Cheney to Arnold

Robert Novak
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Posted: Sep 27, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- A principal drafter of President Bush's tax cuts is now advising Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Republican candidacy for governor in the California recall election.

Cesar Conda, Vice President Dick Cheney's economic aide until last week, was one of the Bush administration's leading supply-siders and tax cut advocates. He has been employed by Navigators, the Washington-based consulting firm headed by Schwarzenegger campaign strategist Mike Murphy.

A footnote: Murphy is a top practitioner of "earned media" -- unpaid television coverage. Earned media has not been a factor in recent California elections because of limited news coverage, but television has been covering the current recall campaign. Former Gov. Pete Wilson's political team, which had full control of Schwarzenegger's campaign until Murphy arrived, is expert in paid media but not in earned media.

NO BUSH VOICES

Republican insiders were disappointed, the day after President Bush's speech to the United Nations, to find broadcast television networks Wednesday morning filled with Democratic voices but none from the administration.

Two top Democratic presidential candidates led off two morning network programs -- Retired Gen. Wesley Clark on NBC and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on ABC. No Bush partisan was put out by the White House, though First Lady Laura Bush was questioned on non-political matters over ABC.

A footnote: The White House publicity machine has come under internal Republican criticism for listing $87 billion as money for Iraq in the emergency appropriations bill. These critics say the request should have been split into $67 billion for the military (easy to get from Congress) and $20 billion for reconstruction (hard to get).

BOTHERING BUNNING

Sen. Jim Bunning, a conservative Republican with a short fuse, exploded recently when his telephone call to Treasury Secretary John Snow was returned by a bureaucrat.

Bunning wanted to talk about coal, which is of great importance to the senator's state of Kentucky. He was concerned about an Internal Revenue Service inquiry into coal owners claiming tax advantages for synthetic fuels. Consequently, he was not happy to get an underling on the phone instead of the secretary.

Snow was touted to members of Congress as being much more accessible than Paul O'Neill, his often-peevish predecessor at the Treasury. Other Republican senators echo Bunning's complaint, but the problem is thought to be with Treasury staffers rather than the secretary.

NO BREAKTHROUGH

Republican Rep. Jim DeMint of South Carolina failed to break the partisan deadlock over Social Security when Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee backed away from a bill authorizing partial privatization.

DeMint on Thursday introduced his reform bill without Ford as a co-sponsor. DeMint has claimed and Ford has denied that he, as an up-and-coming member of the Congressional Black Caucus, had committed to the conservative Republican's plan. Ford resorted to liberal rhetoric demanding a rollback of President Bush's tax cuts.

The ambitious Ford was pressured by colleagues not to join in permitting individual investment in lieu of Social Security payroll taxes. Ford was an unsuccessful candidate for House Democratic leader after the 2002 election and has been mentioned as a future Senate candidate. DeMint is running for the Senate next year.

ALASKA CLIMATE CHANGE

Appointed Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the most vulnerable incumbent Republican senator in next year's elections, is now a slight favorite to retain her seat.

Lisa Murkowski was seen as a likely loser when her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, named her to take the Senate seat he had just vacated. She is a stronger candidate after separating herself from her father. Her Democratic opponent, former Gov. Tony Knowles, was twice elected statewide in predominantly Republican Alaska but never collected a majority of the vote.

A footnote: The most vulnerable incumbent Republican seat is in Illinois, where Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald is not seeking a second term. Neither party has a dominant candidate or a clear winner of the nomination, but Illinois has been strongly trending Democratic.