ARED-FACED Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is ready to send tens of thousands of dollars to David Worley, who came within a thousand votes of beating Newt Gingrich, who is not just the House Republican whip but a scourge to all Democrats. If they had given Worley help in his campaign, they might be contemplating the defeat of their tormentor instead of a recount.
Some see the committee's blooper as one of those bad guesses that come from Washington insiders with limited imaginations. Two years ago, when Worley, a 32-year-old lawyer, first challenged Gingrich, the committee gave him $40,000 and he got 41 percent of the vote. This time, they turned him down cold. At the end, they gave him $5,000; they did so, it seems, because Georgia congressman Ed Jenkins, who didn't need their check, sent it back earmarked for Worley.
Why were they so stingy with the challenger of the Republican who brought down Democratic Speaker Jim Wright and who routinely harasses and humiliates Democrats? Gingrich cries out for vengeance, say some, who remember that when a freshman congressman named John LeBoutillier insulted another speaker, Tip O'Neill, Democrats routed him out of office.
Worley's real offense was probably that he based his campaign on the congressional pay raise. He talked about it morning, noon and night. But last December, in a breathtaking move that would make you wonder if this is a free country, the chairmen of the two parties ruled out discussion of the pay-raise issue in the campaign.
The Democrats' Ron Brown and the Republicans' Lee Atwater signed a non-aggression pact which stated that the "ethic reform package," as they demurely called the pay-raise bill, was "not an appropriate point of criticism in the coming campaign."
This serious abridgement of freedom of speech was swallowed without complaint by members with their hands out for the $30,500 pay raise. The raise was made a point of party discipline by Speaker Tom Foley, who is more passionate about it than about any other issue. Ralph Nader, who fought the raise on the country's talk shows, accuses Foley of bullying dissident members who backed a raise repeal.
Howard Schloss, communications director of the DCCC, denies that Worley was turned away because of his social error on the pay raise.
"It was not because of the pay raise," he insists. "We didn't make funding decisions solely on the pay raise."
Besides, says Schloss, a bit lamely, "Worley was running an anti-Washington campaign and the last thing he needed was help from the Democratic Party."
Ron Brown, in answering repeated questions about this singular lack of sporting blood on the part of the Democrats, responds unconvincingly, "It wasn't all bad -- Gingrich is a thorn in Bush's side."
The committee was deaf to all Worley's appeals and reports: Gingrich was booed at Hartsfield, the huge Atlanta airport. He took the management side in the Eastern Airline labor dispute, an unpopular stand with the congressional district's 20,000 union members. The Worley campaign was a cheeky, inventive enterprise, which got no attention from the Atlanta Constitution or television.
Gingrich, who hardly needed the small check sent him by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, outspent Worley 10 to one. Worley's media budget consisted of a thousand dollars for radio ads, harping on -- what else? -- the pay raise. The blue-collars in the district, who earn $20,000, were affronted by the size of the congressional boost.
Kate Head, who ran Worley's "Boot Newt" effort, says it was "underfunded and undercovered." Now that it may be too late, the recount money is there for the asking, and papers and television stations who ignored what should have been one of the most watched contests in the nation are flocking to Worley headquarters.
The Republican Senate Campaign Committee has a "what might have been" on its hands, too, but a far less grievous case. Christine Todd Whitman, a handsome and spirited New Jerseyite, gave Democratic Senate biggie Bill Bradley a run for his money, with a war chest about one-twelfth the size of his. But, says RSCC spokesman Richard Selby, they gave her half of it, almost $500,000.
Bradley, a Democratic presidential possibility, made the same mistake as the House Democrats. He forgot the democratic way. As the House Democrats sought to muzzle their critics, Bradley muzzled himself.
He flatly refused to discuss the tax increases levied by Democratic Gov. Jim Florio. A refusal to discuss the public's business with the public is pretty silly for a public man. Bradley got the scare he richly deserved. But he didn't learn: He still won't talk taxes with his constituents.
Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.