Could it be Vilsack?

Robert Novak
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Posted: Jun 12, 2004 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON -- The current buzz in the national capital's high-level Democratic circles has projected that Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, previously considered a dark horse as John Kerry's running mate, is now the leading prospect.

 Political consultant John Lapp, a former Vilsack aide, is in Washington beating the drums for the governor. One senior aide in the 2000 Gore-for-president campaign flatly predicts a Kerry-Vilsack ticket.

 Kerry likes and admires Vilsack and is grateful for the endorsement by Vilsack's wife, Christie, in the Iowa caucuses at a time when Howard Dean was considered a heavy favorite. However, Vilsack lacks national security expertise, and his experience is limited to Iowa. He was elected governor in 1998 at age 47 after serving as a state senator and mayor of Mount Pleasant.

MOURNING AND POLITICS

 A House Ways and Means Committee meeting on a tax bill, urged by the Republican leadership, was cancelled Thursday after Democrats complained it would besmirch the memory of Ronald Reagan.

 House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has pressed for action on a bill that would eliminate an export subsidy ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization but also deal with many other questions. Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas scheduled the session long before the former president's death.

 Charles Rangel, ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, protested that the session would dishonor Reagan. Democrats threatened to prevent anything from being accomplished by forcing a reading of the bill and all amendments. Thomas cancelled the session, but Republicans grumbled that Rangel was always a sharp critic of the Reagan presidency.

REAGAN ON THE TEN

 The campaign by Grover Norquist and other conservative activists to immediately replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with Ronald Reagan is partially intended to cause trouble for Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle's re-election campaign in South Dakota.

 A vote on the proposal this year would put Daschle on the spot. He faces a tough challenge from former Rep. John Thune in a predominantly Republican state where Reagan was very popular.

 A footnote: Daschle unsuccessfully attempted to prolong debate on the 1998 bill naming Reagan National Airport in Washington. He was one of only 22 senators voting no (while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy voted yes).

GOP FRATRICIDE IN FLORIDA

 The split in the national Republican establishment over the Florida Senate primary Aug. 31 was dramatized Tuesday when competing fund-raising luncheons in Washington were held for the rival candidates: former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez and former Rep. Bill McCollum.

 While the $1,000-a-person Martinez lunch was held at a downtown restaurant, the $500 McCollum event took place at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). Sponsoring McCollum's lunch were Sens. Mike DeWine, Larry Craig, Don Nickles and John Sununu. But the NRSC chairman, Sen. George Allen, endorsed Martinez the day before the event.

 With Republicans battling each other, the favorite to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham is a Democrat: Betty Castor, a former state education commissioner and former state senator.

GOP MELEE IN MICHIGAN

 A Club for Growth fund-raising letter attempting to revive the congressional campaign by Brad Smith in Michigan recalls that the Republican party leadership threatened his father, retiring Rep. Nick Smith, with retaliation against his son's campaign if he voted against the Bush-backed prescription drug bill.

 Smith was one of only 25 Republicans to break the party line and oppose the bill. The Club for Growth appeal asserts that the Aug. 3 primary in the safely Republican district could "replace a star like Nick Smith with a RINO (Republican in Name Only)." The appeal contends Brad Smith is even more conservative than his father.

 The current front-runner in the primary is State Sen. Joe Schwarz, who led John McCain's 2000 campaign in Michigan. Trying to stave off Schwarz, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Right to Life have endorsed State Rep. Clark Bisbee.