Jewish World Review August 22, 2002 / 14 Elul, 5762
John H. Fund
Both Ms. McKinney's 16-point defeat and Mr. Barr's 28-point loss were large enough that they would have lost even if no voters had crossed party lines. But Republicans clearly sealed Ms. McKinney's fate by voting for former judge Denise Majette, and Democrats helped bury Mr. Barr by voting for his more mild-mannered colleague, Rep. John Linder. In 1992, Democrats employed this tactic in an attempt to defeat then-Rep. Newt Gingrich when they turned out to vote for his primary opponent. Mr. Gingrich survived with only 51% of the vote and two years later led the Republicans to take over the House and Senate for the first time since Eisenhower was president. But then Mr. Gingrich went on to a tumultuous four years as House Speaker.
Ms. McKinney's defeat will be a disappointment for those who collect outrageous statements by public officials. "I'm attracted to fights," she proclaimed after her first election in a 60% black district in 1992. She proceeded to prove that by picking fights with both Bill Clinton and Al Gore while they were still in office. First she claimed that White House guards working for Bill Clinton had refused to show her respect. Then she accused Al Gore during his bid for the presidency in 2000 of having a low "Negro tolerance level."
Under President Bush, she upped the volume of her outrage. Last year, in an interview with a California radio station, she accused the Bush administration of knowing about the Sept. 11 attacks in advance. "What did this administration know, and when did it know it, about the events of September 11th?," she asked. "Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered? What do they have to hide?" Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia called her comments "loony."
Ms. McKinney provided further proof of her lack of judgement by accepting campaign contributions from at least 18 donors who, in the words of the Washington Post, were "either officers of Muslim foundations under investigation by the FBI, have voiced support for Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist organizations or have made inflammatory statements about Jews." When Jewish donors began contributing heavily to Denise Majette, McKinney supporters whispered that Ms. Majette was a black "Aunt Thomasina." Then Ms. McKinney brought in the big guns: Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, and Jesse Jackson. Both came to the district to rally black voters.
Other black leaders were more cautious. Al Sharpton made an appearance in Ms. McKinney's campaign office this week but cannily withheld a formal endorsement as it became clear Ms. McKinney could lose. But you can bet Mr. Sharpton would have been on the stage with her Tuesday night if she had won. Former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador Andrew Young was even more cautious. Although he had endorsed Ms. McKinney in an earlier race, he withheld his endorsement this time. Nonetheless, she used his old endorsement this year in her bid to win her primary. He shot back with a prepared statement pointing that the recorded endorsement was for an previous campaign and that he wasn't getting involved in this race.
That prompted State Rep. Billy McKinney, the congresswoman's father, to sum up Mr. Young's slight this way: "That ain't nothing. Jews have bought everybody. Jews. J-E-W-S." Mr. McKinney has a history of such intemperate comments. In 1996, he came to his daughter's defense and called her opponent, Republican John Mitnick, a "racist Jew"--the "evidence" was that Mr. Mitnick criticized Ms. McKinney for sending her son to an elite private school while opposing school vouchers for other parents.
Black voters may have finally had enough of these political antics. In addition to supporting Ms. McKinney by much lower margins this time, voters turned on her father, who has been in the state legislature for 30 years. On the same night his daughter lost, Mr. McKinney was forced into a runoff against a politically unknown opponent in a overwhelmingly black district.
Ms. Majette, a Yale Law School graduate, agrees the results show a real political sophistication by Atlanta voters. "They want somebody who will do something, not just talk," she says. "We united this district, my opponent had divided it for 10 long years." Still, the power of incumbency is such that Ms. Majette had to raise $1.2 million to defeat Ms. McKinney, who raised only $700,000. Almost no challengers are able to raise more than an incumbent the way Ms. Majette did.
The contest between Reps. Barr and Linder was a little different. It wasn't marred by racial politics and both candidates were incumbents--pitted against one another by Democrats controlling the state legislature who, in redistricting, squeezed both districts together. Rep. Barr is best know for having advocated the impeachment of President Clinton in 1997--before the world knew of Monica Lewinsky. That, along with his role as one of the House impeachment managers, earned him the everlasting enmity of hardcore Democratic voters. Mr. Barr's outspokenness even led the Libertarian Party to spend money on ads attacking him for his opposition to medical marijuana.
Mr. Barr's lightning-rod style also made him a less attractive candidate for blueblood Republicans, who preferred Rep. Linder's behind-the-scenes approach over Mr. Barr's constant appearances on talk shows. In the end, Mr. Barr lost because he had previously represented less than one in five constituents in the new district. Mr. Linder had represented twice as many. The Democratic gerrymander coupled by the desire of Democrats to cross over and eliminate a thorn in their side ended Mr. Barr's Congressional career.
In retrospect, he would have been better to remain in his old district and run for re-election despite the Democratic tilt the gerrymander had given it. The Democratic primary in the old district was won Tuesday by Roger Kahn, a businessman who lost to Mr. Barr in 2000 and has made controversial statements in favor of drug legalization. Many observers believe Mr. Barr, who had forged unusual political alliances with the ACLU and other liberal groups on privacy issues, could have won a rematch with Mr. Kahn and then run for the U.S. Senate in 2004.
Mr. Barr and Ms. McKinney join a growing list of publicity-seeking pols who have been
defeated at the polls or forced from office this year. This has indeed been a bad political
year for cable TV news junkies. Rep. James Traficant, the Ohio Democrat whose
outrageous clothes and even more outrageous floor statements entertained C-SPAN
watchers for years, was convicted of fraud and then expelled from Congress.
Democratic Rep. Lynn Rivers, a vocal feminist from Michigan, was defeated in a primary
by the venerable Rep. John Dingell. Now Reps. Barr and McKinney are moving off the
national political stage. With so few congressional seats in play due to
incumbent-protection gerrymanders in many states, the few newcomers elected this fall
are unlikely to fill their rabble-rousing shoes. That may make for a more sober Congress,
but also a less entertaining and lively one.
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07/29/02: GOP: Get Over Panic --- Dems are vulnerable on corporate scandals, too