Ideologically pure Republicans are angry, they say, that Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis showed up last week at a Washington fund-raiser for Rep. James J. Howard (D-N.J.), who is running for reelection against Republican Marie Muhler.
Muhler, however, said she is not particularly upset; she has Lewis' endorsement.
"Every time we get within two points of Jim Howard he holds a fund-raiser and some Republican muckety-muck shows up," another Republican muckety-muck complained after being promised anonymity. "That's confirmation that Drew Lewis is not running for Republican National Committee chairman."
Lewis, widely assumed to be leaving the Transportation Department for another administration job after the elections, is reported to have declined the RNC position.
Howard is chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, arguably the most important panel Lewis must deal with on Capitol Hill, and he and other House members meet with Lewis on Wednesday mornings to discuss legislation and other matters.
Linda Gosden, Lewis' press secretary, said that Lewis supports every Republican running for office and that he has gone to 225 GOP fund-raisers since January. However, she said, "When he is invited by any chairman of his committees, out of respect for someone he works with so closely, he will go. Highways aren't partisan." She added that Lewis did not contribute to Howard's campaign.
Nancy Blades, legislative assistant to Howard, said, "The congressman was honored that Mr. Lewis showed up; we hadn't expected him but he was most appreciated." Lewis was cornered at the session by some disgruntled fired controllers from the defunct Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, she said, but the secretary "was very nice," she said.
As for Muhler, her campaign manager Diane Benedetti said that Lewis has agreed to sign a newspaper ad endorsing her. "Personally, Mrs. Muhler's not upset; he's with Marie, and clearly with Marie," Benedetti said. "We don't have any doubt in our mind."