It may be a merry season, but Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is in a fighting mood.
The target of McCain's wrath is the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, which is running ads in New Hampshire that say McCain's campaign finance legislation would destroy the ability of conservative groups to influence politics, leaving the process to "the liberal national media."
"He's the only Republican candidate approved by the liberal New York Times," the ad says. "Bill Clinton, Al Gore and big labor all endorse his top legislative priority." One version of the ad shows Clinton's head morphing into McCain's.
The ATR produced and financed the $100,000 ad buy, which will run for three weeks on New Hampshire's WMUR television station.
The McCain campaign struck back in highly personal terms with a blistering attack on ATR and its president, Grover Norquist, calling him "one of Washington's most notorious special interest group leaders" whose only concern was that "the soft money spigot flowing into his group's coffers" would be cut off.
But McCain, who is leading Texas Gov. George W. Bush in New Hampshire polls, didn't stop there. He attacked Norquist's character, saying he had lobbied in the past for the "Marxist" president of the Republic of the Seychelles and "against a government crackdown on Internet porn."
"We want to send a strong message to every lobbying and every special interest group leader in Washington that if you take us on, we're going to hit back and hit hard," said McCain spokesman Todd Harris.
Norquist said he had worked for the Republic of the Seychelles but that it was not a Marxist government. And he said he opposed the Communications Decency Act because he--and many other conservatives--believed it to be overly restrictive and unconstitutional. The more important point, he said, is that McCain chose to attack rather address the substantive points of the ad.
"This is McCain being a bully and trying to smear opponents," Norquist said of McCain's news release.
The New Hampshire Republican Party, however, shares McCain's outrage about the ads. "I think the ads are a disgrace and Americans for Tax Reform should pull them," said state GOP chairman Steve Duprey.
Bradley's Rapid Response Team
It may have taken Bill Bradley's campaign team a while to gin up its not-so-rapid response operation, but the machine is humming now.
Each day on the trail brings a new twist on Vice President Gore's critiques and now a daily "Gore distortion" reply from the Bradley camp.
"Continuing Gore distortions," says one recent Bradley release. "The most consistent aspect of the Gore campaign."
Gore, for example, accused Bradley of waiting 17 years before sponsoring campaign finance legislation in the Senate. But the Bradley team says the former New Jersey senator has co-sponsored bills to revamp campaign finance laws since 1985. Gore also said Bradley opposed U.S. intervention in Bosnia, but Bradley supported the deployment in three votes in 1995, according to his research team.
In fact, the Bradley team anticipated one Gore line of attack and distributed its reply before the broadside was lobbed. Several hours before Gore's appearance last week at an agriculture forum in Ames, Iowa, Bradley's aides were accusing the vice president of neglecting American farmers.
"Vice President Gore has yet to put forth a comprehensive farm policy of his own," Bradley said in a statement. "After seven years, the vice president has offered nothing more than negative attacks and distortions. In the meantime, Iowa's family farmers are still hurting."
Staff writer Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.