Inside Report: Republicans worrying about Florida

Robert Novak

2/24/2001 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
WORRYING ABOUT FLORIDA WASHINGTON -- Confidential reports from high-level Republican strategists convey apprehension that Florida, which narrowly gave the presidency to George W. Bush, is going in the opposite direction. Republican analyses indicate the demographic changes in Florida tilt the state toward the Democrats. That imposes a task on the GOP of finding enough votes to win a state that will be essential for President Bush's re-election in 2004. A footnote: Only overwhelming support from the small but pivotal Cuban-American population saved the state for Bush in 2000. That reversed the substantial Democratic gains among the Cubans in 1996 that helped Bill Clinton to carry Florida. SHADOW OF THE CLINTONS Nationally known political operatives in the Democratic Party are so distressed by the prolonged furor over Bill Clinton's pardons that they now fear the negative impact may well extend into the 2002 congressional elections. They feel the former president casts a shadow over the Democratic Party. Combined with a likely Republican advantage in the decennial redistricting, that may make it very difficult for the Democrats to regain control of the House next year. The fund-raising capability of Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe, installed in that post by the Clintons, is also questioned by these operatives. A footnote: Prominent New York Democrats say Sen. Hillary Clinton's influence and prestige in both the Senate and the party have been diminished for the foreseeable future. In contrast, New York's senior Sen. Charles Schumer, who did not hesitate to criticize the Marc Rich pardon, is riding high politically. CHENEY'S FISHING PAL Close associates of Vice President Dick Cheney deny that he is pressing hard to install his longtime Wyoming fly-fishing pal, environmental activist John Turner, as deputy secretary of the Interior. Conservative Western interests are appalled by the possibility that Turner could counter the strong private property positions of Interior Secretary Gale Norton. According to the Cheney sources, the vice president never would abandon an old friend but is neither pushing him nor not pushing him for a high-ranking post at Interior. Turner heads the liberal Conservation Fund, which has been sharply critical of Norton. He personally is an advocate of expanded federal intervention in the environment and ownership of land. RALPH REED'S CAMPAIGN The Georgia Republican Party, shaken by statewide defeats in races for governor and senator, has become bitterly split over nationally prominent political consultant Ralph Reed's candidacy for state party chairman. His opponents claim that Reed, former president of the Christian Coalition, would drive away independent voters. Critics include Guy Milner and former Sen. Mack Mattingly, both losers in recent statewide elections, and Rep. John Linder. Their candidate for chairman is David Shafer, a former executive director of the state GOP. Reed was an early and active advocate of George W. Bush for president and has support among the president's Georgia backers. Inside the state's congressional delegation, he is backed by Reps. Bob Barr, Charlie Norwood and Nathan Deal. The party chairman will be elected at the Georgia Republican convention in May. GOV. BONIOR? House Minority Whip David Bonior's interest in running for governor of Michigan is not evoking much enthusiasm from members of the state's Democratic establishment, who question his statewide appeal. Bonior expected a Democratic takeover of the House last year that would have made him majority leader. But congressional redistricting after the 2000 Census may eliminate the Detroit suburban district that Bonior has represented for 24 years, and he is looking at the governorship. Organized labor looks favorably on Bonior, but party leaders doubt that he is the best candidate to recapture the governor's chair now that Republican Gov. John Engler is leaving after three terms in office. Former Gov. James Blanchard leads Bonior in the polls. But the Democratic prospect most feared by Republican insiders is State Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, and many Democrats agree.