Bush may stall Texas execution

The Republican hopeful bags military brass briefing and rises in Western polls. Gore divides environmentalists as Nader gains ground among greens.

Published May 31, 2000 5:30PM (EDT)

George W. Bush is "inclined" to grant a death penalty reprieve for Ricky McGinn, a Texas man who claims a DNA test could overturn his 1993 rape and murder conviction. "I'm inclined to because I want to see whether or not -- I want the man to have his full day in court," Bush said. According to the Associated Press, this would mark the first time in the Texas governor's tenure that he's granted a reprieve in a capital punishment case.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the Texas State Court of Criminal Appeals previously denied McGinn's request for new DNA testing of the evidence against him, a decision that clears the way for his June 1 execution unless Bush intervenes. "I can't believe a person running for president would consent to the execution of somebody when a DNA test could prove that the conviction was wrong," said Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, a group that uses DNA tests to clear the wrongly convicted. As the presidential campaign wears on, Bush 's record on capital punishment has come under increased scrutiny. Under his leadership, 130 people have been executed in Texas, far more than any other state in the nation.

Bush just says no to briefing

The Republican presidential hopeful roughly rejected an invitation from Secretary of Defense William Cohen to get a Pentagon briefing, according to ABC News. "I think the briefing I got from Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and Henry Kissinger was substantial," Bush said. Though it's customary for the major party presidential challenger to get a sneak peak at the Pentagon's papers, Bush was suspicious of the offer, and warned Al Gore "not to allow members of the administration to politicize defense." Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon gave assurances that Cohen wouldn't give Bush a second chance. "The secretary considers the issue finished in that they have rejected the invitation," he said.

Know-nothing politics returns

If Bush doesn't mind being kept in the semi-dark on national security, at least he's consistent. New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson said that he and Bush shared a high-five over their mutual ignorance at a governors conference years ago, according to the AP. Before introducing Bush at a campaign appearance, Johnson described the encounter to a crowd at New Mexico's Veterans Memorial Park: "At one of these governor's conferences, George turns to me and says, 'What are they talking about?' I said, 'I don't know.' He said, 'You don't know anything, do you?' And I said, 'Not one thing.' He said, 'Neither do I.' And we kind of high-fived." Johnson said that the moment was proof of Bush's integrity, and praised the Republican candidate's willingness to admit his shortcomings.

That humility is striking a chord in the West, where AP reports Bush strongly challenging Gore in states throughout the region, with the exception of California.

Gore's mental illness message

The vice president continues his mission to make himself in a more compassionate image. Reuters reports that Gore appeared with wife Tipper to talk about mental health coverage, her pet issue. "We have to make certain that mental illness is diagnosed, discussed and treated openly in America," Gore said. "Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of but the stigma shames us all." The vice president then called for increased insurance coverage for psychological conditions, particularly those diagnosed in children, and further advocated tax breaks for families caring for a mentally ill relative.

Gore's green card challenged

Though Al Gore's green credentials got a boost with an endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters, not all environmentalists are in the vice president's camp. Hours after Gore got the nod from the LCV, the AP reported that an official with the Sierra Club bashed his "tawdry environmental record." David Brower, the group's former executive director, who recently resigned from the Sierra Club board, has urged board members to back Ralph Nader. "The other two [presidential] candidates are really the same color," he said in an interview.

Brower's comments echo the concerns of Michael Dorsey, a Sierra Club board member. In an internal e-mail released by the Republican National Committee, Dorsey said that Gore doesn't deserve environmentalists' support and that America's natural resources "have been held hostage to the highest bidder, especially by the oil companies," under the Clinton administration.

Nader nabs new backers

Green Party candidate Nader has been buoyed by the dissent within the environmental community. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Nader-mania is displacing Pat Buchanan's Reform bid as the primary third-party threat in this election. As a result, experts are cautioning the vice president to watch his base, particularly in California, where Nader polls as high as 9 percent. "Gore has a problem," said Jack Pitney, a specialist in third parties at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. "Most of Nader's votes would come out of Gore's hide."

But Gore's campaign scoffs at the idea of a threat from the left. "We're not concerned about a Nader surge," said Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway. "It's not unusual for a third party to do well early in the campaign. The smart vote for environmentalists and consumers is to support a candidate with a record who can defeat our common nemesis, George Bush."

Luck falls Hillary's way

Gore could use the first lady's good fortune with adversaries. In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd attributes Rick Lazio's lip-busting tumble on Memorial Day partially to the Clinton curse, the same one that helped President Clinton survive impeachment and felled Hillary Rodham Clinton's first opponent, Rudy Giuliani. "Somebody should just come out and ask Hillary if she's got one of those tannis-root charms, the kind Ralph Bellamy and Ruth Gordon made Mia Farrow wear in 'Rosemary's Baby,'" Dowd writes. But Lazio's ultimate downfall may yet be his underdog overreaching, Dowd believes, with the same eagerness that his GOP colleagues now praise eventually leading to public ridicule. Lazio "has already accomplished the impossible," Dowd argues. "He has made the first lady, relentlessly ridiculed by conservatives as a panting-for-power yuppie, look laid back."

Poll positions

Presidential race:

  • Bush 49 to Gore 39 (Fox May 24- 25).

  • Bush 46 to Gore 41 (Zogby May 10-13).

  • Bush 47 to Gore 39 (CBS News/New York Times May 10-13).

  • Bush 49 to Gore 44 (ABC News/Washington Post May 7-10).

  • Bush 51 to Gore 43 (Los Angeles Times May 4-7).

  • Bush 46 to Gore 45 (Pew Center May 2-6).

  • Bus h 48 to Gore 42 (Voter.com May 1-3).

  • Bush 46 to Gore 41 (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1).

  • Bush 49 to Gore 44 (Gallup/CNN/USA Today April 28-30).

    Vice presidential preferences (previous):

    Preferences for Republican vice presidential candidate among Republican voters (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1):

  • Colin Powell, 39 percent
  • Elizabeth Dole, 19 percent
  • John McCain, 18 percent
  • Christine Todd Whitman, 5 percent
  • Fred Thompson, 6 percent
  • John Kaisch, 4 percent
  • Tom Ridge, 3 percent
  • Other, 1 percent
  • Not sure, 5 percent

    Preferences for Democratic vice presidential candidate among all voters (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll March 22-23):

  • Bill Bradley, 27 percent
  • Dianne Feinstein, 10 percent
  • Bob Kerrey, 6 percent
  • Bob Graham, 5 percent
  • John Kerry, 4 percent
  • Bill Richardson, 4 percent
  • Evan Bayh, 3 percent
  • Other, 6 percent
  • Not sure, 35 percent

    On the trail

    Bush: Nevada

    Gore: Georgia

    Nader: To be announced

    Sound off

    E-mail Trail Mix with your comments, suggestions and tips at alicia@salon.com.

  • By Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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