Voters Pledging Payback in 2000
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 31, 1999; Page A20
Unlike other members of Congress with just two years under the belt, Rep. James E. Rogan is about as high-profile as can be. As one of the House prosecutors seeking to oust President Clinton from office, he's been a regular on CNN, C-SPAN and television talk shows.
But the California Republican's newfound prominence hasn't exactly gone over that well with some of his constituents.
"I cringe every time he comes on the television," said Dave Ambrose, a 32-year-old Internet executive who lives in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles. "To watch my representative carry the torch in that direction gives me no end of disgruntlement. I'm fed up and irate with the whole process. I will not only vote to remove him, but I'm considering actively campaigning against him."
Such sentiments are precisely what make the former district attorney and California judge vulnerable with an electorate overwhelmingly opposed to the removal of the president. With just a six-seat margin separating the parties, Democrats already are targeting Rogan and several other impeachment trial "managers" as part of a plan to galvanize their strongest supporters and retake the House in 2000.
In a sign of how serious the Democrats are about these races, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee commissioned a poll in Rogan's district asking likely voters from both parties how his role in impeachment would affect their votes. According to the results, 44 percent of voters said they are less likely to vote for Rogan because he is a House manager, compared with 23 percent who say they are more likely to vote for him for that fact. Rogan won reelection this past November with less than 51 percent of the vote.
House Democrats also say impeachment is already helping them in the crucial areas that define the beginning of an election season: recruiting and fund-raising. Democratic strategists said anger at House Republicans has helped the DCCC reap double the amount of money from its January direct-mail drive than it did four years ago during the same period.
Several interest groups, meanwhile, plan to help any anti-impeachment candidates by reminding voters about the controversy long after the trial has finished. People for the American Way, a civil liberties group that established a political action committee last year, hopes to raise $1 million to target lawmakers who voted for Clinton's impeachment or removal. The group has teamed up with Censure and Move On, an Internet-based effort supported by voters such as Ambrose that has secured $13 million in pledges aimed at defeating lawmakers who backed impeachment.
"This could move a whole sector of the electorate who are mad this is going on and have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party," said Michael Lux, political director of People for the American Way. "It's going to be very easy to raise money against people like Rogan . . . because the intensity level and anger level is very high."
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) voiced skepticism about any plan to leverage impeachment in 2000, calling it "just clucking."
"If the Democrats are naive enough to think they can play impeachment politics for two years, that's great," Davis said. "Once this is over, people are going to put this behind them."
Rogan has taken no small measure of pride in the political risks of pressing the case against Clinton. In trying to coax reluctant senators this month into calling witnesses, he noted that if anyone had something to lose from Clinton's impeachment trial, it was him. But he also has pointed out that, for all the Democrats' talk, they have yet to find a candidate to face him. "There's all these people who want to get me. No one's come forward," he said. "I'm starting to feel unloved."
While GOP strategists have fretted about the impact of impeachment on the party as a whole, it's the 13 House managers who have pursued the case into the Senate who are in the line of fire. Most of the managers, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), come from staunchly conservative districts that are almost certain to return them to office.
But a select few, including Rogan, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and, to a lesser extent, Reps. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.) and Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), may face fiercer political challenges next year as a result of their aggressive efforts to remove the president.
Hutchinson ran unopposed for reelection last fall and received 81 percent of the vote. Now several groups are hoping to capitalize on Arkansas residents' resentment of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's five-year investigation in their state and reclaim a seat that Republicans have held for more than 30 years.
Barr is also attracting attention from gay activists, liberal groups and Democrats in Georgia hoping to capitalize on his long-standing crusade to remove Clinton from office. Though Barr's district in the Atlanta suburbs has become increasingly Republican in recent years, Democrats were heartened that the incumbent garnered just 55 percent of the vote against a former county commissioner who spent only $10,000 on the 1998 campaign.
David Worley, the Georgia Democratic Party chairman who came within 1,000 votes of defeating Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) in 1990, is already talking with three former state legislators and a wealthy trial attorney about challenging Barr.
"He is the face of the impeachment process," said Worley. "People are sick and tired of it, and people are going to take it out on him."
The managers brush off such rhetoric. Chabot, who managed to win more than 53 percent of the vote against a formidable challenger last year, said: "They've targeted me now every election, and I'm not concerned in the least."
Of all the House "managers," Rogan is the one who tops the Democratic Party's target list. He won his seat in Congress with just 50.3 percent of the vote in 1996 and won reelection with 50.8 percent. His district, which encompasses Burbank and Pasadena as well as Glendale, is becoming more Democratic as Latinos and Asian Americans continue to move into the area.
Two potentially strong Democratic candidates, state Sen. Adam Schiff and state Assemblyman Jack Scott, are considering entering the race. Schiff noted that while he is not focused on the 2000 elections, his "phone has been ringing off the hook" with calls from alienated moderates.
"I think a lot of people are very disturbed with what's going on in Washington and they want a change in representation," Schiff said. "I've been getting a lot of calls personally from people, which did not begin in earnest until the trial began in earnest."
Rogan, 41, has been speaking regularly to constituents on the issue, and even a few Democrats have applauded his outspoken advocacy of conviction, he said. They have told him, he said, that "it's nice to have someone willing to show a little character, doing what they believe in even when it's unpopular. That's what we've been asking for in politicians."
Amy Walter, an analyst with the Cook Political Report, said Rogan must be able to convince his constituents – even if they disagree with him – that there are legitimate reasons for his controversial efforts to remove the president. "It's not a surprise to Jim Rogan that he's on the top of anyone's hit list," Walter said. "The question is, how does he respond to it politically and in the district?"
Gordon Chamberlain, a 65-year-old Glendale Republican and retired car lot owner, seems to offer hope for Rogan. While he believes Rogan and the other managers should "let it go," he's not about to retaliate at the ballot box.
"I don't think I'd vote him out just for speaking his opinion," Chamberlain said. "He's just doing what he thinks is best."
But even Rogan isn't willing to venture a guess as to whether he'll return to the chamber in January 2001. "Ask me in two years," he joked.
Special correspondent Cassandra Stern contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company