The granny caught in the middle

Bush-Gore Internet wars ensnare 90-year-old great-grandmother.

Published March 31, 2000 1:52PM (EST)

The breakthrough of the political campaign by e-mail is how easy it is for witty press flacks to fire off flippant potshots at their rivals in real time.

Since March 7, the e-mail standoff between George W. Bush and Al Gore has moved to Def-Con 4. The candidates started it, with Gore challenging Bush in an e-mail to reject the use of soft money to fund his advertising and also forgo all advertising. Bush demurred, then wrapped up his e-mail with the zinger: "This Internet of yours is a wonderful invention."

Since then, Gore has continually berated Bush's education record, while the Bush campaign has regularly issued an e-mail update that, in the subject line, reads: "The Gore Detector." A recent, and typical, missive was sent out Thursday with the headline: "Gore to Granny D.: Take a hike!"

"Just days after Vice President Al Gore praised campaign finance reform advocate Granny D., news reports revealed that Gore refused to meet with her unless she agreed to donate $500 to his presidential campaign," the release stated.

"The Great Campaign Finance Reformer sounds more like the Great Pretender," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer was quoted as saying. "From monks who took vows of poverty to Granny D., Al Gore will raise money from anyone to get elected."

Snarky? Yes. Accurate? Sort of.

Matt Keller, a lobbyist with the nonprofit campaign finance watchdog group Common Cause, called the Bush version of events cute, though a bit of a distortion. Keller should know: "I was there," Keller said. "It was me and Granny in Little Rock."

Granny D. (real name: Doris Haddock), a 90-year-old great-grandmother, embarked on a 14-month trek from Los Angeles to Washington (which ended in late February) to show "how much people care about campaign reform," according to her own Web page.

The incident Bush is referring to, according to Keller, happened as she passed through Arkansas in August 1999. "We didn't even know that Gore and Clinton were going to be there," Keller said, but thought they should try to make an effort to meet them.

The president and vice president were in town for a fund-raiser at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Keller recalled. "Obviously, there was a lot of confusion. We approached this kid, who was like 8 years old, who was in charge of letting people in, and he didn't let us in. I gave him a hard time, but it was not a big deal. There was no media around or anything. I have no idea how this got out."

In response to the Bush camp's claim that Clinton/Gore tried to shake down Granny D. for a few Benjamins, Keller said, "I don't remember the 500 bucks thing."

Keller scoffed at the notion that Granny D. would support Bush. "We're still waiting for him to introduce a real finance reform plan," he said. Granny D. herself had some harsh words for the Texas governor when she passed through Texas on her cross-country pilgrimage last summer. A Reuters story from last year, posted on Granny D.'s Web site, led with this paragraph:

"A great-grandmother walking across the United States to demand campaign finance reform said Monday that it was 'obscene' that Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush had raised a record $36.3 million for his White House run. 'We don't know anything about his ideals or what he stands for. Apparently he stands for being able to raise a lot of money,' she said."

And in a later article from the Houston Chronicle, Granny D. said Bush was "a shoe salesman. I simply said that all that $38 million proves is that he's very good at getting contributions. Just like a shoe salesman who sells a lot of shoes. It doesn't tell us anything about his policies or where he stands on issues and I don't know where he stands on anything."

Keller said that Gore had not lined up Granny D.'s support. When asked if Gore had requested a meeting since his recent campaign finance reform epiphany, Keller said, "I think Vice President Gore would be glad to meet with Granny D. now. Maybe we should try to set up a meeting."

You can be sure that if they do, Gore will send out an e-mail.

By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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Al Gore Campaign Finance Democratic Party George W. Bush Republican Party