By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 03/08/06 12:00 AM EST
National Democrats are trying to discredit Ohio shopping-mall heiress Capri Cafaro because they fear her family’s ties to former Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio) could weaken their attempts to link Republicans to the recent wave of criminal influence peddling.
Cafaro aired a 30-minute television infomercial last week on a local network affiliate as she launched her campaign to succeed Rep. Sherrod Brown (D), who is running for the Senate. Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) won in a landslide against Cafaro in Ohio’s 14th District in 2004.
Worried that Cafaro would run just as badly against a well-funded Republican opponent in Ohio’s 13th District, Democrats are highlighting her family’s ties to Traficant. Cafaro’s father pleaded guilty and paid a $150,000 fine for bribing Traficant to steer government money to his aerospace company.
Capri Cafaro had worked as an executive with the company and, in 2003, accepted immunity to testify against a former co-worker. Traficant was sentenced to nine years in prison for a variety of bribery offenses and expelled from Congress in 2002.
“You can’t have a one-way conversation with voters about corruption. If there’s an issue that separates a nominee from a flawed nominee, it is ethics,” a Democratic campaign operative said. “If you’re ethically clean, you’ll hold the seat and benefit Democrats in Ohio and nationally, since they have a message of going after Republicans on corruption.”
Vic Rubenstein, Cafaro’s campaign manager, told The Hill: “No one ever accused her of doing anything wrong. Our opponents fundamentally want to manipulate legal semantics to frighten people.”
While the national parties backed Cafaro in 2004, she cannot expect support this year. EMILY’s List, a major Democratic political action committee, announced earlier this year it would support Betty Sutton, a labor lawyer and former state legislator, in her campaign for the seat. The PAC, which supports female candidates who support abortion rights, can tap its 100,000 members nationwide for money.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) encouraged Sutton to enter the race last year. But as more candidates entered the primary, including former Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Ohio) and Gary Kucinich, brother of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the DCCC is remaining neutral, a DCCC official said.
“Multicandidate primaries are unpredictable,” the Democratic operative said.
Meanwhile, Ohio Republicans are relishing the prospect of Craig Foltin, the mayor of Lorain, Ohio, going unchallenged in the GOP primary. Foltin huddled in Washington last week with the National Rifle Association, the American Medical Association, the National Federation of Independent Business and GOP officials as he sought to hire a campaign manager and pick up endorsements.
He was escorted on his visit by Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio). National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) will host a fundraiser for Foltin on March 22.
Although Sutton is the darling of the Democratic establishment, operatives from both parties are ignoring her and targeting Cafaro. Beyond Cafaro’s father’s legal troubles, she fell out of favor with national Democrats in 2004 after running a dismal campaign against LaTourette. Although Cafaro spent $1.7 million of her own money, LaTourette won 63 percent of the vote in a district where President Bush won just 52 percent.
Democrats also accused Cafaro of living in New York as late as last year. She recently purchased a house in the 14th District, but campaign-contribution records at politicalmoneyline.com suggest that she had been living in New York City as late as 2005.
Republicans let it be known last week that her father contributed money to both parties and that he hosted a 50th birthday party for former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) at his house in Chevy Chase, Md. Capri Cafaro interned in Gingrich’s office for several weeks when she attended the Madeira School, an all-girls private school, in McLean, Va.
J.J. Cafaro gave money to candidates of both political parties, according to records at politicalmoneyline.com, including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and ex-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.). Cafaro interned for both senators, although she represented herself as a full-time paid staffer in both offices. She apologized for her statements in local newspapers.
Campaign aides from both parties lambasted Cafaro’s tactics in the 2004 campaign, noting that her communications director videotaped LaTourette at his then-girlfriend’s house and leaked the tape to the media. Cafaro was forced to fire her spokesman.