- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

Dick Gephardt and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are desperate for winners to win back the House. They're redefining what makes a dream candidate.

Down in Dixie, anyway. Bubba's back in good Democratic graces.

Not the phony Bubbas, like Al Gore and his sidekick Bill Clinton who yearn to be thought well of by yankees, but the real deal: Bubba with a hound or two in the front seat and a deer rifle and a Confederate flag in the back window of the Dodge Dakota.

The man who would be king of the Hill is determined not to let conviction, ideology or faith, hope and charity stand in the way. Not this year, when everything seems possible.

The prototype for the Southern Democrat dream candidate is on display this week in the Fourth Arkansas, one of the most reliably yellow-dog Democratic districts in the nation, where almost nobody knows all the words to "Dixie" but where everybody stands up and hollers when they hear the tune. The seat is held now by Jay Dickey, a certifiable Republican eccentric, Sonny Bono without his gifts of wit, razzle and dazzle. Nobody knows how a Republican ever won in this district, where FDR is still president and Republicans are still expected to step off the sidewalk and into the street to let a white man pass.

But what the Democrats need this year, so they think in Washington, is a certified good ol' white boy with an easy-to-remember white-bread name, someone who doesn't much truck with abortionists and someone who, if the National Rifle Association tries to pin a gun-control label on him, would "up and take a shot at Bambi on live television, and do it from the window of a speeding pickup." (That's the prescription of John Brummett, an unapologetic yellow-dog Democrat newspaper columnist in Little Rock.)

Such a candidate needs one final qualification, of course, and that's a willingness to be an empty suit, to do whatever Dick Gephardt tells him to do once he gets to Washington, to shut up and remember his place, and stand up straight, keep his cap in his hand and keep that forelock well tugged until spoken to. Such is the only role for Southerners in the party their grandfathers built.

The national Democrats got burned two years ago when they thought they had a good chance to take out Jay Dickey. They recruited a conservative white small-town lawyer, lined up the money, hired the focus groups, and then the conservative white small-town lawyer decided he didn't want to go to Washington after all. The party was stuck with a nightmare in Bubba City, a woman and a black woman to boot. Jay Dickey won, as everyone expected him to, but the black woman polled 43 percent of the vote. That had to include a lot of Bubbas. The district is only 25 percent black, and Mr. Gephardt and his committee were encouraged to go hunting for another white man.

They found Mike Ross, more boy than man, but a state senator without the usual whiff of oily corruption that hovers over state senators like thunderclouds on sultry July afternoons. He's a onetime go-fer for Bill Clinton who, in the words of one wary Democrat, "defines pedestrian down."

Jay Dickey stumbles through speeches as if searching for the English language in a fog of his own making. He got himself in a little virtual hot water in the newspapers (not necessarily the same thing as real hot water) last winter when he told a group of black farmers that he could help them in their dealings with the U.S. Department of Agriculture only if they started voting for Republicans.

This is Politics 101, as every pol (and even some political-science professors) could tell you, but it's not the sort of thing politicians are supposed to say in public, though most of them Democrat and Republican will cheerfully tell you that in private. The editorialists and the other ladies of the good-government leagues looked around for their fainting couches and Mr. Dickey was measured for a shroud. But a funny thing happened down on the farm. Some of the black farmers, who know a thing or two about the unforgiving ways that nature works, said they understood what Mr. Dickey was talking about and they weren't particularly offended. In the event, Mr. Dickey went to work on their behalf, and the republic survived to prosper on another day.

Mike Ross won his run-off primary this week, and the man who ran a solid second, a bit of a Bubba himself, offered an unusual valedictory on Democratic hopes: "The people of the Fourth District were sold a bill of goods. Mike Ross bought the vote, or somebody has bought the vote. Dickey's going to win. He's free and loose. He's one of us." Too bad for Dick Gephardt, but Democrat or Republican, yankee money can't always buy love.

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