Bush's smart power

Robert Novak

8/16/2003 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush's main fund-raisers and contributors expected a pep talk from the president when they were his guests for a barbecue at Crawford, Texas, last weekend but instead received a long and enthusiastic portrayal of U.S. capability to remove "evil" regimes.

In a speech that lasted close to an hour, President Bush described the use of American military power in Iraq as "history-making." He said the use of smart weapons to "decapitate" any regime's tyrannical leadership was no "blunt ax." Instead, it showed dictators that they "can't hide" from avenging Americans.

A footnote: Bush's political advisers welcome a Democratic presidential campaign strategy attacking the president's handling of Iraq. "Please throw us into the briar patch," said one Bush lieutenant.

GOP LOVES GEPHARDT

After getting the talk from President Bush at Crawford, Texas, his top money men talked Democratic politics among themselves and discovered that they agreed on who will be the opposition's probable presidential nominee: Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri.

They calculated that Gephardt's endorsement by 11 international unions will enable him to win the Iowa caucuses and do well enough in the early primary elections to be nominated. The Republicans also figured that former House Democratic Leader Gephardt enjoys a big advantage in congressional at-large delegates to the national convention.

A footnote: Gephardt's forces have all but given up hope for an AFL-CIO endorsement when its executive council reconvenes in October. However, his operatives claim the support from 11 individual unions still makes Gephardt labor's choice even if he does not get the AFL-CIO's blessing.

REV. AL'S NON-ATTACK

African-American ministers in the Los Angeles area made an unsuccessful effort this past week to get the Rev. Al Sharpton to attack Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the possible Democratic replacement for Gov. Gray Davis, for accidentally using the "N-word" two years ago.

Speaking in Oakland in January 2001 to an African-American audience, Bustamante stumbled in reading a long list of historic black organizations bearing the word "Negro" and said "nigger." Some black leaders criticized the lieutenant governor even though he apologized profusely.

Sharpton called Bustamante this week and was satisfied by his explanation of the 2001 incident. The ministers who wanted the black presidential candidate to attack Bustamante are close to Davis, whose chances for beating the recall would improve if there were no viable Democratic alternative.

ARNOLD'S ADVISER

President Bush's advisers are keeping him well away from the California recall election, but they are not pleased with the posture of Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign manager, George Gorton.

Gorton, who ran Republican Pete Wilson's last successful campaign for governor, is reported as critical of the "right-wing" Republicans opposing Schwarzenegger. The Bush inner circle thinks Schwarzenegger is at his best speaking his own words, as he did in announcing his candidacy on NBC's Jay Leno program, rather than reading staff-written rhetoric.

A footnote: While critical of the Republican right, the Schwarzenegger camp is making overtures to a leading conservative candidate for governor, State Sen. Tom McClintock, to endorse Schwarzenegger. According to political sources, McClintock has not totally ruled this out.

DASCHLE'S HOME

A District of Columbia tax saving of less than $1,000 on his new Washington home has helped Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle's foes in the conservative Club for Growth claim that he is "a Washington resident and not the average man of Aberdeen (S.D.)."

D.C. tax records show that Daschle claimed the $30,000 "homestead" tax exemption on the French colonial home he purchased on fashionable Foxhall Road for $1.9 million. While intended to help lower-income Washingtonians, the exemption is available for any home in the nation's capital that is the occupant's "permanent" residence. But South Dakota law requires that all of its elected officials be residents of the state.

Neither Daschle nor Republican former Rep. John Thune has announced his candidacy for their expected Senate showdown next year.