats Richard Gephardt in 1988 and Tom Harkin in 1992 – McCain could argue that the state is no bellwether when it comes to picking nominees.

    As for the straw poll, which will be held August 14 in Ames, McCain is calling it a "meaningless exercise." History says he has a point. In the 1995 Iowa straw poll, Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), whom McCain supported, tied for first place. But he finished a weak fifth in the caucuses the following year and was out of the race two days later. Similarly, Pat Robertson won the 1987 GOP straw poll and finished a strong second in the ’88 caucuses. But Robertson never won a single primary and he soon faded as well.

    Part of McCain's problem is that by the time he got into the race, other candidates had already gobbled up most of the local talent in Iowa. Besides, he never made the effort to organize and never committed the resources. So while McCain’s failure to embrace ethanol subsidies (a heresy in Iowa) could be called a commendable refusal to pander to special interests, it's possible that he made his decision because he wasn't gaining ground in the state to begin with.

    This year, the straw poll seems to have taken on a life of its own. Instead of the party fund-raising tool it long had been, it has suddenly been elevated to mythic importance. Already the speculation is rampant that poor showings by Lamar Alexander or Dan Quayle could force either (or both) out of the race – despite the fact that the first primary or caucus is months away. If nothing else, it further illustrates the absolute insanity of our presidential nominating process (and the subject of a future column).

    In this era of front-loaded contests, what happens in Iowa could affect the results in New Hampshire and elsewhere. It will be interesting to see if McCain survives Iowa. His positions on campaign finance reform and tobacco – which are anathema to Republican leaders in Congress – and his tendency to speak his mind have won him a great many admirers in the national press corps. His courageous service to his country, which includes a long imprisonment in a Vietnam POW camp, is nothing less than an inspiration to many who find the current crop of candidates lacking. At the same time, his maverick impulses worry many GOP leaders around the country. No other candidate has targeted him, simply because George W. Bush remains the one to beat. But should McCain ever catch on, it wouldn't surprise me to see a renewed focus, either by his opponents or the media, on his failed first marriage, his famous temper, or his involvement in the Keating Five.

    Question: Do you have a list of members of Congress who are not running for reelection in 2000? – James C. Herbst, Kirkwood, Mo.

    Answer: In the Senate, five members (two Republicans and three Democrats) are retiring: Connie Mack (R-Fla.); Richard Bryan (D-Nev.); Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.); Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and John Chafee (R-R.I.). At least 17 members have already announced they are leaving the House, and others who are contemplating running for higher office may be added to the list. In addition, a special election will have to be held in California's 42nd District to replace the late Rep. George Brown, who died on July 16. Those who are definitely leaving:

    Retiring: 9 Republicans and 1 Democrat.
    GOP – Matt Salmon (Ariz.), Charles Canady (Fla.), Helen Chenoweth (Idaho), John Kasich (Ohio), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Bill Goodling (Pa.), Mark Sanford (S.C.), Bill Archer (Tex.), Jack Metcalf (Wash.).
    Democrat – Bill Clay (Mo.).

    Running for Senate: 1 Republican and 3 Democrats.
    GOP – Bill McCollum (Fla.).
    Democrats – Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Ron Klink (Pa.), Robert Weygand (R.I.).

    Running for governor: 2 Republicans and 1 Democrat.
    GOP – David McIntosh (Ind.), James Talent (Mo.).
    Democrat – Bob Wise (W.Va.).

    A list of others who are considering – some more seriously than others – Senate bids: Reps. David Minge (D-Minn.), Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). And another seat will open up in the unlikely event Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) is elected governor this year.

    Question: In your "In Memoriam" column of January 4, you listed the late Gov. Donald Russell, who appointed himself to the Senate from South Carolina following the death of Olin Johnston, and who was ousted in the 1966 Democratic primary by Fritz Hollings. How many other governors have used the power to fill Senate vacancies given them in the 17th Amendment to appoint themselves? I hadn't known about Russell, but I seem to recall some governor in Minnesota appointing himself to fill out a Senate term back in the 1970s. Interestingly, like Russell, he also apparently lost his bid to be elected in his own right. Who was he, and have there been others? Did Russell and the others lose because their views weren't in sync with the voters, or because of a backlash for their perceived conceit in coronating themselves? – Colin Alberts, Arlington, Va.

    The history of governors appointing themselves to the Senate has not been welcomed by the voters. S.C.'s Russell (above) was ousted by Fritz Hollings in 1966; Minnesota Democrats paid the price with a similar move in 1978. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: The Minnesota governor you refer to is Wendell Anderson. What happened to Anderson in 1978 is the same thing that happened to Russell in 1966 – voters resented his self-appointment to the Senate and dumped him at the first opportunity. Other issues were involved in South Carolina, to be sure. But Hollings’ easy 61-39 percent victory over Russell in the 1966 Democratic primary was attributed primarily to the way Russell got to the Senate.

    For the record, Russell (and others) did not actually appoint themselves; they resigned as governor and had their successors name them to the Senate. After the death of South Carolina Sen. Olin Johnston (D) in 1965, Russell resigned as governor and was appointed by his successor, Lt. Gov. Robert McNair. In Minnesota, after Sen. Walter Mondale (D) ascended to the vice presidency, Anderson resigned as governor and had his successor, Lt. Gov. Rudy Perpich, appoint him to the Senate.

    By the way, theyre still calling that 1978 election the "Minnesota Massacre." Republican Rudy Boschwitz trounced Sen. Anderson in November. Gov. Perpich lost his bid for a full term to GOP congressman Al Quie. And in the race for the other Senate seat – a special election necessitated by the death of Hubert Humphrey – the Democrats carved each other up in the primary and the seat went to Republican Dave Durenberger.

    Of all the governors who had themselves appointed to the Senate, only one was able to win a subsequent election on his own. Kentucky Gov. Albert B. "Happy" Chandler (D), who came to the Senate in 1939, won in a special election in 1940 and again in 1942. (He resigned his seat in 1945 to become baseball commissioner.) Here's the complete list of governors appointed to the Senate and the result of the succeeding election:

    • Montana, 1933 – Sen. Thomas Walsh (D) died. Gov. John Erickson (D) appointed self, lost 1934 primary.
    • Kentucky, 1939 – Sen. Marvel Logan (D) died. Gov. Happy Chandler (D) appointed self, won elections in 1940 and 1942.
    • Nevada, 1945 – Sen. James Scrugham (D) died. Gov. Edward Carville (D) appointed self, lost 1946 primary.
    • Idaho, 1945 – Sen. John Thomas (R) died. Gov. Charles Gossett (D) appointed self, lost 1946 primary.
    • Wyoming, 1960 – Sen.-elect Keith Thomson (R) died. Gov. John J. Hickey (D) appointed self, lost 1962 election.
    • New Mexico, 1962 – Sen. Dennis Chavez (D) died. Gov. Edwin Mechem (R) appointed self, lost 1964 election.
    • Oklahoma, 1963 – Sen. Robert Kerr (D) died. Gov. J. Howard Edmondson (D) appointed self, lost 1964 primary.
    • South Carolina, 1965 – Sen. Olin Johnston (D) died. Gov. Donald Russell (D) appointed self, lost 1966 primary.
    • Minnesota, 1977 – Sen. Walter Mondale (D) elected vice president. Gov. Wendell Anderson (D) appointed self, lost 1978 election.

    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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