Wednesday's must-reads

By Tim Grieve - Stephen W. Stromberg
Published August 11, 2004 1:25PM (EDT)

The New York Times and the Washington Post both look at the politics surrounding Bush's nomination of Rep. Porter Goss as the new CIA chief.

In the Times, Elisabeth Bumiller says that "Democrats and Republicans alike wondered aloud Tuesday whether Mr. Bush might be willfully starting a partisan nomination fight, less than three months before Election Day, that would allow him to argue that Democrats were blocking an important national security appointment." Bumiller doesn't identify any of those out-loud wonderers.

The Post's Mike Allen and Walter Pincus suggest different political considerations were behind the timing of Bush's announcement: Kerry and the Democrats have started to score points on intelligence, and Bush needed a way to push back. "A Republican political operative, who requested anonymity because of participation in the party's regular conference calls, said the president turned back to Goss because 'poll data showed Kerry had closed the gap with Bush on handling of terrorism and was slightly ahead as fit to be commander in chief.'"

The unnamed operative also said that Bush's half-embrace of the 9/11 commission's proposal for a national intelligence director "was not understood by the public," and that Bush needed to name a new CIA chief "to show Bush was moving ahead."

An unnamed Democratic legislator told the Post Bush acted "to top the Nancy Pelosi meeting." The House Minority Leader had "brought her colleagues in from vacation to show their support for the 9/11 recommendations. Her call for a special session to pass reforms by the third anniversary of the attacks 'will be buried,' the legislator said."

More from the Post: "Flynt L. Leverett, who was a senior director on Bush's National Security Council last year and now is informally advising Kerry, said the Goss selection was also a way for Bush to slow-walk a revision of the nation's intelligence machinery. 'They could try to get serious about intel reform, which I think they're reluctant to do, or they could try to change the subject, and this is a way of changing the subject,' he said."

Bush isn't the only one trying to change the subject. After causing consternation with his comments on Iraq this week, Kerry is shifting his focus to senior issues. Today's Times examines the Kerry campaign's efforts to draw the elderly vote this election cycle.

The Times says Democrats see the elderly as "an unexpectedly fertile voting bloc for their party this year because of dissatisfaction with the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, disproportionate opposition to the war in Iraq, worries about mounting deficits and wariness over talk ofaltering Social Security.

"As one indication of Democratic prospects, the Alliance for Retired Americans, a three-year-old political organization that claims three million members, will endorse Senator John Kerry for president today in Las Vegas. The group plans to conduct full-scale get-out-the-vote operations in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - all states with large elderly populations, said its executive director, Edward Coyle.

"As another indication, Mr. Kerry's campaign will announce today a multiprong 'Seniors for Kerry-Edwards' outreach program, with action groups in each state, events at senior centers and retirement homes, intergenerational get-out-the-vote efforts linking grandparents and their grandchildren, and even a Web-based initiative.

"Aides said that within several weeks, Mr. Kerry would roll out plans to help the elderly with Election Day transportation, as well as with signing up for absentee ballots, at which Republicans have long excelled."

The Los Angeles Times points out that a new survey shows just how unpopular President Bush's prescription drug law has become with seniors, which will help Kerry draw them into his flock.

"Almost half of Medicare recipients dislike the new prescription drug law, and nearly 3 in 10 seniors and disabled persons say the issue will influence their vote for president, according to a national survey released Tuesday.

"The survey suggests that there are 'maybe a half-million seniors' who might swing their votes to Democratic candidate John F. Kerry and another '1 million to 2 million whose votes might be up for grabs on this issue,' said Drew E. Altman, president and chief executive of the private, nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Given those numbers, if the race between Kerry and President Bush remains close, seniors' views of the Medicare law could be a decisive factor in the Nov. 2 election, said Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health.

