George W. Bush unveiled a shiny new campaign strategy Wednesday during his debate with fellow GOP candidates. Even though Bush easily won the Iowa primary, two social conservatives, Alan Keyes and Steve Forbes, combined to take more votes than he did. So Bush will try to rise above it all and play
his opponents off one another. In the middle of the evening's debate he started tossing softball questions to Keyes, who, along with the third remaining social conservative, Gary Bauer, took the bait and used his floor time to attack Forbes' conservative credentials.
With those three left squabbling among themselves, the real showdown was between Bush
and John McCain, who is surging in New Hampshire. The two sparred
over a variety of issues: Bush claimed McCain's tax proposal left too much
money in Washington for the spendthrift Congress; McCain portrayed himself as
a defender of public education and called Bush's voucher plan highway robbery.
Both candidates tip-toed around the issue
of abortion. McCain faced it earlier in the day when he was asked what he would do if
his 15-year-old daughter became pregnant and didn't want to keep the baby. He said
the family would discuss the issue, and that his daughter would have the
"final decision." It didn't end there. Later
in the day, he said, "What I believed I was saying and what I intended to say
is that this is a family decision. The family decision will be made by the
family, not by Meghan [McCain's 15-year-old daughter]. Other than that, I
believe that it is a private family matter. I'm sorry if there was any
text of the Republican debate is available from the New York Times.
The rhetoric was more direct in the Democratic
debate. Bill Bradley accused Al Gore of misleading advertisements: "Why should we believe that you will tell the truth as president if you don't tell the truth as a candidate?" Gore immediately shot back: "That's not a negative
attack?" The debate bobbed and weaved around the question of who has been the more negative candidate.
The tone was also much more strident on both sides. And Gore took every opportunity to promote
his agenda; Bradley, meanwhile, seemed much more assertive.
But while Bradley has shown great improvement
in his attacks, it's unclear whether they will resonate as much as the vice
president's repeated jabs at Bradley's health-care plan. Those are tailor-made for attack ads and stump speeches while Bradley's play on
Globe article critical of Gore's career relationships with special interests presents a
much stronger argument on a topic that doesn't have nearly the same
"I read in the
Boston Globe today the following thing," Bradley said. "It said, what's wrong with Washington is
it's in the vice-like grip of moneyed special interests and their lobbyists. And
it went on to say that you're the favorite of the Washington lobbyists. So my
question to you is how can you be fighting for the people when you're working
hand in glove with the special interests who essentially are fighting against the
people?" Not exactly a winning blow. And Bradley isn't exempt from this criticism. As a senator he worked
with many special interests and only became a critic after he nearly lost his 1990 Senate race.
Meanwhile, a group that was instrumental in fighting
Bradley throughout the 1990 election released an ad in New Hampshire claiming
is a hypocrite on campaign-finance reform.
text of the Democratic debate is available from the New York Times.
New York ballot fight
The latest developments in New York's street-level political warfare: The two Democratic
members of New York's election commission decided that John
McCain qualified for eight election districts that the two Republican members had
challenged. The GOP immediately moved the battle to court. Bush
partisans in Long Island then kicked
Forbes off of three district ballots, possibly in
response to Forbes' threat to challenge
McCain, meanwhile, unveiled a lustrous team of
foreign policy advisors that included the lion of winter himself, Henry
Kissinger, and Carter-era national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. They
also hyped an Arizona State University
poll that showed McCain favored in his home state. To top it off,
the endorsements just keep coming. Frequently mentioned about the GOP primary in New Hampshire is the number of local paper
endorsements that the two "insurgent" candidates have garnered. Bush and Gore
have only a handful of endorsements, while McCain has 16 and Bradley has 14.
The tone of the McCain endorsements emphasize that he is the only Republican
candidate earnestly wedded to campaign-finance reform while those endorsing Bradley
cite his big ideas and credibility.
In further proof that McCain is both traditional politician and man of his times,
he will participate Feb. 10 in a pay-per-view
internet chat. Those who contribute $100 or more will be given a special
password and allowed entry into a chat with the candidate. Campaign webmaster Max
Fose spun the event as a proper use of the medium to motivate and communicate
with many of McCain's supporters. It also looks like just another fund-raising event minus the rubber chicken dinner.
Clinton's last hurrah
Thursday night President Clinton will make his last
State of the Union address. ( 9 p.m. EST on all major networks.)