Business As Usual In GOP Establishment
By D. Patrick Mahoney
Tuesday March 23, 2010
Since President Obama was sworn in, the Republican Party has won
surprise statewide victories in New Jersey, Virginia and
Massachusetts. But in a big year for the party, Republicans lost
all five special House races, including two in ruby-red
districts because House special-election candidates are not
chosen by rank-and-file Republicans in a primary but rather by a
handful of party insiders in a back room.
Consider the special election to replace Senate appointee
Kirsten Gillibrand last spring in upstate New York's 20th
District. Behind closed doors, members of state and local
Republican committees chose career politician Jim Tedisco,
leader of the powerless Assembly minority, to be the party's
standard-bearer though he didn't even live in the district. Mr.
Tedisco lost to 38-year-old upstart Scott Murphy despite
70,000-more Republicans than Democrats in the district.
Republicans farther north in the Empire State's 23rd District
didn't learn any lessons from the Tedisco disaster. Last fall,
they nominated liberal Assembly Republican Dede Scozzafava and
rejected Doug Hoffman even though he had far more support from
actual Republican voters.
Republicans recoiled at Mrs. Scozzafava and backed Mr. Hoffman,
who secured a third-party nomination from the state's
influential Conservative Party. Mrs. Scozzafava ultimately
dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat, who narrowly
defeated Mr. Hoffman. The Republican establishment's
self-inflicted wound handed the Democrats a seat that just 10
months earlier gave the Republican candidate 65 percent of the
But these nightmare scenarios are nothing compared to what the
Republican establishment did on March 11 in Pennsylvania's 12th
District special election to replace the late Jack Murtha.
Led by state Republican Chairman Rob Gleason, insiders rejected
Bill Russell, even though the retired 82nd Airborne officer and
Iraq War veteran had given Murtha a real fight as the Republican
candidate in 2008, raising $3.6 million and earning 42 percent
of the vote.
Mr. Russell's campaign kept going at full speed after 2008,
focused like a laser on 2010. An experienced districtwide
organization and high name recognition give Mr. Russell, a
survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon, a
significant advantage in a special election just two months
So why, despite Mr. Russell's military pedigree, strong
financial and electoral showing in 2008 and ongoing campaign, do
Republican hacks want to change horses when they are nearly
across the stream? Because they found a guy named Tim Burns who
is worth nine figures and willing to part with substantial
portions of it to get the nomination.
The party line is that Mr. Burns is a better candidate than Mr.
Russell because he can self-fund his campaign. But Mr. Burns'
money can't possibly purchase an organization or name
recognition comparable to Mr. Russell's in the truncated
The real reason establishment types like Mr. Gleason are falling
all over themselves to support Mr. Burns is that under
Pennsylvania's lax campaign finance laws, individuals can
contribute unlimited amounts to state and local elective
officials. Mr. Burns can even donate to town, county and state
In short, Mr. Burns can give unlimited amounts of money to the
very individuals and organizations who just gave him the
Remarkably, Mr. Gleason admitted in a recent Washington
Independent article that he doesn't care about winning the
congressional seat when he chastised Mr. Russell for running too
hard in 2008. Mr. Gleason whined, "I lost a state legislature
race in 2008 because Russell was surging in the polls and Murtha
turned out his forces to come out for the Democrats."
On Thursday night, the Pennsylvania chapter of a party that
prides itself on national security told Mr. Russell: You can put
your neck on the line for us on foreign shores and we'll
tolerate you as our nominee in elections we don't think we can
win. But don't dare get in our way when we are trying to conduct
business as usual. For although you spent a career defending
this republic instead of getting rich, this time around,
qualified, working-class combat Veterans need not apply.
To Mr. Russell's credit, the savvy paratrooper read the
establishment's hand, refused to be intimidated and already has
earned enough signatures to run in the primary, which is
scheduled for May 18, the same day as the special election.
A Zogby poll of likely Republican conducted Feb. 17 and 18
indicated that Mr. Russell leads Mr. Burns by an astounding 29
points. Because of the unique, dual-election dynamic, Republican
voters can elect Mr. Burns in the special election but also give
Mr. Russell the nod to be the nominee for the November general
election. Under this likely scenario, Mr. Burns would instantly
become a lame duck and the Republican establishment would again
be exposed as bumbling jackals.
D. Patrick Mahoney is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and
president of Iraq Veterans For Congress PAC.