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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

Bush Appeals to Democrats -- From a Distance

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, October 28, 2004; 12:19 PM

In the past several days of the campaign, President Bush has been reaching out to Democratic voters -- but that doesn't mean he's letting them get anywhere near him.

Access to Bush events is as tightly controlled as ever. Only avowed supporters are typically allowed in and anyone even hinting at dissension is hustled out -- creating an bubble of pure adoration even within nominally unfriendly areas, and giving political rallies a revival-like feel.

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "As Bush has traveled the United States during this political campaign, the Secret Service and local police have often handled public protest by quickly arresting or removing demonstrators, free-speech advocates say. In addition, access to Bush's events has been unusually tightly controlled and people who do not support Bush's reelection have been removed.

"Although it's impossible to precisely measure the tactics in comparison with previous campaigns, civil liberties advocates and other experts say the treatment of dissenters is harsher this year. . . .

"Tickets to Bush events, distributed by the Republican Party, go only to those who volunteer or donate to the party or, in some cases, sign an endorsement of the GOP ticket and provide names and addresses. Party workers police the crowds for signs of Kerry supporters, who are frequently evicted."

Carl Chancellor writes in the Akron Beacon Journal that Bush "drew more than 8,000 supporters to a dusty old hangar at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport on Wednesday afternoon.

"It was clear that President Bush came to this postage stamp of a town, just outside of Youngstown, to fish for Democrats. . . .

"In his nearly hourlong speech, after being introduced by Youngstown Mayor George McKelvey and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga. -- two of the most vocal and visible of the Bush Democrats -- the president dropped the names of Democratic presidents."

Joe Hallett and Jack Torry write in the Columbia Dispatch that "Bush reached across partisan lines in the Youngstown-Warren area. . . . 'We're here to make an explicit appeal for the support of Democrats and independents,' said Karl Rove, Bush's top campaign adviser."

But Hallett and Torry also report that the tickets to the event were all given out by the county GOP.

Bill Plante reports for CBS's Early Show: "In an appeal for crossover voters, the president, accompanied by Georgia Democrat Zell Miller, courted Democrats in Pennsylvania Ohio and Michigan who are concerned about the war on terror and social issues."

Plante uses a soundbite from Bush's speech in Lancaster County, Pa.: "If you're a Democrat and you want America to be strong and confident in our ideals, I would be honored to have your vote."

"Well, here's the thing," Plante says. "There were no Democrats at any of those rallies where the President made that plea. Those are ticketed events for supporters only."

AFP reports: "Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of the late Democratic president John Kennedy, urged Republican President George W. Bush not to invoke her father's name in his campaigning against Democratic rival John Kerry."

The Democratic National Committee, in fact, pushed out talking points on this issue yesterday: "The only Democrats Bush was interested in 'reaching' were those who were willing to vow allegiance to the President before even hearing what he had to say."

Revival Feel

William Hershey and Mei-Ling Hopgood write in the Dayton Daily News that Bush's rally at the Hancock County Fairgrounds in Findlay, Ohio, "had a religious tone. A pastor invoked a prayer to 'dispel the spirit of deception' and to bless Bush. Supporters waved signs that read 'Finally, a Christian fighting evil' and 'One Country under God and President Bush.'"

Here's an AP photo of one of those signs.

And here are recent AFP photos showing Bush touching a girl's forehead, and grasping a supporter's Bible.

More Protest Watch

And here's a story a reader e-mailed me from the Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., about a 27-year-old registered Republican and member of the U.S. Army, who is being deployed to Iraq in two weeks -- and who was not allowed into a Bush event there last week.

"While waiting in line, he noticed a stranger standing alone and invited the person to stand with him.

"'I didn't think that would be a problem,' he said.

"It turned out to be.

"Individuals from the Bush campaign spotted the individual with the soldier and identified the person as a Democratic supporter."

And if e-mail is any judge, a lot of you readers are still incredulous about two recent incidents, one on Tuesday, where Cuba City High School students were told they couldn't wear any pro-Kerry messages to a Bush event in their auditorium, and the other two weeks ago, when three Oregon schoolteachers were removed from a Bush speech and threatened them with arrest for wearing t-shirts that said "Protect Our Civil Liberties."

About Those Explosive Charges

Here's Bush yesterday: "Our military is now investigating a number of possible scenarios, including that the explosives may have been moved before our troops even arrived at the site. This investigation is important and it's ongoing, and a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander in chief."

Here's Kerry yesterday: "What we're seeing is a White House that is dodging and bobbing and weaving in their usual efforts to avoid responsibility -- just as they've done every step of the way in our involvement in Iraq." He also said Vice President Cheney is "becoming the chief minister of disinformation."

Here's Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei in The Washington Post: "While there has yet to be an 'October surprise' that shakes up the race, a series of small, negative surprises have undermined Bush's campaign: the flu-vaccine shortage, climbing oil prices, falling stocks and this month's disappointing jobs report.

"On Tuesday, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi accused the U.S.-led forces in Iraq of 'gross negligence' in allowing the massacre of 49 Iraqi guardsmen by insurgents. That followed the news Monday that the International Atomic Energy Agency had told the Bush administration on Oct. 15 that about 380 tons of powerful explosives had vanished from the depot.

