Facing pressure from the White House and Republican leaders to stay in Congress, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) said yesterday that he would run for an 11th — and final — term, reversing his decision last weekend to retire over concerns about his health.
Gallegly told reporters yesterday that President Bush called him after House and Senate leaders, including Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), met with Bush at the White House. Gallegly missed the call but spoke with Karl Rove, Bush’s deputy chief of staff and political mastermind, later in the day.
“The last four days have been some of the hardest of my political life,” Gallegly said as he stood with several colleagues at a press conference at the Capitol Hill Club.
Gallegly did not disclose the symptoms that he and his doctors considered life-threatening, but he said he is “100 percent” after doctors employed by the House and Senate ran a battery of tests.
His decision to retire stunned the Republican political establishment in Washington and California and forced Gallegly to issue an apology at a meeting with California Republican lawmakers Tuesday evening for the manner in which he handled the matter, several lawmakers who were in the room said.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) described Gallegly as “very apologetic.”
But Gallegly did not detail his doctor’s diagnosis and asked lawmakers not to discuss the details of the meeting. Several lawmakers seemed to give Gallegly the benefit of the doubt that he had not intentionally set out to catch his fellow lawmakers off-guard.
Dreier, the dean of the California GOP delegation, said, “Everyone’s foremost concern was his health and well-being.”
“I think he made a mistake and is tying to figure out how to fix it,” said a GOP lawmaker who attended the Tuesday-night meeting.
Fearing the worst about his health, Gallegly told his colleagues he had received conflicting information about whether he could take his name off the ballot at the last minute and get a five-day extension so that other candidates could get on the ballot. But the extension only applies to state candidates, not federal candidates.
Some lawmakers, aides and political consultants speculated that Gallegly had attempted to play kingmaker and choose his successor. But, according to Dreier, Gallegly said at the meeting that the theory is “disconcerting to him.”
Watching the machinations from afar, Democrats looked on with glee.
“It’s a colossal screw-up,” said a Democratic aide for a California lawmaker.
However, Gallegly’s decision to stay on dramatically reduces the chances Democrats had to steal the seat.
Gallegly’s 20 years in the House have created a long waiting list of potential successors, and local Republicans perceived Michael Tenenbaum, a graduate of Harvard Law School, as a rebellious upstart when he jumped onto the GOP ballot several weeks ago. If Gallegly had not been on the ballot, the district’s demographics would have probably allowed Tenenbaum to replace the 62-year-old legislator.
There is little risk Republicans will lose the seat. After redistricting in 2000, Democrats from Gallegly’s 24th District were moved into Democratic Rep. Lois Capps’s 23rd district and the Republicans in Capps’s district were shuffled into Gallegly’s district.
Nevertheless, Republicans need to defend 16 open seats in a tough political environment where President Bush’s poll numbers continue to fall and several Republicans have been implicated in influence-peddling scandals.
“Hopefully, with this new information about his health, this can all get sorted out,” said Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
In an attempt to add levity to his numerous election-year challenges, Reynolds added, “I love for incumbents to run.”
On the Democratic side, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) asked Jill Martinez, a Presbyterian minister, last fall to enter the race. Without a primary opponent, she has a clear path to the nomination, but her campaign is off to a slow start.
“It’s a bit frustrating” raising money, but “we’re going to go full bore. … I really need to muster forces,” she told The Hill.