Rep. George Nethercutt is inching closer to a run for the U.S. Senate as Bellevue’s Jennifer Dunn backs away.
“I will consider it,” he said Friday on KSPS-TV’s “Spokane This Week.”
“I would hope that around (June 19) I would be in a position to say yes or no,” he added later in an interview with The Spokesman-Review editorial board.
The Spokane Republican said that if he runs instead for re-election in 1998 and wins, it wouldn’t necessarily be his last term in the House. He signaled he is ready to back away from his long-stated policy of sticking by the three-term limit he championed when first elected in 1994.
“If I’m doing a good job and I have high marks from my constituents and we’re headed toward a goal I ran on, do I want to see that goal overturned?”
While visiting Eastern Washington this week during a congressional recess, Nethercutt’s future political decisions were complicated by moves in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., announced she will resign to become a news anchor for CBS. Dunn, a three-term incumbent, is a leading candidate to replace Molinari as vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.
Dunn said she would delay a decision on running for the Senate, which she had promised to make by June 1.
Nethercutt said Friday that Dunn is the leading candidate for the conference position, and he doesn’t expect her to run for the Senate.
Republican Rep. Linda Smith of Vancouver is running for the seat now held by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.
Smith has strong support among religious conservatives and those pushing government reform. Nethercutt said he has been approached by Republicans who are looking for someone with “broader appeal.”
The process is like “a swarm of bees” going from flower-to-flower in search of a candidate, he said. “The swarm is sort of moving toward me.”
In the next three weeks, he plans to discuss the race with his family members, who have moved to Washington, D.C., and consider the cost of the race, which some experts say could be $5 million per candidate.
“I don’t want to sacrifice my family for a run at the Senate, and I don’t want to sacrifice my district,” he said.
An Eastern Washington resident hasn’t won a U.S. Senate race in more than half a century. Nethercutt said he may have some name recognition in more populous Western Washington because of his 1994 upset of then-Speaker Tom Foley.
“Maybe the profile is high enough that it would overcome the East Side, West Side tradition,” he said.
One of Nethercutt’s key campaign planks in 1994 was a strict adherence to the term limit law, which voters had passed and Foley had challenged in court. That law, which said no one could serve more than three terms in the House, was later voided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nethercutt said he still supports term limits, and has voted for almost every proposal in Congress.
But he won’t automatically quit after six years in the House, he said. If some of his key issues - such as a balanced budget or tax cuts - are still in the works he might run again.
“If I’m doing a good job and the public says, ‘We love what you’re doing and we’re happy with you. Would you consider doing more?’ Maybe I’d consider doing more,” he said.
How is that different from any other longterm office holder who continues to win office? he was asked.
“I think I’m a little different - at least I feel that I am - because I don’t desire to make a career out of Congress,” he replied.
Nethercutt predicted that no changes in campaign finance law would pass this session. He also said he has taken no action to investigate whether one of the donors to his 1994 campaign broke existing laws by funneling money through employees after personally donating the maximum allowed by law.
P.J. Taggares, an Othello farming magnate, was fined this year by the state Public Disclosure Commission for similar violations in the 1996 gubernatorial primary. Some of the same donors involved in those violations said they also gave money to Nethercutt, but the PDC has no jurisdiction over federal campaigns.
“I have no presumption of guilt,” he said. “No one’s raised a red flag applied to me.”
He added that he cannot check the thousands of contributions his campaigns receive. The two campaigns have raised nearly $2 million, and these amounted to a few contributions of $500 or $1,000, he said.
“It’s not like these are huge amounts of money.”
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