"Recently, Kerry has jumped from bad headline to bad headline to calibrate his attacks on Bush. For the most part, he is making this race a mandate on Bush measured by public reports and statistics, relegating his own ideas largely to the closing moments of 40-minute speeches. Kerry aides privately acknowledge that the Democrat has not captured the imagination of many voters. But they argue that he has successfully presented himself as an acceptable alternative to Bush."

Elisabeth Bumiller and Jodi Wilgoren write in the New York Times: "The president's comments, his first on the missing explosives since Mr. Kerry began accusing him on Monday of incompetence in failing to secure Iraq after the American-led invasion, reflected concern in the Bush campaign that the issue could be hurting the president only six days before what is expected to be an extraordinarily close election. . . .

"Mr. Bush on Thursday did not address a critical issue raised by the discovery of the missed explosives: why American forces were not alerted to the existence of a huge cache of explosives, even though the atomic energy agency and American officials had publicly discussed the threat it posed, and knew its exact location."

Rick Klein and Patrick Healy write in the Boston Globe: "With Kerry attacking the disappearance of 380 tons of Iraqi explosives as a massive security blunder, Bush sought to turn the issue into one of the Democrat's respect for US armed forces in Iraq. By complaining that the explosives were not swiftly secured, Kerry was 'denigrating the actions of our troops and commanders in the field' as part of a 'pattern of saying almost anything to get elected,' the president charged -- although he acknowledged he did not know whether the weapons vanished before or after the US-led invasion last spring."

Calvin Woodward and Mary Dalrymple write for the Associated Press: "The candidates all but climbed into uniform in their determination to identify with troops in Iraq . . . President Bush accusing his opponent of 'denigrating' them, Sen. John Kerry insisting 'you don't honor American troops by putting them in greater danger than they ought to be.'"

The Bartlett Spin

Here's White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett with Paula Zahn on CNN last night.

"ZAHN: [D]o you have any evidence to support the president's assertion that these explosives may have disappeared before the start of the war?

"BARTLETT: Well, we want to find out, Paula. There's no question about that. Again, we've made this a priority -- 400,000 tons have already been destroyed or are in the queue to be destroyed by coalition forces. . . .

"But I think, in a political campaign, in the final week of a campaign, for a story to be only half-told and then leaped on and used for political benefit by a candidate who has no credibility on the issue of Iraq, I think strikes at the type of political opportunism that turns voters off, not on.

"ZAHN: But there are people out there who are equally cynical about the administration right now, saying you don't have evidence to point to one conclusion or the other either.

"BARTLETT: Well, that's the point, Paula, is that we don't know all of the facts."

Earlier, CNN White House correspondent John King told Zahn about what appeared to be an abrupt, early-morning change in plans by the Bush team: "[W]e were told first thing this morning that the vice president would respond again to the explosives issue and the president would not. Then, the president of course obviously did and quite forcefully. Their concern is that the race is so close so late that you cannot let any major charge go unanswered."

The Media's Role

Mark Memmott writes in USA Today: "The explosives controversy could mark the last major fight for the media's attention of the 2004 campaign. It is the latest in a string of events -- from a shortage of flu shots to soaring gasoline prices and continued violence in Iraq -- that have dogged President Bush's campaign, just as controversies over Kerry's military record and Vietnam-era anti-war activities have weighed on the Democrat.

"The controversy highlights the sophisticated ways campaigns are trying to influence the media."

Greg Hitt writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Republicans, who have long argued that they are treated unfairly by the mainstream media, are airing complaints -- and using them to galvanize their base -- as Election Day draws near."

Safer Now?

Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times: "In an internal memorandum sent to the White House in August, the C.I.A. declined to take a position on whether overthrowing Saddam Hussein had made America 'safer,' the officials said."

Jehl writes that "the agency proposed 'factual corrections' to assertions included in a draft fact sheet prepared by the White House titled 'America Is Safer Without Saddam Hussein.'"

Those corrections "reflected what counterterrorism officials say is a continuing debate among intelligence officials, with some senior analysts within the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorism Center arguing that the invasion of Iraq has helped to fuel Islamic terrorism by inflaming anti-American sentiment. . . .

"In an interview, a White House official said the question of whether the invasion of Iraq had made Americans safer was 'not an intelligence judgment.'"

Stem Cell Fact Check

David E. Rosenbaum writes in the New York Times: "Senator John Kerry exaggerates the potential gains from embryonic stem cell research. . . .

"Mr. Bush is literally accurate but not telling the whole truth when he says he was the first president to allow federal financing for stem cell research. The Republican Congress blocked President Bill Clinton when he tried to use government money for this kind of research.

"What Mr. Bush permitted was federal money for research only on the relatively small number of stem cell colonies that existed in August 2001 when his policy was announced. Scientists view this as putting a brake on research, not accelerating it."

Today's Calendar

Bush has four rallies in three states today. He's in Saginaw, Mich., then Dayton, Ohio, then Westlake, Ohio, then Yardley, Pa., before returning to the White House tonight.

Intel Watch

Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post: "Lawmakers yesterday abandoned efforts to pass legislation restructuring the U.S. intelligence system before Tuesday's election. . . .

"Although both sides vowed to keep talks going, there no longer was a sense of urgency to complete their work before the election, as the White House and congressional leaders had vowed to do after the commission that studied the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks released its report and recommendations this summer."

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "The principal advocacy group for families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks blamed President Bush and a group of House Republicans on Wednesday for the failure of Congress to approve a bill to enact the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission and overhaul the nation's intelligence agencies.

"In a statement clearly meant to influence voters in next week's election, the group did not explicitly endorse Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, but said Mr. Bush had 'allowed members of his own party to derail the legislative process.' . . .

"Asked about the group's criticism of the president, a White House spokeswoman, Erin Healy, suggested that Mr. Bush did not deserve the families' blame, and that he had been active in encouraging Congress to agree on a final bill."

Eminem Watch

Geoff Boucher writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Rapper Eminem, who made headlines with the gleefully profane alias Slim Shady, has taken his deepest plunge yet into the political world with 'Mosh,' a new song that, along with its music video, slams President Bush and calls on young America to mobilize against the administration."

The video, available at MTV.com, where it is already No. 1, starts with Eminem, in a suit, reading "My Pet Goat" to a classroom full of children.

Then it gets really nasty. For example: "Let the President answer on high anarchy/ Strap him with an AK-47, let him go/ Fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way/ No more blood for oil, we got our own battles to fight on our soil."

Sporting of Them

Bush and Kerry have both taped spots with ESPN that will appear on a special edition of "SportsCenter" next Monday, on the eve of the presidential election.

The Associated Press reports: "Bush said he has no interest in being baseball commissioner.

"'I'm not sure what I'd like to do after serving the country,' Bush said. 'But I had a wonderful time in baseball. I loved my time there. I still love to watch the games; there's nothing more therapeutic than watching a baseball game.'"

No Web Site for Vous

Brian Krebs writes for washingtonpost.com: "The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has barred people outside the United States from viewing its Web site following an electronic attack that took down the campaign's Internet address for six hours last week, according to computer security experts."

Warming Up?

Here's an odd take on the final days.

Edwin Chen wrote in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times: "Having waged an often negative, bare-knuckles campaign against Sen. John F. Kerry, President Bush has begun cranking up a charm offensive in hopes of closing the sale with voters.

"With six days until the election, the self-styled 'war president' is striving to cultivate a softer, average-guy image -- even as he continues bashing Kerry as a flip-flopper and a Massachusetts liberal who doesn't understand the war against terrorism, and as his campaign continues airing hard-edged television ads."

And in a story headlined "Surprise: A warmer, fuzzier Dick Cheney," Matt Stearns writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers that, "with the Democratic effort to demonize Cheney as a sinister man-behind-the-curtain pulling strings throughout the administration, it makes sense for the campaign to flesh out the public image of the usually reticent Cheney."

Not So Warm, Really

Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "As far back as March, President Bush raised eyebrows when he began attacking Senator John F. Kerry by name. That was more than four months before Kerry's nomination became official and far earlier than any previous incumbent president had focused directly on a challenger.

"Now, Bush is wrapping up his reelection bid as he began it, on the attack. In the race's closing days, Bush's argument for a second term is as much about warning voters of what his Democratic opponent would do as it as about what the president himself is promising. . . .

"But political scientists note that while Bush's campaign strategy might help fire up supporters in regions of the country where he is popular, it might not be having as powerful an effect in all-important battleground states, such as Florida and Ohio.

"One reason is that Kerry hasn't always looked like the caricature Bush has described. And real-world events keep intruding on Bush's portrayal of the world, leaving the president open to charges of being out of touch."

Just this morning in Saginaw, Bush not-so-warmly called Kerry "the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time."

'One-Fingered Victory Salute'

Salon delights in a video, also viewable here, obtained by Texans for Truth, and apparently shot when Bush was governor of Texas, depicting him obscenely sassing Karen Hughes.

From Guerilla News Network

Here are a bunch of accusations against Bush that you might or might not be reading more about in the coming days. Russ Baker, a firebrand freelancer, writes: "Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography."

More Rovian Hijinks

James Gordon Meek of the New York Daily News was the print pooler yesterday, and had this to report.

"Halloween came early for your pool shortly after the 12:17 p.m. departure from the odorous Lancaster field (see previous pool report concerning bovine discharges).

"'Doctor Rove' pranced to the back of the cabin with a cloth surgical mask over his face and digits aimed upward as if ready for meatball surgery.

"'Dr. Rove is here!' he proclaimed giddily, while refusing to be baited about flu vaccine.

"Hijinx ensued. Rove proceeded to massage the scalp of a correspondent with, alas, fewer strands of hair than his 'surgeon,' who promised -- oddly -- to 'make the circumcision,' and then added that he had 'replaced the defective mental unit.' After pronouncing the operation successful, said physician of spin explained that his missing sterile gloves necessitated that he'd had to 'go commando' for the procedure."

Yes, folks I asked for examples of Rove's humor in my Oct. 15 column. I am now officially sorry.


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