CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By E.J. Kessler

Published March 24, 2006, issue of March 24, 2006.
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Texas Two-step: A Jewish woman lawyer is poised to win a Democratic primary runoff and take on incumbent Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Barbara Ann Radnofsky was in New York City last week for campaign events, including a Women’s Campaign Fund cocktail party, a meet-the-candidate night at the Park Avenue home of Diane Chernoff Rosen and Matthew A. Rosen, and a fund-raiser at the law firm Chadbourne & Parke.

Running on health care and veterans’ issues, Radnofsky, 49, who specialized in health care law at the prominent Houston firm Vinson & Elkins, came out on top with 44% of the vote in the March 7 Democratic Senate primary, despite her difficult-to-pronounce name. She will square off April 11 with the next highest vote getter, reclusive military retiree Gene Kelly, 79, who got 37% of the vote.

Radnofsky said her Democratic opponent was trading on the fact that his name is the same as that of the late screen actor.

“Radnofsky, until this election, was not on everybody’s lips in Texas, let me tell you,” she said in a telephone interview, adding, “I tell everybody, ‘The dancer is dead.’”

Kelly, a perennial candidate who ran against Hutchison in 2000, lost resoundingly that year, winning just 33% of the vote. He told the Houston Chronicle this year that he would not campaign and was not accepting contributions for his bid. Radnofsky won all the major newspaper endorsements.

In strongly Republican Texas, Hutchison, a popular incumbent, has amassed an $8 million war chest to Radnofsky’s $400,000. But Radnofsky’s campaign manager, Seth Davidson, said that out-of-state Democrats are eager to support Radnofsky in order to inflict damage in President Bush’s and Karl Rove’s backyard.

“Barbara’s the first Democratic woman to win a statewide election since [Governor] Ann Richards” in 1990, Davidson said. Bush unseated Richards to become governor in 1994.

“In the last election, unopposed Republican candidates put $63 million into contested races” elsewhere, Davidson said. “People in New York are savvy to the fact that supporting Barbara means Kay Bailey’s $8 million stays in Texas.”

* * *

Maryland Match-up: The frontrunner for the Democratic Senate nomination in Maryland, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, is seeking to saddle his Republican opponent, Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, with the millstone of an unpopular president.

Steele “supports George Bush’s policies, whether it is Social Security, whether it’s the fiscal policy that’s led to these large deficits, whether it’s the policy on oil that prevents us from becoming energy independent or whether it’s stem cell research, which he says is morally wrong,” Cardin said Monday in an interview at the Forward’s Manhattan offices.

The strategy appears to be working: Steele has trailed Cardin in every public poll, sometimes by more than 10 points.

In another tactic to nationalize the contest, Cardin, who has served in the House since 1987, offered himself as an ethics watchdog as Congress tries to dig out of the scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist. Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges in an investigation that threatens to implicate several lawmakers in both the House and Senate.

“I was the lead Democrat in the Newt Gingrich investigation that reprimanded Mr. Gingrich and fined him $300,000, so I know a little bit about how to enforce ethics rules,” Cardin said.

The claim also seemed like a subtle way for Cardin to differentiate himself from Kweisi Mfume, his leading opponent in the September 12 primary. Mfume, a black former congressman and former head of the NAACP, got into an ethics scrape involving a female staffer while he was with that organization.

The Forward reported in May 2005 that Cardin’s bid was facing resistance from some black activists who support Mfume. But Cardin, who is Jewish, insisted he has support in many corners of the African American community and that the competition between him and Mfume is “friendly.”

The white-haired, avuncular Cardin seemed more focused on his general election opponent, Steele, who, like Mfume, is black.

“The fact that [the Republicans] have an African American makes it a little easier for them,” Cardin said. “They can get national attention; they’ll try to cut into the African American vote of the Democrats. Win or lose, if they can cut into the African American vote, they look at it as a plus.”

Cardin has raised some $4 million for his bid; he said he was in New York for campaign fund-raisers with pro-Israel activists.

* * *

Religion Ruckus: The New Mexico Air Force veteran who filed a federal suit over alleged Christian religious coercion in that service is launching a foundation to monitor religious freedom in the military.

Mikey Weinstein announced last week that he had formed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to serve “as a watchdog organization — educating the public and the media on issues related to the separation of church and state within the Armed Forces, and litigating when necessary,” according to a press release. He told the Forward he is seeking to start a 501(c)4 version of the foundation to back candidates who support the separation of church and state in the military. A former Reagan White House aide, Weinstein is backing, among other candidates, Democratic Gulf War veteran Jay Fawcett for the congressional seat in Colorado’s fifth district, which never has elected a Democrat. The district currently is represented by conservative GOP Rep. Joel Heffley.

Weinstein became involved in the issue when his son, a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., complained of religious coercion and slurs at the school. The controversy over the activities of Christian proselytizers at the academy led the Air Force to acknowledge that it had a “systemic problem” and to promulgate guidelines for pastoral activity.

The new foundation gathered a board heavy with veterans, including Robert Herres, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Robert Dotson, a retired Air Force brigadier general.

* * *

Trial Tidbit: Lawyers for Keith Weissman, one of the two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee charged with passing classified defense information to unauthorized parties, have the Keith Weissman Legal Defense Fund. According to an e-mail from Weissman’s law firm, Arent Fox, the fund’s trustee is Gerald Charnoff, senior counsel at the Washington firm Pillsbury Madison Shaw Pittman. The trial of Weissman and former top Aipac lobbyist Steve Rosen is set to begin April 25 in Alexandria, Va.

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