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Florida GOP Tried to Cash In on Elian

By Mike Allen

Thursday, April 6, 2000; Page A04

Taking up for Elian Gonzalez, the Florida Republican Party charges that Fidel Castro "is shamelessly using a 6-year-old boy as a pawn."

The charge comes . . . in a fund-raising letter.

"Fidel Castro is a hysterical madman and cold-hearted tyrant," Al Cardenas, the state party chairman, wrote in Spanish.

"Bill Clinton is a naive coward," Cardenas added, according to the official translation by the Florida Republican Party.

The three-page letter uses bold letters, all capitals and underlining to make its points. It says Castro understands just one thing: "CONFRONTACION DURA!" That would be "TOUGH CONFRONTATION!"

"Your personal checkbook is a powerful weapon against the Democrats and liberals who cave in to Castro's bullying," Cardenas wrote. "Your check for $50, $100 or $250 will be put to work to elect Republican leaders who love freedom and will stand up for personal liberty in America, in Cuba and around the world."

The letter, mailed last month, was sent only in Spanish. A state party spokeswoman described it as "a small mailing" but would not give a specific number.

"The Clinton-Gore administration GIVES, Fidel Castro TAKES, it's a one-way street and that will NEVER change," Cardenas observed in the appeal.

After Republican Gov. Jeb Bush read Democratic complaints about the letter, he declared the use of Elian for fund-raising to be inappropriate, and the Florida GOP decided to donate the money to a defense fund set up by the boy's family.

Jamie Wilson, the party's executive director, declined to say how much money the letter had brought in. "We're not in the habit of discussing the proceeds from mailings or fund-raisers," he said.

Determined to get the last word, the state party issued a statement yesterday that began, "TALLAHASSEE, FL--The Democrats' criticism of the Republican Party's fund-raising letter is akin to a murderer accusing a jaywalker of breaking the law."

Making Hay Over Kansas

"Thank you, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Kansas," Texas Gov. George W. Bush declared in a victory statement Tuesday evening after the day's primary voting.

Oops. Small problem. There was no Kansas primary. The event had been canceled. But nobody got the word to the not-so-well-oiled Bush campaign, which boldly claimed the state's 35 delegates in its press release.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer called yesterday to turn himself in. Something about a wall chart that the staff had failed to update. "The technical term for what we did is a goof," he said.

The "Governor Bush Wins Three More Primaries" statement was e-mailed to reporters and faxed to newsrooms in the three states. A Kansas reporter called to ask just what primary Bush was talking about.

But a good spokesman is never without secondary spin. "We like to think that if Kansas had held its primary, Bush would have won anyway," Fleischer said.

Democrats Stand By Their (Second) Choice

Democratic Party strategists woke up with a bit of a problem on their hands yesterday. Their preferred candidate for a key House seat in Pennsylvania had lost to a candidate best known for racist comments he made in 1994.

The trouble spot is Pennsylvania's 4th Congressional District, a seat left open by Democrat Ron Klink, who won his party's Senate nomination on Tuesday.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had cast its lot with Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino. House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) even had a fund-raiser for Mangino. But Mangino picked up only 15 percent of the vote, losing to state Rep. Terry Van Horne, who won with 23 percent.

Republicans wasted no time faxing out newspaper stories from 1994 when Van Horne used racial slurs in referring to an African American colleague, state Rep. Dwight Evans. Van Horne apologized at the time and remains friends with Evans. But that did not deter Republicans from claiming that state Sen. Melissa Hart, who was unopposed for the GOP nomination, would win the seat easily.

"The question is when are [Democrats] going to distance themselves from Van Horne?" said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jim Wilkinson.

They did not do so yesterday. Said DCCC spokesman John Del Cecato: "It's irresponsible for Republicans to be opening up an old wound for political reasons."

In other Pennsylvania House primaries, Patrick Casey, son of former governor Robert P. Casey, easily won the Democratic nomination for a rematch against Rep. Don Sherwood; state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf won the Republican nomination to challenge freshman Democrat Joseph Hoeffel; and state Rep. Todd Platts won the GOP nomination for retiring Rep. Bill Goodling's seat, which is tantamount to election in the overwhelmingly Republican district.

Staff writers Howard Kurtz and Ben White contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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