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Right On: Capitol Hill Republicans

The Young, Conservative Cigar Caucus of Capitol Hill Is Celebrating Its Newfound Power with Plenty of Cigars
Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

(continued from page 1)

"He was a liberal because he didn't smoke cigars," jokes April Lassiter. Lassiter, 27, is a policy adviser to the House majority whip, Tom DeLay of Texas. She has just walked in and is lighting a Macanudo. "I started smoking cigars because they were less harmful to your lungs than clove cigarettes," Lassiter says. At one gathering, the Charlottesville, Virginia, native informed the group that she had been reading about Freud and asked them, "Is cigar smoking phallus envy?"

At another get-together, just after the New Hampshire Republican primary in February that was won by Pat Buchanan, slightly less lofty matters are being discussed, such as which of the presidential candidates most closely reflects the Republican congressional agenda. "Is there a none-of-the-above choice?" wonders Lassiter.

"We need some alcohol to really do this right," advises Hazeem.

"From my perspective, I was a [Phil] Gramm supporter because of what he focused on in straight policy," says Marc Lampkin, 32, counsel to the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, as he puffs on a Cruz Real. "Maybe he didn't cater enough to evangelicals, but his simple 'cut spending, cut government, we want more freedom in this country' message was, I think, in tune with what I think this Congress, especially the House, is about."

"They all have parts of the congressional agenda," Roff says. "They're all running with parts of it. I mean, Lamar [Alexander] had a component, [Bob] Dole's got a component and Gramm had a component and [Steve] Forbes has a component and Buchanan's got a component, but what we still have are a number of people who are running so that they can be president rather than so that the Republican Party can lead America according to its vision. And for us to win in November, there's going to have to be closure on that and everybody's going to have to understand that this is a team effort. Because if it's a beauty contest between Clinton and--put in whichever name you want--we'll lose, because Bill Clinton is willing to be all things to all people at any given moment and he's demonstrated he can do that."

"Well, I guess I would dispute part of that," says Cooper, 29, the indisputable leader of this cigar PAC, er, pack. "I think it would be very important for us to run a team effort because we do need the team endorsement. It would be great for the public to say, 'We want to ratify the vision that Republicans-generic have to offer.' But I am not convinced at all that this man [Clinton], who has demonstrated that he can try to be all things to all people, depending on whatever day you ask him, is going to be able to carry that off again in November. There is a substantial number of people who just cannot stand the man. There are people in his own camp, who would be natural Democrat voters, who have a problem [with him] and I don't think, absent a three-way race, that there's a formula that he's going to be able to carry out to unlock the electoral college."

These are folks who understand how the electoral college works and can do the math in their heads about which presidential candidate needs to win which states. It's just that sometimes they use words that sound odd to the rest of America. Like "default vote."

"That may be true, Horace, but I think Clinton, being the formidable campaigner that he is, may be able to get the default vote," worries Lassiter. "That is, that people could vote for him because they don't see anything that looks any better. I'm talking about the swing voters. We don't have anyone who feels people's pain like Clinton does. We don't have anyone who comes across as being for something more than he is against something."

"I agree with that," Cooper says, but, "what about [Clinton] getting Texas, Florida, South Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona?"

Cooper has previously admitted that Clinton, and this is the only concession he makes to the president, can't be all bad because he smokes cigars. While Cooper has smoked cigars for only a few years, he pursues the pleasure with a passion. "I love going home at the end of a long day and sitting on my deck and relaxing and enjoying a cigar," Cooper says, adding that Dunhill is his regular brand. His favorite cigar moment came after a fact-finding trip last year to Taiwan, where he was able to find a "half-dozen or so Cohibas" after many unsuccessful efforts in trying to get his hosts to understand he was looking for cigars, and not pipe tobacco.

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