"Kick their asses out"

Bush and McCain continue to debate the minutiae of their tax plans, lil' brother Jeb Bush fulminates, Bradley bucks up the troops, Kerrey says farewell, and everyone's playing a game of lowered expectations.

Published January 20, 2000 6:00PM (EST)

Kerrey quits, might have new job
One-time Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., called it quits, announcing he won't seek reelection this year amid speculation he'll be named the president of New School University in New York. He opted out of the presidential race last December, and said at a news conference that "I feel my spiritual side needs to be filled back up." It's fabulous news for Republicans, who have a chance to build on their 55-45 Senate advantage by taking the seat, which Kerrey has held in the very Republican state since 1989.

Let's keep this clean:
George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain refuse to return to their corners on the issue of their competing tax plans. Once Bush decided that taxes would be his main issue in Iowa and New Hampshire, McCain rose to the challenge, and both have been fighting over the details ever since. As of Tuesday Bush had launched an ad claiming McCain's plan would increase taxes. McCain cried foul and labeled Bush's claims "inaccurate," e-mailing a point-by-point rebuttal (still not posted on McCain's website) of the Bush charges. He followed up with another release headlined, "Bush plan penalizes stay at home parents." The Bush campaign responded with "Arizona state senators comment on McCain tax cut plan," a list of in-state denunciations made to look even more dramatic when Bush staffers included two quotes from the same senator. They did fix it before posting to their web site.
But wait, there's more! In a page out of Al Gore's playbook, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis took advantage of his time on "Good Morning America" Wednesday morning to invite the Bush campaign to McCain HQ in Alexandria, Va., to discuss the tax dispute. The Bush team promptly accepted and fired off a press release saying that their staff was ready to board a plan for Virginia.

The death of a thousand bites?
With the Iowa caucuses just five days away, Bill Bradley went to New Hampshire Wednesday for two morning appearances, and then will appear next in Iowa on Thursday. Is this a sign of how poorly he views his potential in Iowa, or how worried his campaign is about morale in New Hampshire? In the past week he's let it be known that his goal is a 30 percent showing in Iowa, an estimate born out of what Ted Kennedy polled there in 1980 and Bradley's current poll numbers, which place him in the low 30s. This is probably a preemptive strike so that, come Monday night when he's only polling 30 percent, reporters won't file stories about the end of the Bradley campaign. Shrewd. Even shewder if he manages to poll higher. Then he'll seem like an overachiever. Maybe he's been reading up on his management theory: Remember, the first step towards success is setting attainable goals.

All the campaigns have some spin on their Iowa expectations. Bush and Gore are both expected to pull 50 percent, but their campaigns hem and haw over making such grandiose statements because they don't want to be damaged if the insurgent candidates suddenly surge. They also want to get their voters out to the polling places, and fear overconfidence will create complacency among supporters.

The pit and the pendulum revisited:
The last few weeks have seen the pendulum swing against the insurgent candidates in both parties. McCain traded so heavily on his life story that when it got down to political hardball the press saw him stumble and publicly dressed him down. Now it's Bradley's turn. The last few days have been full of reports downgrading Bradley's chance at the Democratic nomination but the fact remains that he has a well-financed and organized operation that, as he stated yesterday, will take him through Super Tuesday.

Despite his competitive showings in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls, Bradley is still considered a long shot. Al Gore's institutional support lends his candidacy an air of inevitability. Even Gore's staffers see Monday's vote as a matter of how much rather than whether. Here's the New York Times quoting a Gore campaigner, "given the superdelegate situation, Al Gore is going to be nominee, so the better we do in Iowa, the sooner we wrap this up, and the more money we'll have left to beat Bush." It can't hurt campaign momentum when Gore's boss announced that he'll try to push the framework of Gore's health care plan through Congress to the tune of $110 billion dollars over five years.

Want candy?
Steve Forbes continues to demonstrate his financial strength. In contrast to Donald Trump, who claims his is the only proto-candidacy that is making money through $100,000 speaking engagements and many book signings, the Forbes campaign gives away as many copies of his, "The New Birth of Freedom: Vision for America," as people will accept. After leaving a stream of print in his Iowa tour's wake the Forbes campaign now offers to give away copies of his book through their internet site if you give them five friends' e-mail addresses. Consensual marketing breaks new boundaries daily.

Tuesday night while the first lady was giving a softball interview to iVillage the Rudy Giuliani campaign was preparing for an announcement of a different kind. Wednesday afternoon Bruce Teitelbaum, campaign manager for Friends of Giuliani (FOG), called a press conference to announce that the Giuliani campaign had bagged more than $12 million in campaign donations in 1999; more than the 1998 New York Senate contenders spent combined! Irrational exuberance never looked so good to ad executives and political consultants. Pundits ask how this is possible in an off year. There's a familiar refrain we'd better memorize, it's the economy stupid.

It's a party, without consensus:
Reform Party wrangling over presidential convention sites and leadership may finally be resolved at a meeting between the factions in Nashville on Feb. 12. Don't bet that they'll kiss and make up. Current party chairman and Jesse Ventura ally Jack Gargan accuses a small faction of Reform party leaders of holding the rest of the party hostage and leading it into the abyss. His solution? Eliminate that group. Coincidentally that group is composed of Ross Perot supporters. Gagan's main opponent, Gerald Moan, told the AP to "Tell Jack it is none of our faults that we got elected. He is not the kingmaker and he has to realize that. If he doesn't, then the members will take the appropriate action, which would be his removal. He is not the kingmaker and he has to realize that. If he doesn't, then the members will take the appropriate action, which would be his removal.''

Buchanan goes to the other side:
While the Perot and Ventura wings stumble toward unity, the Reform Party candidate that everyone ignores was in Arizona dishing American immigration policy. Pat Buchanan toured the Arizona-Mexican border region Wednesday and denounced the dilapidated state of the border's fences. According to AP, he at one point found a hole in the fence and walked through to the other side, joking about what Mexican authorities would do to him if he were caught. An American official asked him to return to the United States, and he promptly did so. Once back on American ground, Buchanan denied any wrongdoing.

"Kick their asses out"
The Miami Herald reports that two Democratic legislators are staging a sit-in at Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's office over the governor's plan to eliminate affirmative action. This would seem to be just another scene from the last decade's movement against affirmative action, but Tuesday night the governor was caught on videotape telling a staffer to "kick their asses out." Later the spin-police took over with the interpretation that Jeb Bush was referring to the reporters covering the sit-in who also refused to leave the office once they were told that they would not be readmitted.

By Max Garrone

Max Garrone is Salon's Vice President for Operations.

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