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UPI's Capital Comment for Nov. 21, 2002

By United Press International

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

A trip to the Barbour shop? -- Fresh off the defeat of three sitting Democrat southern governors in the 2002 election, the Republicans are already homing in on their next targets.

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One who is very much in their sights is Ronnie Musgrove, the embattled governor of Mississippi. Musgrove must run for re-election in 2003, that is, if he is still around. The Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger published a lengthy story on Sunday explaining that an FBI investigation involving financial payoffs by trial attorneys seeking to influence judicial rulings and appointments now includes Musgrove.

Investigators are looking into the relationship between contributions made to Musgrove's campaign and judicial appointments, the paper says.

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"Investigators won't talk publicly about the investigation at this point but acknowledge privately that contributions to Musgrove are under scrutiny," the Clarion-Ledger reports. "Authorities began to examine lawyers' contributions more closely after finding they spiked upward just before Musgrove made appointments to the state Supreme Court. That prompted scrutiny of all judicial appointments and what, if any, attempts have been made to influence the governor."

Musgrove's re-election was in trouble before this new revelation. Aside from a potential primary challenge, a formidable foe would be Yazoo City, Miss., native Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is widely expected to announce he is running for governor -- clearing the field for the GOP. Barbour would be a powerful opponent. He has a national network of potential contributors and a close relationship with the GOP's No. 1 campaign asset, President George W. Bush.

As one example of what has caught the attention of investigators, the Clarion-Ledger says campaign reports show Biloxi, Miss., attorney Paul Minor "already under scrutiny in the probe -- contributed $27,125 to Musgrove less than a month before the governor appointed Jim Brantley to the state Court of Appeals on Aug. 24, 2001 ... Brantley succeeded Minor as president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, and Minor spoke at Brantley's swearing-in ceremony." Musgrove denies that judicial appointments were for sale in his administration, saying, "Campaign contributions have no influence on my judicial appointments or on any other appointments."

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Coup coup you -- Democrats in the New York state Senate have tossed their leader over the side. During a party caucus Tuesday, the Democrats voted out Brooklyn, N.Y., state Sen. Martin Connor, who has led them for the past eight years, in favor of Manhattan's David Paterson -- Connor's deputy. Paterson becomes the first black to lead either chamber of the New York Legislature and, as the son of legendary Manhattan Democrat Basil Paterson, has an impressive party pedigree.


Taking things for Granite -- New Hampshire's congressional clout took a substantial hit in the November 2002 elections. Sen. Bob Smith, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was defeated in the primary by U.S. Rep. John Sununu, a fellow Republican who had been in line to chair the House Budget Committee.

Republican Judd Gregg is scheduled to take the gavel at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, so the state has not lost all its clout -- if rumors about a pending federal appointment turn out to be just rumors. There is a suggestion floating around Washington that President Bush would like to add Gregg to his Cabinet or make him a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which some say is a potential stepping-stone to a seat on the nation's highest court. With Republican Craig Benson preparing to take over as governor, Bush could appoint Gregg to a post without having to worry that a Democrat would be chosen to replace him.

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The question of whom Benson would choose as the replacement is wide open, especially since the vacancy doesn't currently exists. One idea being floated is to name former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., who served from 1979 to 1983 when he retired and went home.

Humphrey failed in two attempts to become governor but in the process compiled an e-mail list of close to 30,000 supporters that he put to use over the weekend before the 2002 election, sending out a strong message of support for Sununu. Some polls showed Sununu lagging in his campaign to retain Smith's seat for the GOP because of lingering resentment among conservatives over the primary.

Humphrey has solid conservative credentials and his message to those still smoldering over Smith's defeat -- and contemplating a write-in campaign on Smith's behalf -- is credited by some with turning the tide. Because of his "big tent" message, Humphrey is seen as one who could unify the GOP if he were to replace Gregg.

Having already served 12 years in the Senate, Humphrey would likely answer the call of his state and his party -- restoring some of their clout in Congress if Senate Republicans agree to count his previous service in determining where he falls in seniority -- but would not seek a full term in 2004.

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The deal is off -- Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, has committed to seek another term in the U.S. Senate in 2006 rather than make a bid to swap jobs with GOP Gov. Bob Taft. Last year it was rumored the two had cut a deal to cross-endorse, allowing DeWine to win the GOP nomination for governor while pushing the term-limited Taft out front as his chosen successor in the senate. If there ever was a deal, it's off. With DeWine out of the governor's race, Ohio pols expect a bruising primary between state Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and state Auditor Jim Petro -- whom some were quietly pushing as a potential primary opponent for GOP Sen. George Voinovich in 2004.


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