New Congressional defectors?

Robert Novak

10/30/2000 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
Some Blue Dog moderate House Democrats have approached Speaker Dennis Hastert to discuss the possibility of crossing the aisle to become Republicans after the election. The names of these potential defectors are closely guarded, but congressional sources list three candidates: Ralph Hall of Texas, Collin Peterson of Minnesota and John Tanner of Tennessee. Hall has enthusiastically endorsed Republican George W. Bush for president. Tanner vigorously denied meeting with Hastert and said he has no intention of switching parties. A footnote: The possibility of party-switchers explains why House GOP leaders quietly back Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana over Rep. Michael Oxley of Ohio in their intense competition to head House Commerce Committee Republicans. Tauzin crossed the party aisle only five years ago, and his elevation to a committee chairmanship would show how well party defectors are treated. CALLING FOR CLINTON WASHINGTON -- Democratic leaders across the country facing tight elections in their states are unhappy with Al Gore's decision not to campaign with Bill Clinton in the campaign's closing days. At this writing, President Clinton is scheduled to campaign only by himself and only in California, Louisiana and Arkansas -- none of them considered battleground states. The party's chiefs in swing states such as Missouri, Michigan and Illinois are pleading for Clinton's presence. One Democratic consultant in Missouri, preferring Clinton to Gore, said only partly in jest that the best thing Vice President Gore could do would be to go on vacation from now until election day. MCCAIN TROUBLE Although Sen. John McCain's once frosty relationship with George W. Bush has warmed, troubles between their two camps continue in a state where McCain is wildly popular: New Hampshire. McCain was more passionate about boosting campaign finance reform than Gov. Bush Oct. 17 when he visited the state of his first presidential primary. McCain aide Mike Dennehy, the state's new Republican National Committeeman, leaked that McCain and Bush would appear at a New Hampshire town meeting Oct. 20. The Bush campaign chiefs were not happy about that. Nor was Sen. Judd Gregg, Bush's New Hampshire chairman, at all happy when local McCain backers squeezed him out of the planned greeting party at the Manchester airport. But at the last minute, McCain pleaded a doctor's appointment and skipped the visit (joining the governor later in Maine). Even without the senator's help, however, Bush narrowly leads Al Gore in New Hampshire polls. FEARING IACOCCA George W. Bush's managers in the pivotal state of Michigan thought they scored a ten-strike when they got retired automotive tycoon Lee Iacocca to cut a television tape in behalf of the Republican presidential candidate. But the Bush high command in Austin had to be talked into approving the ad. Iacocca has long been at odds with the GOP establishment, criticizing Ronald Reagan and considering a run for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. But he is a hero to many auto workers for saving Chrysler in the '70s, and Michigan Republicans hope Iacocca can influence Democratic voters to back Bush. A footnote: The Iacocca commercial is not the only friction between Austin and Lansing. Michigan leaders of the Bush campaign grumble that the Texas bean-counters waste their time with unreasonable bookkeeping requirements -- a complaint frequently heard from other states. GORE ON BASEBALL After delivering a speech about his favorite subject of reinventing government, an ebullient Al Gore went to the rear of Air Force Two last Tuesday night to talk to reporters, but was shaken by an unexpected question: What do you think of the designated hitter rule in baseball? The vice president has a ready answer for nearly everything but paused 20 seconds before making this deadly serious reply: "I haven't really given it a lot of considered thought. I'm tempted to take the purist's view that it's, you know, a dilution of the pure game. But I do not know enough about the reasons for it to make a harsh critique." When Gore was next pressed for his opinion of the Roger Clemens bat-throwing incident (which generated new debate over the designated hitter rule), the vice president told the reporters to get back to "the issues."