"The national survey of 1,223 Medicare beneficiaries, conducted by the Kaiser foundation and the Harvard school shortly before last month's Democratic National Convention, indicated that 47 percent of Medicare recipients had an unfavorable view of the law, while 26 percent had a favorable view."

The Knight Ridder News Service reports that John Kerry emphasized his opposition to using Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump in a campaign stop in the Silver State yesterday. Yucca Mountain is becoming an increasingly large thorn in President Bush's side as he tries to maintain his slim lead in the swing state.

"Sen. John Kerry seized one of Nevada's hottest political issues Tuesday by vowing to block the creation of a national nuclear-waste dump at Yucca Mountain and accusing President Bush of breaking a 2000 campaign promise to do the same.

"'This is not just a Nevada issue,' Kerry said in a town hall meeting at a middle school beside U.S. 95, the proposed route that nuclear waste would take on its way to the mountain repository. 'It's about the relationship between the people who lead, who govern, and you, the citizens . . . about promises kept and broken.'

"But Yucca Mountain is a potent local issue. More than 70 percent of Nevadans oppose the project, and even Republicans here acknowledge that it is a liability for the president in what is shaping up as a close contest for the state's five electoral votes.

"Bush won Nevada by 50-46 percent in 2000.

"The Democratic presidential nominee has stressed the environment on the Southwest portion of his cross-country tour by bus, train and boat.

"On Tuesday, he sought to attack the president's credibility and turn around a criticism often flung his way by suggesting that Bush had flip-flopped on Yucca Mountain.

"'The fact is the person I'm running against . . . stood up before Nevadans and promised that this waste would not come to Yucca Mountain,' Kerry said."

What Kerry didn't say: His running mate, John Edwards, has also switched his position on Yucca Mountain. He voted to build the facilitiy in 2002. Now he assures Nevadans that he supports Kerry's views on the project.

The Washington Post reports that John Kerry's Web site saw an impressive spike in hits during the Democratic National Convention.

"The Democratic National Convention may have done little to improve John F. Kerry's standing in the polls. But That's another story.

"Nielsen/NetRatings, an independent research firm, reported that traffic to the nominee's official Web site increased by 191 percent during the week of the convention, making it the fastest-growing major Web site in the country (for that week, anyway). In all, about 771,000 people visited the site from their homes. The firm distinguishes between Internet use at home and at work, and it did not release data on how the Massachusetts senator's site, or any other one, fared among those on the job. It estimated that visitors spend an average of eight minutes on the site.

"Overall, the Kerry campaign's site was the 213th most popular in the country, just ahead of the online home of the business supply company Staples and right behind, a site for a communications firm. was more popular than, for example, United Airlines' site, but it had fewer guests than either the Boston Globe's site or one called 'Kara's Adult Playground.'"

How did the Republicans' sites compare? "Kerry's readership far eclipsed that of his Republican rivals. Nielsen/NetRatings estimated that the Republican National Committee's site had about 275,000 readers during the convention week, a 32 percent increase over the previous seven-day period. President Bush's campaign site, meanwhile, did not have enough visitors to register with the firm."

The Associated Press reports on word that the Reform Party is almost bankrupt and may soon be defunct.

"The treasurer of the national Reform Party, which is supporting Ralph Nader for president, has told federal election officials that the party has $18.18 in the bank and should be terminated.

"William D. Chapman said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he sent the Federal Election Commission a "request for termination based on guidelines the FEC had established for the Reform Party."

The AP says: "Party leaders suspended Chapman as treasurer.

"The national Reform Party conducted a telephone conference call to endorse Nader in May, providing him ballot access in at least seven states, including the battlegrounds of Florida and Michigan. Nader has had trouble gaining ballot access independently in some states.

"Chapman said he did not support Nader's candidacy but that was not why he asked the FEC to terminate the party's fundraising authority. 'It wouldn't have meant anything to me except the philosophical misalignment,' Chapman said.

"Reform Party Chairman Shawn O'Hara accused Chapman of leading a 'minor coup.'

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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