Forbes targets Bush in New York

With the state Republican Party trying to kick John McCain off the ballot, the GOP front-runner faces another challenger.

Published January 18, 2000 9:08AM (EST)

One day after the New York Republican State Committee announced it would try to bump
Sen. John McCain off the
ballot in nearly half the state, Steve Forbes is preparing to
hit back at George W. Bush, Salon has learned. But whether he will be able to
under New York's byzantine election regulations remains a matter of some dispute.

Sources close to the Forbes campaign confirmed that they were preparing to issue a
challenge to Bush's petitions in six of the state's 31 congressional districts. The
districts being challenged are all in Brooklyn. "Some of these look like they were
filled out at the kitchen table," one Forbes source said.

The Forbes campaign said the challenge to the Bush ballots comes after rumors that
Bush allies were preparing to issue a technical challenge to Forbes petitions in the
1st Congressional District.

"The gauntlet's been thrown. If they're going to play with us, we have to play as
well. And we're prepared to fight this every step of the way," a Forbes source said.

While Forbes campaign manager Bill Dal Col would neither confirm nor deny whispers of
a Forbes challenge to Bush, he blasted the New York election rules, which are so
cumbersome that Sen. Orrin
Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes are skipping the
state's March 7 primary all together.

"This just shows that the politics of Tammany Hall are alive and well in New York,"
Dal Col said. " They're afraid of what would dare happen if we gave people a say
instead of the political bosses. The only loser in all of this is the democratic

Dal Col said the Forbes campaign is spending "upwards of $750,000" to make sure
their petitions are in order for the primary. In 1996, he said, Forbes spent
more than $1.8 million to avoid being booted off the ballot by party functionaries
loyal to the Bob Dole campaign.

McCain has also been forced to spend precious campaign dollars combating the onerous regulations. His campaign has filed suit in federal court to ease access for all candidates to the New York ballot.
Because the state party is lined up behind Bush, McCain was forced to hire Democratic
lawyer Henry Berger, who handled New York legal affairs for Clinton-Gore in 1996, to
do battle with the state's party machinery.

Republican State Committee spokesman Dan Allen said he had not heard of any possible
Forbes challenge, but suspected it may be too late. "The deadline has passed, and the
only one being challenged is McCain," he said. Allen said he knew nothing of a
possible challenge to Forbes petitions in the 1st District.

According to election laws, Republican candidates must receive valid signatures from
5,000 Republicans statewide and .5 percent of all registered Republicans in a given
congressional district to qualify for the primary ballot in that district. According
to Allen, that number ranges from 82 to 890 signatures, depending on the district. The process is far more labor intensive than the qualifying process in other states.

A McCain spokesman placed the blame squarely on Bush for the current legal wrangling
over McCain's ballot position. "They can't come up with any real policy that people
want to support, so they have to pull stunts like this," said McCain spokesman Howard
Opinsky. "This borders on pressing the panic button. If [Bush] is running so strong, why
are they pulling stunts like this?"

The Bush campaign did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

McCain himself blasted Bush for advocating a clean, fair primary fight on one hand,
and tacitly supporting this challenge on the other. "Gov. Bush likes to talk about
his record of leadership, but he refuses to show any in New York," McCain said in a
statement. "He continues to sit silent as the New York GOP uses Stalinist politics to
control the presidential primary in the state. I urge him to show some leadership and
to give the voters of New York the chance to make a choice between us on March 7."

The state party issued a statement Tuesday charging McCain with hypocrisy. "Sen. John McCain did not hesitate to use the ballot access provisions of Arizona law to knock primary opponents off the ballot twice," wrote state party chairman William Powers. "Yet Sen. McCain has now filed suit in federal court complaining about similar provisions of New York law designed to
maintain the integrity of the state's primary."

"That's completely ludicrous," said Opinsky. "In Arizona,
the laws are designed to keep people like Pat Paulsen off the ballot. This is like a
communist system, designed at limited voter choice and keeping legitimate
presidential contenders that are not backed by the party establishment off the ballot.
It's completely different."

Even if McCain prevails in court, it will cost his campaign valuable financial
resources the senator cannot afford to waste. Unlike Bush, who's campaign
coffers are overflowing thanks to unprecedented fund-raising, campaign cash is at a
premium for the McCain campaign. McCain has been focused almost exclusively on the
early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, and has not had the money
to set up full-blown campaign offices in other key states like Michigan,
Washington and California.

By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

MORE FROM Anthony York

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George W. Bush John Mccain R-ariz.