Embattled Rep. Charles Rangel’s re-election campaign suffered two potentially bad blows last week courtesy of former President Bill Clinton and a largely Republican-funded anti-incumbent super political action committee that has set its sights on the 21-term congressman.
Sources close to Clinton told The New York Post that the ex-president isn’t going to endorse Rangel, 81, who gained office by defeating the legendary Adam Clayton Powell in 1970 in the Harlem-centered congressional district.
Rangel is now the fourth-longest serving member of Congress as well as the second-longest serving black lawmaker on Capitol Hill behind Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.
But Rangel’s re-election run has been complicated by a redrawn congressional district that’s now more Hispanic than black, health problems that kept him out of Washington from early February to early May, and the aftermath of an ethics scandal that resulted in him being censured by the full House in 2010 and relinquishing the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
As a result, Rangel is running in a New York Democratic primary next month against State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who’s seeking to become the first Dominican-American in Congress, and Clyde Williams, a former Democratic National Committee political director and a former aide to Clinton.
Clinton was a staunch supporter of Rangel’s 2010 re-election campaign which followed his censure. Clinton even recorded robo-calls then urging district voters to cast ballots for Rangel.
But now Clinton is taking a flier on endorsing Rangel or any of his opponents in next month’s primary, according to the Post, because of friendships.
“He is grateful for Clyde’s work with the (Clinton) foundation,” a Clinton source told the Post. “Because he has personal relationships with several candidates in the race, he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to weigh in on the race.”
Rangel was one of the high-profile Democrats who stood by Clinton during an independent council’s investigation into Clinton’s affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, an affair that led to his impeachment by the House.
When House Republicans balked at paying Manhattan rent prices for Clinton’s post-presidential office in New York, Rangel was one of the first people to suggest that he go Uptown and establish his office in Harlem. Rangel also played a leading role in suggesting that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton run for the Senate out of New York.
Rangel’s Democratic foes viewed Clinton’s neutrality in the New York’s 13th Congressional District race as almost as good of news as if they had received the endorsement of the ex-president themselves.
“It was a great honor to work with President Clinton in his Administration and to serve as his domestic policy advisor at his Foundation in Harlem,” Clyde Williams said in a written statement. “I also know he and Charlie Rangel have been friends for decades, and so I appreciate and respect his decision to remain neutral in this race.”
President Barack Obama is also apparently maintaining a hands-off policy when it comes to Rangel’s re-election bid. A White House official told reporters two weeks ago that “the president has not endorsed in that Democratic primary contest.” The official added that if Obama chooses to endorse anyone that decision will be made by the president’s re-election campaign.
If that’s not bad enough, a right-wing anti-incumbent super PAC senses Rangel is politically vulnerable and has set its sights on knocking him off. The Campaign for Primary Accountability sent out fundraising notices last week identifying Rangel as its latest target.
“Perhaps no single incumbent politician deserves to be fired more than ethically-challenged Charlie Rangel of New York,” the group wrote in an email seeking contributions of $50, $100, or $250. “As the poster child of the entrenched incumbent class, Rangel’s forty-two year congressional career is rife with waste, fraud and abuse of power. Rangel was recently found guilty of violating 11 counts of House ethics rules…and he still thinks he’s entitled to his taxpayer-funded job in Washington!”
The super PAC has signaled that it intends to throw its resources behind Espaillat. His campaign has said has no information about the group. Even if the Campaign for Primary Accountability didn’t give money to Rangel’s challengers they still could go after him by paying for negative advertising on New York television, radio and newspapers independent of any other campaign.
The super PAC bills itself as a non-partisan entity dedicated to ousting long-time incumbents regardless of political affiliation. But the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which has raised more than $2.5 million, has some fairly large conservative footprints.
Most of the group’s money has come from individuals who’ve also donated to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the GOP presidential campaigns of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability also has a taste of Tea Party to it. Earlier this year, it hired Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, as an adviser. Rangel’s campaign has called the super PAC a front for “Texas right-wingers.”