Bush's attack machine

Posted: Apr 03, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Democratic political operatives are worried about the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign's ability to quickly transform gaffes by presidential candidate John Kerry into effective television ads.

Sen. Kerry committed his first serious mistake since clinching the nomination on a Tuesday. His words were part of a Republican ad in the hands of cable networks and other television stations by Thursday morning.

At a town hall meeting March 16 in Huntington, W.Va., Kerry said: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion (to finance the war in Iraq) before I voted against it." At Bush-Cheney headquarters in suburban northern Virginia, this was immediately spotted by Bush ad-maker Mark McKinnon as he monitored the senator's speech. "Put it in the loop!" McKinnon shouted, ordering Kerry's taped comments for a quick TV ad.


Chicago Democratic enemies of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his son the congressman are claiming that the landslide nomination for the U.S. Senate of State Sen. Barack Obama means the Jacksons are washed up in Illinois politics.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. vigorously denies that, contending he and Obama support each other. Nevertheless, anti-Jackson Democrats are delighted that Jesse Jr. has been supplanted by Obama as the top African American among Illinois Democrats.

The word has been spread in Chicago Democratic circles that the Jacksons plan to relocate in California, but the congressman told this column that there is absolutely no truth to that report.


Just as national Democratic operatives had grown optimistic about retaining the U.S. Senate seat in South Carolina left vacant by the retirement of Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, they were stunned when Democratic candidate Inez Tenenbaum endorsed a proposed amendment to the federal constitution banning gay marriage.

Tenenbaum's advisers contend that endorsement was necessary for her to win in socially conservative South Carolina. However, important party strategists in Washington and New York believe she has committed a serious blunder by alienating the homosexual community and its supporters.

Prior to her endorsement of the anti-gay marriage amendment, polls showed State Education Superintendent Tenenbaum leading in the Republican-dominated state against each of the three Republicans competing for the Senate nomination. Former Gov. David Beasley leads in the Republican polls, mainly because of higher name identification, but GOP insiders consider him the weakest general election candidate.


Rep. James Walsh of New York, a powerful Republican appropriator, has introduced a House measure similar to the McCain-Lieberman climate control bill opposing Bush administration policy by limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

As one of the "Cardinals" who head House Appropriations subcommittees, Walsh represents a major defection from President Bush's position on global warming. Walsh, chairman of the VA-HUD appropriations subcommittee, was once a major target of Democrats, but his redistricted Syracuse constituency is now considered safe for him.

Republican co-sponsors of the global warming bill include longtime environmental activists: Reps. Sherwood Boehlert and Amo Houghton of New York, Nancy Johnson and Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland. In contrast to them, Walsh's voting record is generally conservative.


The conservative Club for Growth has raised $700,000 in hard money and $950,000 in soft money for Rep. Pat Toomey in his Pennsylvania Republican primary challenge against four-term Sen. Arlen Specter.

That is four times more money than the Club for Growth has ever spent on a single candidate. The organization's supporters are distributing a March 16 poll showing Specter's lead down to 10 points. Toomey's backers claim the race would be even closer if Specter were not being strongly supported by Pennsylvania's other senator: Rick Santorum, the conservative chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

A footnote: Democratic strategists had written off Specter's seat as safely Republican but now say it may be competitive thanks to Toomey's challenge. Rep. Joe Hoeffel, whose voting record is far more liberal than Specter's, is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.