Hillary holds a grudge

Robert Novak
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Posted: Jun 14, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- No fellow Democrat volunteered to give Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton protective cover when she was the only senator voting against the nomination of Michael Chertoff as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Chertoff was chief counsel of the Senate's 1995 investigation of the investment by the Clintons in the Whitewater project.

Chertoff was confirmed Monday, 88 to 1. On May 24, 2001, Chertoff was confirmed as an assistant attorney general by a 95 to 1 vote, with Clinton the only dissenter. On the same day, she was also the only no-voter when the Senate confirmed, by 95 to 1, Viet Dinh as an assistant attorney general. Dinh was a staffer in the Senate Whitewater investigation and President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial.

Sen. Clinton said nothing in these debates before casting her solitary negative votes.

GEPHARDT RISING

Democratic insiders are coming to regard Rep. Richard Gephardt as the real front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination even though he does not lead in nationwide polls.

That's because the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses have changed for Gephardt, who represents a district in nearby St. Louis, Mo., from a trap to a springboard. While Iowa is a must win for Gephardt, polls show him moving into a comfortable lead there. A big Iowa win could propel him into a high finish in the New Hampshire primary eight days later.

A footnote: Backers of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, regarded by many as the front-runner, are alarmed by polls showing him about even in New Hampshire with his fellow New Englander, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. A loss in New Hampshire would virtually eliminate Kerry.

GOP FRATRICIDE

Tension between the No. 2 and No. 3 Republicans in the House -- Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri -- is growing and becoming public.

The word in the GOP cloakroom is that DeLay felt Blunt gave up too easily on a union-opposed bill regarding employee flex time because he could not find sufficient votes. DeLay was a successful majority whip for six years and, Republican insiders say, tends to be critical of the performance by his successor and former deputy.

In a front-page Washington Post report Wednesday, DeLay was described as opposing Blunt's efforts to slip in legislation favored by the Philip Morris company.

WILL FRITZ LEAVE?

National Democratic political operatives, predicting Sen. Ernest F. (Fritz) Hollings probably will not seek an eighth term from South Carolina next year, are hoping he will retire.

These strategists privately express great doubt that Hollings (who will be 82 years old in 2004) can win a state that is trending Republican. They contend State Education Commissioner Inez Tenenbaum, one of only three statewide Democratic office holders, would also be an underdog but a stronger candidate than Hollings.

The best Democratic hope may be a rough Republican Senate primary between Rep. Jim DeMint, the national party establishment's choice, and former State Attorney General Charles Condon, who claims grass roots support. A fiercely contested GOP primary in 2002 (when Condon finished third) did not keep Mark Sanford from being elected governor.

DEBATING FREDDIE MAC

The mortgage banking industry has hired former Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma to head the organization fighting Freddie Mac, setting up a long-distance public relations confrontation with former Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala.

Federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation of accounting practices by government-sponsored Freddie Mac, the nation's second largest mortgage buyer. Watts will head FM Policy Focus, which is dedicated to fighting advantages of government-sponsored financial institutions. He was chairman of the House Republican Conference before retiring from Congress and currently serves as chairman of GOPAC.

Begala, a co-host on CNN's "Crossfire," has given public relations advice to Freddie Mac for more than two years. He does not discuss the company on the television program.