'Helping' the President

Robert Novak
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Posted: Dec 04, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush reached out to the famously contentious Republican Sen.-elect Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to congratulate him on being elected and to seek his support. The response was somewhat barbed.
 
"Tom," said the president, "I'd appreciate your help." Coburn, a conservative who often clashed with the party leadership during his six years in the House (1995-2000), replied: "Mr. President, I'll be glad to help you cut spending." Like other conservatives, Coburn is unhappy with the increase in federal outlays during Republican control of both the presidency and Congress.

 A footnote: Since his election, Coburn has sought to deflate his reputation as a firebrand by keeping a low profile. He has been hard at work studying the Senate's complicated rules, which are much more important in that chamber than in the House.

RUMSFELD'S HAND

 President Bush's puzzling choice of Kellogg CEO Carlos Gutierrez to be secretary of commerce is attributed to the hidden hand of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

 While the commerce portfolio often goes to a major political fundraiser or contributor, Gutierrez is neither. He has not given money to either of Bush's presidential campaigns and is not a fund-raising "Pioneer" or "Ranger." Gutierrez has contributed relatively small amounts to an anti-Castro political action committee and to a few Republican congressional candidates.

 However, Gutierrez has ties to Rumsfeld through Kellogg. Rumsfeld served on the company's board of directors from 1985 to 1999 while the former Kellogg truck driver was working his way through upper management. Gutierrez became CEO just as Rumsfeld left the board, but they have remained in touch since then.

ABSENTEE FRIST

 Sen. George Allen of Virginia got the best of Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, his possible adversary for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, when several hundred GOP volunteers in Senate contests across the country were honored at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington.

 The event was scheduled for the convenience of Senate Majority Leader Frist's schedule. But when it came time for him to appear, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell showed up instead. McConnell announced that Frist was in Little Rock, Ark., that day for the dedication of Bill Clinton's presidential library. The news evoked lusty boos from the gathered Republican loyalists.

 Allen, chairman of the party's Senate campaign committee, did appear and gave an inspirational speech that received a standing ovation from the volunteers.

VILSACK'S GOP PROBLEM

 The real reason why Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack bowed out of the competition to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was threats from Republicans in his state legislature that they would make life miserable for him in Des Moines if he took the party position.

 According to sources close to Vilsack, he would have taken the pledge not to seek the presidential nomination if he ran for the DNC chairmanship. Vilsack would have been favored to be the party leader.

 A footnote: Jim Blanchard, former governor of Michigan and former U.S. ambassador to Canada, is being pushed for national chairman by some of the same Democrats who were advocating Vilsack.

KAY FOR GOVERNOR?

 Texas political sources believe that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison definitely has decided to run in 2006 for governor, a job she long has coveted. That means challenging Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary.

 Polls indicate that Perry is vulnerable in heavily Republican Texas, while Hutchison is currently the state's most popular political figure. If she runs for governor, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is interested in succeeding her in the Senate.

 According to Texas sources, Hutchison's running mate as lieutenant governor may be State Comptroller Carole Strayhorn. The former Democratic mayor of Austin, Strayhorn has been called the brains of the Texas Republican Party. She is the mother of two important Bush administration officials: White House press secretary Scott McClellan and Medicare chief Mark McClellan.