A D.C. Presidential Candidate?

Local candidate could raise D.C. issues

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton addressing the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

    The coming of 2011 will bring the start of the 2012 presidential race. A few Republicans have already set out for early voting Iowa and New Hampshire, and the first formal candidate announcements should come before the winter ends.

    On the Democratic side, President Obama seems sure to win re-nomination, but some liberals, upset by his pragmatic compromises on taxes and a health care public option, and his aggressive stance in Afghanistan, have urged a symbolic primary challenge. But those named most often -- Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, Dennis Kucinich -- say they don’t want to do it. So why not a candidate from D.C.?
    The District of Columbia is home to presidents, but has had little role in actually choosing them. Apart from the joke campaigns of D.C. bartender Russell Hirshon in the 1990s, the closest D.C. has come to a candidate in recent years was District-bred Pat Buchanan, who now lives in Virginia.
    The District’s attempt to draw attention to its lack of representation and self-governance by jumping to the front of the pack of primaries in 2004 fizzled when five of the leading Democratic candidates, fearful of offending New Hampshire, opted out, giving Dean a win by default.
    But though that symbolic effort didn’t work, a progressive Democrat could challenge Obama from the left on the issues concerning liberals -- and also get D.C. rights issues some national attention.
    When I ran the idea by D.C.’s shadow representative Mike Panetta, I was not too surprised to hear that it had already occurred to him. Panetta is always coming up with creative ideas to promote the District cause. He did not name any potential candidates, but did say, “Obama needs to lose the D.C. primary.”
    Who would be a good candidate? The District’s most prominent elected Democrat is Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a favorite of liberals, who has been in Congress for two decades. She would get instant national attention, and would probably even get some kind coverage from her friend Stephen Colbert.
    Norton has shown no signs of considering such a run. But her predecessor as delegate, Walter Fauntroy, won the 1972 D.C. Democratic presidential primary as a “favorite son” candidate. Norton could possibly beat Obama in D.C., then return to Capitol Hill with new clout as a leader among progressive Democrats. If nothing else, it would be a great highlight in her long career.
    But if Norton won’t do it, the local bench is pretty thin. Jesse Jackson served as D.C.’s shadow senator for one term after his two presidential runs, but did little with the job and no longer resides here. Ex-mayors like Adrian Fenty and Anthony Williams would hardly rally the left.
    What about the other major party? I ran the idea by D.C. Republican Party Executive Director Paul Craney, who said he could see a District native becoming “the ‘Northeast’ candidate” in a crowded GOP nomination fight. But Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and John Bolton of Maryland are already likely candidates, and there is no D.C. Republican prominent enough to make a dent.
    But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for a D.C. Republican to also make a symbolic run. A local Republican could run just in the District primary -- as Fauntroy did in 1972 -- and win over the big-name candidates in the low-turnout contest. It wouldn’t change the race, but it would get the District a bit of attention.

    Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC