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Washington Post Interviews at the Republican Convention

Bartlett on Speech: Compassion at Home, Steps for 'Safer' World
Thursday, Sep 02, 2004; 6:54 PM
White House communications Director Dan Bartlett gave Washington Post reporters and editors a broad outline of the themes President Bush will touch on in his acceptance speech tonight. (Dan Jung - washingtonpost.com)

NEW YORK, Sept. 2 -- In his acceptance speech Thursday night, President Bush will touch on a broad range of domestic issues, including a call to extend federal educational reforms to high school, and will speak "passionately" about the need to battle terrorism by spreading democracy in the world, White House communications Director Dan Bartlett said.

Bartlett gave a rough summary of some of the themes of the speech in a Thursday afternoon meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. The speech, scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern time, will be the climax of the four-day Republican National Convention here.

(Listen to audio excerpts of Bartlett's preview of Bush's address.)

Bartlett said the first part is about evenly divided between domestic and foreign policy: "It begins with the domestic agenda. It's an overall theme in which the president will articulate how the economy's changing, how the workplace is changing, how families are changing, and he doesn't believe all the institutions, plans and programs that the government offers has kept up with that change."

Specifically, Bush will note that two-thirds of adult women now work outside the home, so there is greater need for flexible working hours. He will also speak "specifically" about health care costs, tax relief and energy policy, Bartlett said.

With education a "key part" of the domestic agenda, Bartlett said, "We believe the next bold step obviously in education reform is to take the model of success we've used with K through 8, and focus that on the high school area. We don't have annual assessments in high school. We don't have the type of focus on math and science that we need to be globally competitive in the next generation."

Bush will urge "the next steps in educational reform to make sure a high school diploma is worth the paper it's written on," he said.

The president will cast his proposals for health care, retirement, pension reform, home ownership, and ownership of small businesses under the broad theme of promoting an "ownership society."

"This is a key domestic goal that the president has and will articulate and explain why he believes that through ownership we can help the American people deal with the daily issues that they face in their lives -- whether it be health care, whether it be having a secure retirement, and obviously to take part in the American dream of owning your own business or owning your own home," Bartlett said.

On national security policy, which has received the bulk of prime-time attention at the convention despite repeated GOP assertions that domestic policy was about to be addressed, Bartlett said Bush will seek to outline a long-term strategy in the fight against terrorism that differs from that offered by his Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.)

At the Democratic convention in Boston, Bartlett said, "Kerry did not articulate the long-term strategy of democracy or the spread of freedom and liberty as the real effective tool to deal with the issues we face in the war on terror." Bush "will speak passionately about those issues," he said.

- By Robert J. McCartney

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Barbour, Reed Defend Miller's Tone, Message
Thursday, Sep 02, 2004; 5:20 PM
Ralph Reed, Southeast regional chairman for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign, lauded Sen. Zell Miller's (D-Ga.) strong criticism of the Democratic party in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors. (Dan Jung - washingtonpost.com)

NEW YORK -- Two southern Republicans lauded Wednesday night's keynote speech by Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) and defended his aggressive tone. Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) said Miller's speech gave voice to many Americans upset with the Democratic Party.

Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Miller's address, in which he vociferously excoriated Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kerry, was an honest personal homily and an appropriate attack of the Massachusetts senator's record.

"I think it's something a lot of Americans wanted to hear," Barbour said. "There are a lot of conservative and moderate Democrats in the country that have a lot of those same feelings [though] they may not express them the same way."

(Listen to audio excerpts of Barbour discussing Miller's speech.)

Ralph Reed, Southeast regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, said Miller's speech was a "devastating critique as to why the Democratic Party is no longer a national party." He said Miller's all-but defection was a loss for Democrats and a boost to Republicans.

"I know exactly what he's talking about," Reed said of his fellow Georgian. "There may be some people who didn't like what he had to say, and they may not like the way he said it but it's the truth."

(Listen to audio excerpts of Reed on Miller's speech.)

Barbour and Reed met with Washington Post reporters and editors in separate interviews Thursday at the Essex House hotel in New York.

Barbour described Miller's tone as "animated" and "perturbed" but said the content of his speech, as well as the one delivered by Vice President Cheney, was substantive in contrast to the Democratic convention in which too much was made of Kerry's service in Vietnam and not enough about his record in the Senate. Many Republican leaders who met with The Washington Post this week made this argument against the Democratic convention.

"When he has his convention and he doesn't want to talk about his record," Barbour wondered about Kerry, "don't you think that is impetus for his opponents to talk about his record?" Barbour said the Democrat is "running from his record like a scalded dog."

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour meets with Washington Post editors and reporters in New York Thursday. (Dan Jung -- washingtonpost.com)

Barbour said Kerry's record in public service was his "greatest vulnerability."

(Listen to audio excerpts of Barbour discussing Kerry's record.)

Reed said the president has done a great deal to unify the Republican Party to defend against such attacks on Bush's record and to advance the party as a national party of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives.

(Listen to audio excerpts of Reed on the GOP's success.)

Ahead of the president's speech tonight, Reed defended Bush's record, saying he is a seminal leader in the Republican Party who has helped mold it in his image. Reed described "a very significant Bush legacy" that will help recruit more and more candidates for Senate and House races that will identify themselves as "George W. Bush Republicans."

- By Jeffrey Marcus

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Frist: Possible to Do More in Senate
Thursday, Sep 02, 2004; 2:53 PM
Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) spoke with Washington Post reporters and editors Wednesday afternoon. (Chet Rhodes - washingtonpost.com)

NEW YORK -- Despite partisan rancor that has dominated his tenure as Senate majority leader, Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he is eager to tackle "big issues" that the Senate has avoided this election year. Frist outlined half a dozen issues to address and said that Social Security reform tops a list of domestic social programs that also includes health care and prescription drugs.

"These are traditional issues that the Democrats think they own, but they don't own them any longer," Frist told Washington Post editors and reporters at a meeting Wednesday in The Post's workspace at the Republican National Convention in New York. (Listen to audio excerpts from Frist's interview.)

Many of these issues -- along with Medicare reform -- have been discussed or debated by the Senate. But Frist said a lack of leadership, a reluctance to commit to hard choices in an election year, and continued obstructionism from Senate Democrats has delayed action. To move forward, Frist said, it will "take some unusual thinking."

The surgeon turned politician expressed confidence that President Bush would win reelection and that Republicans would firmly maintain the majority in both houses of congress. When asked to handicap the open Senate seats in closely contested states, Frist said: "We're not going to lose the majority of the United States Senate."

But with five open Democratic seats and three open Republican seats and two close races in South Dakota and Alaska, he admits his party's majority will remain slim. "I don't want to be overly optimistic," Frist said, "[but] I think there is opportunity to have a lot more cooperation."

He called Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) "a very effective leader of the Democratic party in terms of his objective which is 'obstruct'."

The likelihood of a major swing in seats in favor of either Democrats or Republicans in the Senate this November is slim. It will likely take 60 votes to get much of anything done, but that doesn't dampen Frist's hopes for "broad discussion, broad debate" on contetious issues.

"It's going to take leadership, it's not going to just come on it's own, it's too big, it's too hard," he said. "I know we have the opportunity for taking on big things that people don't think can be done."

- By Jeffrey Marcus

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Dowd Sees Undecideds Breaking for Bush
Wednesday, Sep 01, 2004; 7:00 PM
Matthew Dowd, Bush-Cheney campaign strategist, said that incumbency and other advantages will help the president's reelection bid in November. (Dan Jung - washingtonpost.com)

NEW YORK -- Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd said there are few undecided voters left at this stage of the campaign, and that he thinks they will likely buck tradition and vote for the incumbent in November.

"An undecided or persuadable voter is as likely to vote for [Bush] as to vote for John Kerry," Dowd said, "even though a percentage of them think the country is on the wrong track."

(Listen to Dowd on Bush's speech and swing voters.)

Bush's message -- deliberately and cogently reinforced over the past four months -- will help move the relatively few undecided voters because they are familiar with the president's position and comforted by his resolve, Dowd said. Bush will use his acceptance speech Thursday to make his case for reelection and move undecided voters.

"Numbers don't move until the speech of the nominee is made," said Dowd . The goal "is for people to understand that we have a plan and agenda for the next term."

Dowd gave a guardedly optimistic analysis of the president's prospects during a 30-minute discussion Wednesday afternoon with Washington Post reporters and editors in the newspaper's work space at the Republican convention. He said the undecided or persuadable voters wedged in the middle of a closely divided electorate have shifted over the course of the campaign and could very well shift again before Election Day.

"As confident as you can be about a race that's going to be decided by three points," Dowd said, "I feel confident."

Because the race is so tightly contested, the former Democratic strategist and longtime Bush adviser from Texas said it is as essential to solidify the Republican base as it is to court swing voters. "You can't ignore either one," Dowd said. "Most elections, Republicans have had to rent Democrats for the election and then they can go back to being Democrats after Election Day."

- By Jeffrey Marcus

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Norquist Continues Tough Anti-Tax Language
Wednesday, Sep 01, 2004; 6:38 PM

NEW YORK, Sept. 1--Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist has a flair for vivid, even macabre verbal imagery as he lays out his long-term plan to drastically reduce the size of government.

In a lunchtime interview with Washington Post editors and reporters Wednesday, the prominent conservative activist called a Virginia Republican state senator an "evil thug" for supporting a statewide tax increase. He likened his own strategy toward some political opponents to the historical practice at the Tower of London of displaying traitors' severed heads on pikes. And he compared one aspect of Sen. John F. Kerry's tax proposals to a divide-and-conquer tactic used by Chicago multiple murderer Richard Speck.

(Listen to Norquist discuss House races and a flat tax.)

Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform, which has persuaded politicians, including President Bush, to sign a pledge never to raise taxes. The stocky, bearded, bespectacled Norquist is also a director of the National Rifle Association and of the American Conservative Union.

Taking a break from other activities at the Republican National Convention, Norquist spoke in a confident, rapid-fire manner as he outlined his group's goal to reduce the size of government, as a share of the economy, by one-half over the next 25 years. A principal tactic is working to defeat Republican politicians, as well as Democrats, who vote to raise taxes.

Norquist gloated about what he said was a victory on Tuesday evening in Virginia. Republicans in Virginia's 2nd Congressional District chose Thelma Drake, an anti-tax state delegate from Norfolk, to run for the U.S. House of Representatives -- and rejected a bid for the nomination by Kenneth W. Stolle, a state senator from Virginia Beach.

Stolle was anathema to Norquist because he voted in the spring to support a statewide tax increase championed by Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner. Norquist said his group had sent letters and talked to Republicans in lobbying against Stolle, whom he called "the evil thug tax increaser." He said it was a first blow against Warner: "first blood, first blood Warner."

Norquist added, "That was one example of how you do not get promoted, it stunts your political growth to have been a tax increaser." He said he was preparing a poster for distribution in Virginia later this month identifying state legislators who supported the tax increase as targets for retirement or defeat.

"You know how they used to put heads on those little pikes as you went into London Tower," to make the point that it's "a bad thing" to raise questions about who should be king, Norquist said. Now, he said, the purpose is to say, "don't be raising taxes, it's a bad thing."

Norquist also employed a gruesome metaphor in criticizing the Kerry proposal, also backed by former president Bill Clinton, to raise taxes of just the wealthiest Americans. Norquist said he prefers a single tax rate that affects everyone, because then everyone is united in resisting them.

He then recalled how Speck, in 1966, killed eight student nurses in Chicago. Kerry's tax proposal represents "the Richard Speck theory of tax increases, that if you can't take on everybody in the room at once, you take them out of the room one at a time. Our goal is to say, we're not leaving the room one at a time, you got to deal with us all at once," Norquist said.

- By Robert J. McCartney

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Weber: Swift Boat Ads Cut Deep
Wednesday, Sep 01, 2004; 1:27 PM
Former representative Vin Weber (R-Minn.) spoke with Washington Post reporters and editors today, saying that the swift boat controversy is an issue that will likely remain. (Dan Jung - washingtonpost.com)

NEW YORK -- Former congressman Vin Weber (R-Minn.) said the Swift boat controversy has had a lasting effect on the presidential campaign and will continue to dog Democratic candidate John F. Kerry.

"I think it's big," Weber said about the ads by a group of Vietnam veterans who question Kerry's wartime service. "We may look back and say this is the most significant phenomenon of this election."

Weber, who serves as chairman for the Bush-Cheney campaign in Plains states, would not offer his opinion on whether the claims made in the ads being aired by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were legitimate, but he did say the issue resonates with voters who are primarily concerned with issues of national security.

Weber said the ads questioning whether Kerry deserved medals awarded for valor are effective because they raise salient issues about the Democratic presidential candidate's ability to be commander in chief after touting his record as a Vietnam war hero last month in Boston.

"This is central," Weber emphasized during a breakfast meeting with Washington Post reporters and editors. "This is who John Kerry is and his fundamental fitness to lead the country. That's why it is having such a devastating impact and that's why it's such a radioactive topic."

(Listen to audio excerpts from Weber's comments.)

"You can't ignore the Swift boat controversy and what seems to have been a major error in the Kerry campaign's strategy," Weber said Wednesday. Democrats sent only one message in Boston, according to Weber: "John Kerry is a Vietnam war hero."

Weber said the success of the Swift boat campaign is interesting because the independent groups supporting Kerry are better organized and better funded than most Republican groups, including the Swift boat veterans. But the issue of Kerry's fitness, he said, is likely to linger until November because of the Kerry campaign's inability to effectively defend his record from the charges.

"Kerry has so mishandled it that its never going to go away now," Weber said.

- By Jeffrey Marcus

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Gillespie: Republicans Step Up After Democrats Falter
Tuesday, Aug 31, 2004; 6:00 PM
Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie chats with Washington Post reporters and editors Tuesday afternoon. (Dan Jung - washingtonpost.com)

NEW YORK, Aug. 31 -- Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Democrats missed an opportunity at their party's convention in Boston to outline their agenda and discuss the major issues of the campaign -- a mistake he said Republicans won't repeat this week here.

Gillespie said the Democrats focused almost exclusively on Sen. John F. Kerry's (D-Mass.) biography and failed to offer much substance. "They left us an opening for policy and you know the voters care about policy," Gillespie said.

During a 40-minute meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters in a makeshift lounge in the Post's work area next to Madison Square Garden, Gillespie said the campaign made a conscious decision after the Democratic convention to focus on specific issues, including a new White House push for health care spending accounts and a 10-year proposal for redeploying U.S. military forces overseas. (Listen to an audio excerpt from the discussion with Gillespie.)

"The president started after Boston dropping some policy proposals into the water," he said. "It's given us a sense of momentum going into the hall. And I think he'll build on it on Thursday night and talk about new policies for a new term."

Gillespie said he has not seen a copy of the president's speech, but he said it will include new domestic policy initiatives that will resonate with voters and help Bush gain in the polls.

"I really didn't expect to be up coming into our convention," Gillespie said referring to recent polls he has seen. "And I am pleasantly surprised that we are."

Gillespie would not speculate on a post-convention "bounce" in Bush's numbers. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken on the eve of the convention showed Bush and Kerry in a statistical dead heat. Bush and Kerry each garner 48 percent of likely voters, with 1 percent supporting independent Ralph Nader. This is unchanged from a survey taken immediately after the Democratic convention.

"I think the more important thing to me than bounce in numbers is durability," Gillespie said. "What I'm looking for is this feeling of momentum."

Gillespie quickly ran through a list of domestic policy items while he sipped bottled water, sticking close to his talking points while discussing the race and the convention's agenda. "This is an interesting election in that there are a lot of issues in play," he said. "It is hard to say what is going to motivate a certain set of voters in a closely contested contest like the one in which we find ourselves."

On Tuesday night, the convention will focus on Bush's personality, featuring a speech by first lady Laura Bush, and highlighting social issues to portray the president's compassion. "This is obviously a convention about President Bush but we want it to be broader than President Bush, we want it to be about our country," Gillespie said.

- By Jeffrey Marcus

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Portman: Economy to Get More Attention at Convention
Tuesday, Aug 31, 2004; 2:27 PM
Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) met with Washington Post reporters and editors Tuesday over coffee and pastries at the Essex House in New York. (Jeffrey Marcus - washingtonpost.com)

NEW YORK, Aug. 31-- A day after Republicans mined the events of Sept. 11, 2001, for their emotional resonance, one of President Bush's closest congressional allies said speakers will begin to talk more about the economy as Bush prepares to lay out his second term agenda Thursday night.

Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told Washington Post editors and reporters Tuesday that an open discussion about tax cuts, trade and creating economic opportunity will help Bush win in the Midwest.

"In a state like Ohio where there is a lot of anxiety about this new economy," Portman said, the economy "really distinguishes the president and his agenda most from John Kerry's agenda." (Listen to an audio excerpt from Portman's dicussion about the economy. He also discussed courting minority voters.)

But the five-term Ohio congressman, who was a strong supporter of Bush's tax cuts, admitted that it can be a difficult case to make--especially in Ohio, where as many as 130,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in the first three years of the Bush administration. "There is an anxiety out there," Portman said, while adding he is convinced that talking about the economy is important and will favor the president.

Portman, who represents one of Ohio's most conservative districts including part of Cincinnati, emphasized the need for more changes to the tax code and international trade practices to help what he called the positive effects of the Bush tax cut to take root and generate jobs.

"I do believe we can compete and win," Portman said. But he cautioned: "I don't think it's going to be without additional anxiety because workers are going to have to change jobs more frequently, we're going to have to be more agile, more innovative than ever."

Voters will start to hear more soon about the second term agenda, according to Portman, who will address the convention here on Wednesday. He said Bush chose to wait to present his priorities to better focus voters on his vision of the next four years. He also said that Republicans are remarkably united behind Bush, as opposed to Democrats, who he said are more united against the president than for Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).

"The party is more unified than ever and it's not just superficial," he said. "Our economic message is united."

- By Jeffrey Marcus

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Hagel: Debates, Iraq May Decide Election
Monday, Aug 30, 2004; 4:11 PM
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) speaks with Washington Post reporters and editors. Post Publisher Don Graham and Opinion Editor Fred Hiatt are pictured. (Dan Jung - washingtonpost.com)

NEW YORK -- The Washington Post's team at the Republican National Convention -- about the size of the Redskins' active-player roster -- began formal work this morning over coffee and croissants in a meeting room at our midtown hotel. The guest at this first session was Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), an independent-minded politician who is widely appreciated by journalists because: 1) he really says what he thinks, at least much of the time; and 2) what he thinks is often not what you might expect from a loyal Republican conservative, which Hagel insists he is.

Hagel made it perfectly clear that he won't be at all surprised if John F. Kerry wins this election. The race, he indicated, is likely to be decided by the debates between Kerry and Bush and by events that occur between now and Election Day, particularly events in Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign places. (Listen to audio excerpts: Elections Are About Incumbents and GOP's "State of Uncertainty".)

"Kerry doesn't fumble much," Hagel said. "He's pretty sure-footed." And he repeated what many politicians say about the Massachusetts senator: "He closes well."

These coffee-and-conversation sessions are a big part of the week for Post editors and reporters. We'll report many of these interviews during this week in a new convention feature on washingtonpost.com that we're calling "Spin Corner."

Read Bob Kaiser's Convention Diary.

- By Robert G. Kaiser

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Graham: GOP Must Reach Out to Blacks, Hispanics
Monday, Aug 30, 2004; 2:10 PM
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speaks with Washington Post reporters and editors. (Dan Jung - washingtonpost.com)

NEW YORK--One of the Republican Party's stars of the South predicted Monday that within 10 years the GOP will find it impossible to win the White House or either house of Congress unless it significantly increases its support among black and Hispanic voters.

"The big issue for the party has nothing to do with politics," Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) told Washington Post editors and reporters. "It's about race." (Listen to audio excerpts of Graham discussing how Kerry helps Republicans in the South and on the GOP's future.)

The junior senator from South Carolina said President Bush will be reelected in November -- and win big in the South - but demographic changes in politically important states will force the GOP to broaden its appeal and boost the diversity of the Republican candidate pool to win in the future.

"You're sitting at the height of the Roman Empire for the Republican party," Graham said, "but the tide slowly but surely goes out." Graham, who in 2002 won the seat that belonged to Strom Thurmond for nearly half a century, said his party must make a concerted effort to reach out to African Americans and Hispanics to support the party and to run for office.

"It's not about how to get back to fiscal discipline or how you relate to the U.N.," Graham said, but hits closer to home. "It's how you relate to Americans who tell you to go to hell politically."

Graham said this November's race will hinge on three matters that are traditionally vital when a president seeks reelection: undecided voters' tendency to vote against the incumbent; the incumbent's job performance; and the challenger's ability to prove himself to be a viable alternative. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has failed to meet the third challenge, and that will be decisive, Graham said. The Democrat's weakness may be Bush's greatest electoral strength, he said.

Kerry "has a chance to turn it around, but he's running out of time," Graham said.

- By Jeffrey Marcus

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