Fear and soccer on the campaign trail

The GOP embraces Hispanic voters as the soccer moms of 2000 while Bradley resurrects Willie Horton and the story of a political romance can finally be told.

Published January 14, 2000 6:00PM (EST)

The GOP welcomes a new group of soccer fans into the big tent: Amid familiar Democratic charges that Republicans are
patronizing minorities and a census poll trumpeting Hispanics' imminent rise to the largest minority group in the nation, the GOP has anointed Latinos as the soccer moms of this
year's election.
The much ballyhooed announcement Wednesday evening highlights the importance of the Hispanic vote in sealing
G.W. Bush's 1996 gubernatorial election and represents a victory
for many party strategists
who have long been ignored by more expedient politicians who made an issue of minorities in order to
better appeal to the core Republican constituency of conservative white males.

While Republican strategists focus their brain trust on garnering Hispanic votes, the party will be rolling out its new Internet play
Friday. GOPlanit.org, described as a portal and service center for
Republicans, is slated to have all the trappings of a consumer-oriented Web site, such as e-mail, chat and news, while serving as an
advanced organizing and fund-raising entity. As of early Friday the site was still under construction.

Despite all the hype, the Internet has made its presence felt
throughout this presidential campaign. Candidates have been raking in money through donations made on their Web sites (more than $3.4
million so far this campaign season) and produce a daily stream of e-mails announcing their appearances and positions. The big-time
consultants have even gotten into the act and are making strategic banner ad buys from companies formed exclusively for that purpose. But the largest impact
has been on basic organizational tasks. Local leaders find it faster, easier and cheaper to muster support for appearances through
e-mail alerts. That's not to say everything's coming up roses. Some candidates are having a very difficult
time coming to terms with the empowering nature of such a distributed medium that allows individuals to become their own publishers.

Loves me, loves me not... Last March Christie Vilsack was courted by Al Gore and Bill Bradley. Both gave
her a polite peck on the cheek in campaign events and she started thinking of romance. As her husband, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, puts
it, "My wife began thinking to herself, You know, this is just like high school where you've got two guys who are interested in maybe
asking you out for a date. She said, 'I played that game in high school and it just drove me crazy. I don't want that, I don't want people
courting me.' So, she made a decision" -- chose Al Gore as her political paramour.

What's in a poll? The campaign spinmeisters are fighting a vigorous PR campaign over poll numbers. National polls asking who you'd elect president routinely
show that it's a two-man race between Bush
and Gore, but local polls in New
show the insurgent candidates as leading or in a dead heat.

Two in the Bush:In a sign that family values, and connections, really do matter in politics the Bush campaign has brought out the scions of the family dynasty for
consecutive days of campaign appearances. Wednesday it was Barbara Bush filing her son's primary papers in Arizona. Thursday it
was George Bush Sr. making
campaign appearances in Iowa
while his son was campaigning elsewhere.

McCain was campaigning in New Hampshire where he was endorsed by 75 state legislators. He tried to prove that the flap over alleged
campaign-finance improprieties that erupted last Thursday is no longer an issue by making a speech before the N.H. legislature where he
promised to appoint a
reform czar
to eliminate pork barrel spending and ensure that the federal government funded all state mandates. He also channeled
Dirty Harry via Ronald Reagan in daring Congress to "make my day" by giving him pork bills to veto. McCain began his campaign with
the issue of campaign-finance reform and has now morphed it into fundamental government reform from within. So much so that he
risks stealing the Reform Party's raison d'jtre.

PAC enemy No. 1: McCain's reformist impulse has provoked the ire of many special interest
not least of all his own party, which is running small but vigorous attack advertising campaigns that ask him to "leave the
Republican Party alone" and criticize him for not taking a strong enough stand on abortion. The two groups behind these pushes are the
National Right to Life Committee and Americans for Tax Reform. Both depend heavily on soft money donations and, despite McCain's
allegiance to their agendas, are spending liberally to attack McCain. Why? McCain threatens to abolish both groups' funding base with
his campaign-finance propositions. According to rumors on the
campaign trail, that's not the only thing driving them. The leader of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover G. Norquist, has a history as a
GOP party operative and, the rumors say, is working in conjunction with the Bush team to wound McCain's New Hampshire campaign.

Toes in the water: Both presumed candidates for New York Senate are easing themselves into campaign mode. As evidenced by her
appearance on Wednesday night's "Late Show" and other anecdotes, Hillary Rodham Clinton is pushing
herself to live a more public and accessible existence. Rudy Giuliani is taking time to shore up his weak points such as education.

Willie or won't he get elected? In a week where race flared up in the guise of the Confederate flag, Bill Bradley blamed Al Gore for the Willie
Horton controversy
in the 1998 presidential campaign. In an interview with the Boston Herald Bradley said, " Gore
introduced him [Horton] into the lexicon. It proved in the course of the campaign to essentially be a poster child for racial
insensitivity." The Gore campaign shot back with Dukakis' phone number and announced that he would hit the campaign trail for Gore.

By Max Garrone

Max Garrone is Salon's Vice President for Operations.

MORE FROM Max Garrone

Related Topics ------------------------------------------