Thursday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
July 15, 2004 5:44PM (UTC)

Veering right for votes
Forget the old presidential campaign strategy of focusing on the center, George W. Bush is appealing hard to right-wing partisans, the Washington Post reports.

"'In close elections in today's environment, the old political strategy of focusing just on independents won't work,' said Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist. 'Campaigns have to motivate supporters at the same time of appealing to swing voters.'"

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"There is evidence to support the Bush theory. A study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 21 percent of registered voters are undecided or might change their minds -- at this point in 2000, it was 32 percent. Still, Pew reasoned, 'the swing vote, while smaller in relative terms, is still substantial and certainly large enough to propel either of the presidential candidates to a big victory.'"

"Democrats say Bush's approach is novel. 'It's a new way to run for president,' said James Carville, the strategist behind Bill Clinton's 1992 victory. Whereas 'usually you quietly shore up your base and aggressively court the swing voter, Bush is aggressively shoring up his base and quietly courting the swing voter.'"

For Bush, pushing the divisive constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is part of rallying the faithful, and now that Senate Republicans couldn't even muster 60 votes to move the thing forward, Bush and religious conservative activists will keep the issue alive on the campaign trail. As for the roll call on the amendment, six Republicans joined Dems in voting to block the amendment, including John McCain, Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), John E. Sununu (N.H.) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.). Three Democrats voted to limit debate, and move the amendment to final consideration: Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and (GOP convention speaker) Zell Miller (Ga.).

Coalition of the dwindling
Color-coded charts aren't just for scaring the bejeezus out of Americans anymore -- the Bush administration apparently has one to keep track of the comings and goings -- mainly goings -- of coalition member nations in Iraq, the Washington Post reports.

"The Bush administration faces growing challenges in holding together the 32-nation coalition deployed in Iraq, with four countries already gone, another four due to leave by September and others now making known their intention to wind down or depart before the political transition is complete next year, according to officials from 28 participating countries."

"The drama over the Filipino hostage in Iraq, which led the Philippines government to say this week that it will pull out before its August mandate expires, is only the latest problem -- and one of the smaller issues -- in U.S. efforts to sustain the 22,000-strong force that, with 140,000 U.S. troops, forms the multinational force trying to stabilize postwar Iraq."

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"Norway quietly pulled out its 155 military engineers this month, leaving behind only about 15 personnel to assist a new NATO-coordinated effort to help train and equip Iraqi security forces. New Zealand intends to pull out its 60 engineers by September, while Thailand plans to withdraw its more than 450 troops that same month, barring a last-minute political reversal that Thai officials consider unlikely, say envoys from both countries. 'It's 90 percent definite that we're going,' a Thai diplomat said."

Scientists won't be pushed around anymore
The Wall Street Journal (free link) looks at the politically mobilized "normally docile" scientific community who are organizing to defeat Bush in November.

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" ... Some leading researchers are mounting a political campaign to unseat President Bush this fall, accusing the administration of twisting scientific facts to fit its policies on issues such as global warming, sex education and stem-cell research."

"While science issues don't loom as large as jobs and national security, Democratic strategists argue the president's record on science and environmental matters may prove vulnerable, at least to voters who haven't made up their minds."

"The Bush camp sharply disagrees. Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, says, 'The president's record on science is tremendous, and we will be talking about our support for science.' Republicans note that Mr. Bush has supported research on hydrogen fuels and nanotechnology. His Office of Science & Technology Policy says federal research-and-development budgets have risen 44% since Mr. Bush took office to $132 billion, including boosts to medical research at the National Institutes of Health."

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"But attacks are intensifying. Last month, 48 Nobel Prize winners publicly endorsed Sen. John Kerry's presidential bid, while thousands of researchers have signed a statement condemning Mr. Bush's science record."

"Meanwhile, a group of senior scientific leaders is close to launching 'Scientists and Engineers for Kerry.' Among the group's goals: galvanize voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania that are home to large hospitals, research campuses and medical institutions that employ tens of thousands of potential voters."

