House Minority Whip David E. Bonior (D-Mich.) is traveling 9,500 miles just to attend a Democratic fund-raiser in Guam this weekend, making him the highest-ranking lawmaker to do more than an island stopover in at least six years.
Guam's delegate to the House, Robert A. Underwood, said he invited Bonior to make the trip--which involves more than 19 hours flying in each direction--in an effort to get the Democratic leadership's attention on issues that matter to the U.S. territory.
"I'm always trying to get anyone to come to Guam whenever possible," Underwood said. "It's just taking advantage of the opportunity. We're certainly not going to be raising tons of money." He added that he did not expect the Sunday night benefit to raise more than $20,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Bonior's presence has prompted protests on the island, with some local politicians arguing that the event could backfire by antagonizing House GOP leaders.
"I don't think Guam can afford getting involved in a fight with Republicans and then turn around and ask for commonwealth status," said Democrat Mark Charfauros.
Charfauros, who is running for the legislature, said he would prefer that any fund-raiser benefit local Democrats, who are trying to retake the chamber now divided between 12 Republicans and three Democrats. "We think all the money generated on Guam should be used for Guam," he said.
Bonior spokesman Fred Clark said his boss was making the trek as a favor to Underwood. "It's not a pleasant trip," Clark said. "He spends more time in the air than on the ground."
Guam's political contributions caused controversy in the 1996 election, when Guam Gov. Carl T.C. Gutierrez (D) joined with business leaders in directing nearly $400,000 to the Clinton-Gore campaign and more than $500,000 in unrestricted "soft money" donations to the Democratic National Committee.
Underwood said Guam was unfairly targeted. "You can't vote for president, you don't have a vote on the floor," he said. "The only thing you can do is give money, and when you give money, people suspect your motives."
Battle for House Begins in California
The battle for control of the House kicks off Tuesday when voters in California's 42nd Congressional District choose a successor to the late Rep. George E. Brown Jr., a liberal Democrat, who died earlier this year.
Both parties are pulling out the stops.
On the Democratic side, California Gov. Gray Davis and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) have campaigned for state Sen. Joe Baca, with Gephardt expected back in the district Tuesday. Republican nominee Elia Pirozzi has had help from House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.) and presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Despite this high-octane support, Pirozzi, an attorney who lost to Brown in 1998 in his first run for office, remains an underdog in the San Bernardino-based district. Baca is a well-known moderate state legislator who has never lost a race. He has also significantly out-raised Pirozzi.
Still, Republicans believe they have an outside shot at plucking away a Democratic seat going into 2000, particularly if turnout is low--as is typical in special elections.
One other remaining question is whether Baca has managed to mend a rift he created in Democratic ranks when he refused to clear the primary field for Brown's widow, Marta. Baca also may have hurt himself with Democratic voters when he refused to embrace a ban on assault weapons and cheap handguns, earning him the imprimatur of the National Rifle Association.
"There's always the possibility of an ambush in a low-turnout special election," said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "The Republicans can work beneath the radar. But Baca is certainly the favorite."
ABC Pulls Out of N.H. Debate
Ted Koppel won't be firing questions at the first Republican presidential debate featuring George W. Bush. ABC has pulled out of the Dec. 2 New Hampshire face-off, which Koppel had agreed to co-moderate with Karen Brown, news director of WMUR-TV, the ABC affiliate in Manchester.
ABC executives say the format WMUR worked out is rigid and doesn't allow the contenders give-and-take, rendering the session too scripted for Koppel's program. "They simply did not think it was going to make an effective format from a 'Nightline' point of view," said ABC spokeswoman Su-Lin Nichols.
But campaign junkies need not despair: Fox News yesterday agreed to carry the action nationwide, with Brit Hume joining the questioning.
Staff researcher Ben White and staff reporter Howard Kurtz contributed to this report.