Inside Track

John McCaslin
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Posted: Oct 08, 2004 12:00 AM

Not often does a student newspaper score an exclusive interview with a member of the first family, but a Hagerstown, Md., high school journalist got President Bush's sister on the record.

Dorothy Bush Koch didn't give any bombshell disclosures to the Highland View Academy Post, loyally defending her big brother's record.

"I'm proud of this president because he's liberated over 50 million people, put a madman in jail, toppled the Taliban and has continued to fight terrorism each and every day," she said.

So how does an 18-year-old writer land a one-on-one with a source so close to the White House?

It probably didn't hurt that Highland View Academy senior Patrick Koch usually refers to the president's sister as "Aunt Doro."

WRONG TIME

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry can't shake the Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth, who, once again, the Massachusetts senator would agree, are in the "wrong place at the wrong time."

Amidst a new television ad campaign fiercely opposing Kerry's bid for the White House, the Swift Boat Veterans, who dispute Kerry's war record in Vietnam, will gather in Washington this weekend for several pre-election events.

Meanwhile, the group's publicist, Keith Appell, wonders how Kerry - should he get elected commander in chief - could lead the United States in a war that he so openly protests.

"How can he gain confidence from the troops and from allies?" he asks.

As President Bush reminded the nation more than once in last week's first presidential debate, Kerry, during a campaign appearance on Sept. 6, called the invasion of Iraq "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."

EMOTIONS RUN HIGH

How does Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, compare the polarized atmosphere in the nation today to past presidential elections?

"Never in my years in the Senate have I seen my fellow (Democratic) citizens rise to the challenge of defeating the Republicans with such passion and force than in this election," he says.

ANYBODY'S BET

Veteran political observer Charlie Cook told WMAL "Morning News" co-hosts Andy Parks and Fred Grandy on Wednesday that this is the first presidential campaign he's ever covered in which "you could hold a gun to my head" and he still couldn't predict who might get elected president in November.

And, yes, for curious readers outside the Beltway, this is the same Grandy who was a Republican congressman from Iowa and played "Gopher" on the television show "The Love Boat."

CAMPAIGN DIVERSION

Number of banks robbed in Davenport, Iowa, while Sen. John Kerry and President Bush gave speeches there on the same day in August: three

- Harper's Index, October 2004

TRADING DUBYA

"It may surprise many of my colleagues to hear this," says Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat and one-time aide to President Clinton, "but I am now convinced George Bush should remain in Washington."

In what capacity?

"Now that D.C. has a baseball team, there's finally a job in this town which George Bush is qualified for," the Democrat explains. "He might not know how many troops we need in Iraq, but even he knows that you need nine baseball players on the field."

Prior to being elected governor of Texas, Bush was part-owner of the Texas Rangers. Last week, it was announced that the Montreal Expos are moving from Canada to the nation's capital for the 2005 Major League Baseball season.

Any final digs, Emanuel?

"I am surprised the White House hasn't boasted about the Expos' move from Montreal," he says. "After all, they'll finally be creating some jobs here in America."

UNDERLYING KEY

To help him filter through all the campaign platforms and promises in the 2004 presidential contest, Washington lobbyist for manufacturing Fred Nichols recently put on his economist hat - only to discover a subliminal campaign message.

Nichols found that if you chart manufacturing production from when the recession began in March 2000, and trace it through the latest update of the Federal Reserve's Index of Manufacturing Output - which showcases the highest manufacturing production in U.S. history - the line graph forms an unmistakable "W."

RISKY AFFAIRS

We wrote last month that the Pentagon was advertising for an "aggressive" Washington-area public relations firm to initiate outreach to Iraqi citizens who've grown disgruntled over the war.

In that the highly risky PR tasks would include outreach to warring segments of Iraqi society - including Kurds, Sunnis, Shia, and former Iraqi military - the unusual government contract went so far as to spell out "the remains of PR people will be handled the same as U.S. soldiers, and shipped to Kuwait," said Jack O'Dwyer, who monitors public relations firms in Washington.

"The PR firm must coordinate the movement of the remains back to the U.S., and is responsible for notification of next of kin," the contract states.

Despite the dangers, a PR firm has stepped up to the plate.

"A Washington, D.C.-based entity called Iraqex got the contract," Kevin McCauley, editor of odwyerpr.com, tells The Beltway Beat. "Iraqex says it is wired into the Iraqi media, claiming contacts with 300 to 400 reporters.

"The contract is a blockbuster - in terms of dollars - for PR," he adds. "It is worth $5.5 million for the first year and totals $17.7 million with the three six-month option periods. Those are big numbers, even if one is operating in a war zone."

For his end of the bargain, Uncle Sam will provide office space, supplies and e-mail service, along with living space, health care and dining facilities for the firm's employees while in Iraq.

TALE OF TWO BROTHERS

This week's debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina might not affect the way you vote, but the office of the vice president of the United States has certainly come a long way since Woodrow Wilson's running mate, Thomas R. Marshall, recalled:

"Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again."

MEMORABLE LINES

Now that Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards, have hung up their boxing gloves, we'll have to wait another four years for the next vice presidential debate - although, unlike our forebears, at least we get to hear from the lesser half of a presidential campaign.

History reveals the first vice presidential debate didn't take place until 1976, when Walter Mondale, running mate of Jimmy Carter, went head-to-head with Bob Dole, who wound up on the losing end with President Ford.

Eight years later, the importance of allowing running mates to square off in a formal debate was realized when then-Sen. Dan Quayle, who became vice president under George H.W. Bush, took on then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Michael S. Dukakis' No. 2 pick.

"I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency," Quayle noted at one point during the dialogue.

To which his opponent so memorably countered: "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

(In retrospect, Quayle's remark wasn't nearly as bad as when Bush observed of his newly chosen running mate: "We have had triumphs, we have made mistakes, we have had sex. Um, make that 'setbacks,'" corrected the red-faced Bush).

The most memorable lines in the 1992 vice-presidential debate were rhetorical questions posed by candidate retired Adm. James Bond Stockdale, who, while going up against opponents Quayle and then-Sen. Al Gore, helped diminish whatever chances H. Ross Perot had of becoming president:

"Who am I?" and "Why am I here?" Stockdale asked, without ever really providing the answers.