Dumping Dick, "conspiracy theory"?
The New York Times addresses the rumor/GOP fantasy that Bush would drop Dick Cheney from the ticket, blame it on health problems, and pick up a candidate more to the electorate's liking. Elisabeth Bumiller called the scenario, buzzing around Washington with ferocity in recent days, a "conspiracy theory," echoing the Bush campaign.

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"'I don't know where they get all these conspiracy theories,' said Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, who has heard them all. 'It's inside-the-Beltway coffee talk, is all it is.' It may be inside the Beltway, but in recent days the Washington summer clamor about dropping Mr. Cheney has so greatly intensified that Mr. Cheney himself was forced to address it on Wednesday. Asked in a C-Span interview if he could envision any circumstances under which he would step aside, Mr. Cheney replied: 'Well, no, I can't. If I thought that were appropriate, I certainly would.'"

"'In the interview, to be broadcast Sunday, Mr. Cheney also said that Mr. Bush "has made very clear he doesn't want to break up the team,' but that chatter of his stepping down was to be expected. 'I suppose right now, because we're in the run-up to the convention, people don't have much to talk about so you get speculation on that,' he said. 'It's normal. When we get to the convention, I think that'll put an end to that.'"

(It's "normal"? What is normal about the man who most embodies the administration's spirit and policies and is well-known to be the most authoritative figure in the White House -- unlike Dan Quayle, when speculation swirled around his displacement in 1992 -- having to address in public whether he would be cast from the Republican ticket weeks from his party's nominating convention? His approval ratings with voters, in the tank and fueling the Dump Dick talk, are also not normal. But after all of the denials, the running mate switcheroo, conspiracy theory or not, would be tough to pull off now.)

Florida, the new Florida
We've heard some worry that Ohio could be the new Florida, with voting irregularities and hijinx compromising the results of the election. But Florida still seems to have the market on ballot-casting barriers cornered, as the New York Times reports. One biggie: The state government (and yes, Jeb Bush is still governor) won't include voting machines in manual recounts. "The touch-screen voting machines intended to cure many of the ills of 2000 have raised a host of other concerns here just four months before the election. A new state rule excludes the machines from manual recounts, and the integrity of the machines was questioned after a problem was discovered in the audit process of some of them. Voting rights groups filed a lawsuit last week challenging the recount ban, and a Democratic congressman has also sued to request a printed record of every touch-screen vote."

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"The controversy over the new equipment is just one of Florida's challenges, which also include confirming which voters are ineligible, training poll workers on new policies and processing a flood of new registrations. State officials announced on Saturday that they would throw out a controversial list used to remove felons from the voting rolls, acknowledging that Hispanic felons were absent from the list. Secretary of State Glenda E. Hood, appointed by Governor Bush last year, had earlier dismissed concerns from lawmakers and advocacy groups about the list of 48,000 suspected felons, which the state made public only after a judge's order."

Hispanics, by the way, are more likely to vote Republican in Florida. Blacks, historically supportive of Democrats, were not absent from the felons list, thus making them prime targets for purging from the voter rolls.

No Drafting Ditka
Mike Ditka has disappointed Illinois Republicans by withdrawing his name for consideration as a candidate in the Senate race there, the AP reports.

"The draft Ditka bandwagon started rolling Monday and the NFL Hall of Famer said the idea of running for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald excited him. By Wednesday night, however, Ditka said that he'd decided against it. 'There was a moment when I said, God, I'd like to take this and run with it, and then I said, you know, put your head on straight and think about what you're getting into,' Ditka said outside his restaurant."

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"Ditka said his volatile temperament could prove a drawback on Capitol Hill. Once when he was coach of the floundering New Orleans Saints, he answered taunting fans with obscenities as he was leaving the stadium. He later apologized."

"'I don't know how I would react on the Senate floor if I got in a confrontation with somebody I really didn't appreciate and maybe didn't appreciate me,' Ditka said."

Perhaps Dick Cheney should have called Ditka to assure him that obscenities are welcome on the Senate floor. In Washington parlance, such language is known as a "frank exchange of views."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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