Skip to comments.NC Senate hopeful has GOP support (Party rallies around U.S. Rep. Richard Burr for 2004 campaign)
Posted on 09/10/2003 7:23:35 AM PDT by jern
Posted on Wed, Sep. 10, 2003
Senate hopeful has GOP support Party rallies around U.S. Rep. Richard Burr for 2004 campaign MARK JOHNSON Raleigh Bureau
It was Richard Burr's turn, until the White House stepped in.
U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican, was retiring. Burr, a handsome and energetic GOP congressman, had been eyeing a Senate seat, even passing on the governor's race two years earlier. Very quickly after Helms' announcement, though, political operatives at the Bush White House indicated their preferred candidate for the 2002 election was Elizabeth Dole, who went on to win in November.
"It was clear, and it didn't need to be said, but the White House accurately believed Elizabeth Dole is a rock star and her chances for winning were very, very good," said Burr strategist Peter Hans, "and that Richard Burr had the luxury, as a young man, of running in two years or even later."
Two years later, with U.S. Sen. John Edwards relinquishing his Senate seat and Democrats sorting out their candidates, the Republican forces that led Burr to opt out of the last Senate race now have unified the party behind him.
Burr, of Winston-Salem, said White House officials never asked him to stay out in 2002, but it just didn't make sense to run.
Before the 2002 election was even over, that October, White House political strategist Karl Rove invited Burr to breakfast to talk about the 2004 Senate race.
"It was shocking to me that they were as focused on the 2004 election cycle," Burr said, "with the 2002 election cycle in (its) last weeks."
White House advisers, as they did with Dole, have signaled their preference for Burr, lined up fund-raisers and effectively dissuaded any GOP challengers from entering the race.
Repeating the formula they used with Dole, White House officials are dispatching their biggest names to help fatten Burr's campaign bank account. Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to headline a Burr fund-raiser in Raleigh on Friday, and Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, led an April event in Winston-Salem.
Burr expects to have $4 million in cash on hand by the end of the month, a figure that had been his year-end goal.
"Lack of money," Burr said, "is not going to be a problem."
Burr was able to enlist the support of N.C. Republican leaders, including both Dole and Helms, who traditionally remain neutral until after a primary election.
"It's great to have the field cleared," said Bill Cobey, who was N.C. Republican Party chairman until resigning in July to run for governor.
Burr's unobstructed path contrasts sharply with Democrats, who are just starting to sort out who will seek their party's nomination.
Edwards announced his withdrawal from the race Sunday.
If Democrats end up with multiple candidates, Burr "can sit back while the sparring partners in the opposing primary seem to be knocking each other off," said D.G. Martin, who lost the 1998 Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate to Edwards.
Democrats acknowledge Burr's advantages within his party but contend any of their candidates can raise money and pack a better resume, such as former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles or former N.C. House Speaker Dan Blue.
"We don't feel intimidated at all by Richard Burr," said Brad Woodhouse, press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a former Bowles aide. "They've cleared the field for a guy who was selling toasters before he went into Congress and is virtually unknown outside his district. That's a big risk for a U.S. Senate seat."
Burr, first elected in 1994, was marketing director for a wholesale business that dealt in appliances before he began his political career.
He held a fund-raiser in Charlotte Monday night after speaking to a Republican women's lunch in Pinehurst.
Burr has a conservative voting record but has not built his reputation on polarizing issues, focusing instead on topics such as electricity deregulation and streamlining the FDA's approval process for new drugs. He is vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, which oversees media regulations, and drew criticism for letting the National Association of Broadcasters pay for his 2002 trip to their convention.
Burr also voted against the White House on its prescription drug plan for Medicare and the loosening of FCC restrictions that allow large media companies to own more TV stations. Republicans hope that resume will help draw crossover votes.
Burr gained brief celebrity in 1999 when, in testifying against a federal requirement that toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, read his remarks from a roll of toilet paper.
"At least initially, Burr is seemingly a very attractive, articulate, moderate-appearing person who is the hardest kind of candidate for a Democrat to defeat," said Martin, the former Democratic candidate. "Hard to beat but possible to beat."
Leave it to the Democrats to impune someone who actually works for a living.
If I were Burr, I'd gather up appliance salesmen in the state and produce an ad with them.