By Peter Savodnik - 09/22/05 12:00 AM EDT
A former senior official from the Log Cabin Republicans is likely to challenge Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.) next year in a primary, the latest sign that federal spending is prompting a backlash at the GOP grassroots level.
Jeff Cook, Log Cabin’s former national field director, launched an exploratory committee earlier this week and is planning two fundraisers later this fall in Washington and New York to reel in $200,000.
Chris Barron, Log Cabin’s political director, said Cook, 26, can tap into a national network of gay and lesbian donors to beat Kelly, who won her sixth term, last year, with 67 percent of the vote. Log Cabin is a gay-rights organization.
Cook compared himself to former Rep. Ben Gilman (R-N.Y.), at one time the only Jewish member of his party in Congress, suggesting that Cook’s allies in the gay community would support him as Jews once backed Gilman.
Training his sights on Kelly, Cook portrayed the congresswoman as having lost sight of the Contract With America, which she endorsed when she was first elected to Congress, in 1994.
He cited the recently passed transportation bill, which was loaded with thousands of local spending items, or “pork,” and was supported by the congresswoman.
The American Conservative Union has taken issue with Kelly’s opposition to a conservative budget resolution, support for funding of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and other issues.
“I have become really concerned in the last couple of years about the direction of some of the leaders in our party,” Cook said. “If the Republican Party is unwilling … to stand up to the trappings and the temptations of big government, then who will? We’ve got to have a dividing line. There’s got to be a party to stand up for the taxpayer.”
Alluding to former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s book Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Cook warned that the country is “slouching towards larger and larger government.”
Cook maintained that being gay would not hurt him in a Republican primary. He added that he opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional and contrary to his small-government philosophy.
Striking a careful ideological balance, Cook said families, not government, should make life’s most important decisions — about schools, for instance — but offered an expansive view of “family” including adoption by gay couples.
“The reality of life in America is that many gay and lesbian couples are raising children,” he said. “I do not have children. I hope one day to have children.”
Chris Decker, a Kelly campaign official, did not return phone calls.
A spokesman in the congresswoman’s Washington office said Kelly was unavailable for comment and e-mailed a statement on her behalf. “Congresswoman Kelly is fully focused on the job she needs to do in Congress right now,” the statement said. “When the time comes, she will run an aggressive campaign just like she always does.”
Kelly ended the second quarter of the year with nearly $580,000 in the bank, having raised $313,000 during the three-month period from April through June. Cook said he expects Republicans and Democrats to spend at least $2 million, combined, on the race.
A Democratic campaign aide in Washington said in an e-mail message that attorney Judy Aydelott (D) is “probably the strongest candidate in the field” to run for the 19th District seat in 2006.
An Internet search for “Judy Aydelott” leads to a campaign site, judy4congress.com, that has not yet been completed.
The Democratic aide added: “We’ve heard from a few other impressive Democrats in the district who are also interested in taking her on, but no announcements at this time. Bottom line, we do believe Representative Kelly is vulnerable. It’s early, but she’s out of touch with her district, and we believe New York families are looking for a change.”
Barron, the Log Cabin Republicans’ political director, said that by 2008, Kelly’s district — including parts of Westchester and Orange counties — would have more Democrats than Republicans. Orange County is one of the fastest growing counties in the Empire State.