President Bush's secretary of veterans affairs took an unusual foray into politics last week when he suggested that U.S. troops shoot straighter for Republican presidents.

"I think our active military respond better to Republicans because of the ideals we believe in and because of the tremendous support that President Bush and previous Republican presidents provide for our military and our veterans," Secretary Anthony J. Principi ventured Thursday afternoon in a chat on the Bush campaign's Web site.

That unorthodox assertion emerged when Principi was asked by Lars Thernstrom of Philadelphia: "Why do you think troops, in general, respond better to Republican as opposed to Democratic leadership?"

It's no secret that soldiers tend to lean Republican; that is why the Bush campaign was so eager to get the overseas military ballots counted during the Florida recount. But it's quite another thing to say that the avowedly nonpartisan U.S. military works harder for Republican presidents than for Democratic presidents. Are the men and women of the armed forces more likely to obey Republicans' orders? Do they fight harder for Republicans? Was Franklin D. Roosevelt just lucky?

Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera said it is wrong to say troops "put partisanship before duty." Phil Budahn, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Principi "meant they were responding better as voters" -- not warriors.

Whatever the meaning, Principi certainly responds well to Bush. "President Bush commands the same stature as men like Lincoln and Churchill," Principi said in response to another question. "I believe the President's service in the guard has played into his ability to be a great leader."

One only wonders how Churchill was able to gain his stature without service in the National Guard.

Did He Say That?

Also in the category of unhelpful utterances is the recent effort of Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) to blame the Iraq war on Jews and Israel. In a May 7 opinion article published in South Carolina, he suggested that Israel's intelligence service, Mossad, was aware that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

"With Iraq no threat, why invade a sovereign country? The answer: President Bush's policy to secure Israel," Hollings wrote. He then attributed the policy to three Jews, only one of whom works in the administration. "Led by Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Charles Krauthammer, for years there has been a domino school of thought that the way to guarantee Israel's security is to spread democracy in the area."

Bush, Hollings concluded, believed "spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats."

Hollings has defended his views, which some Jewish leaders have condemned. On Thursday, in a Bush campaign conference call, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) joined in branding Hollings's statements anti-Semitic.

Even if Hollings is correct about Bush's intentions, the gambit apparently has not succeeded. The National Jewish Democratic Council last week touted a new Gallup poll finding that only 16 percent of Jews identified themselves as Republicans and 39 percent of Jews approved of Bush.

Barbecuin' With Bush

But do they know he drinks non-alcoholic beer and hogs the cobbler?

Americans, by 50 percent to 39 percent, would "rather have a backyard barbecue" with Bush than Democratic challenger John F. Kerry, according to a poll by Quinnipiac University. But voters would rather have Kerry teach their children, the poll found. Bush outdid Kerry in the question of which man they would rather have run their business.

A Political Shell Game

Turns out the world leaders coming to Sea Island, Ga., next week for the Group of Eight meeting won't be the only ones on the island who are slow-moving with big heads, powerful mouths and thick shells.

Georgia officials say the meeting coincides with the nesting time of the loggerhead sea turtle, a threatened species well known to the Georgia coast for its large size (upward of 300 pounds), red-brown color and large head.

Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) announced that the turtles will be fitted with transmitters as they come ashore to nest, their every movement monitored. Civil libertarians, fear not: Authorities say this is for scientific purposes and has nothing to do with the Patriot Act. In addition, Georgia plans to name eight turtles for the countries participating in the summit. France's turtle will be called Bon Jour, Britain's turtle will be called Tea Cake, Italy's will be called Bellissima, and the American turtle will be dubbed Cherokee Rose.

Targeting Latinos

From the Department of Self-Serving Announcements comes this headline from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials: "Latinos Expected to Turnout in Record Numbers for Election 2004." The source: the NALEO Educational Fund. The group predicts 838,000 Hispanics will vote in 2004, or 13 percent of the electorate; the number is particularly high in competitive states such as Colorado, Florida and New Mexico.

Evidently, the campaigns agree. Bush has run Spanish-language ads, and Kerry on Friday announced a new ad featuring Hispanic veterans.

"Our active military respond better to Republicans because of the ideals we believe in," Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi said recently.