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Dems caught red-handed

Colorado GOP deems DNC playbook ‘abhorrent’

By Leigh E. Rich

Nothing’s quiet on the Western front, despite the close of the presidential debates this week and the beginning of a brief candidate furlough from Colorado.

Without missing a beat in the last weeks of campaigning, all post-debate hell broke loose Thursday as the Colorado Republican Party reprimanded the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Kerry-Edwards campaign for a directive to launch concerns about voter intimidation dredged up that morning by the Drudge Report.

The Drudge Report, an independent gossip column by Matt Drudge that unveiled the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal, placed on its Web site an image of one of the 66 pages in the DNC’s “Colorado Election Day Manual”—a type of booklet both parties issue to their poll-watchers to assist them through Nov. 2.

Part of that Democratic directive read: “If no signs of intimidation techniques have emerged yet, launch a ‘pre-emptive strike’” that includes, inter alia, priming “minority leadership to discuss the issue in the media,” providing “talking points” and placing “stories in which minority leadership express concern about the threat of intimidation tactics.”

Ted Halaby, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, called the document “totally abhorrent” and accused “the Kerry-Edwards team in combination with the DNC” of telling its operatives “to be prepared to make false charges of voter intimidation.”

“That totally shocks the conscience of anyone who wants to see fair play, not only in Colorado but in this nation,” Halaby said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Chris Gates, Halaby’s counterpart at the Colorado Democratic Party, deemed the allegations “nothing but a diversion” from more pressing issues important to Coloradans, including job loss, the war in Iraq and the health care crisis. He also chalked the clamor up to what he believes are typical tactics waged by his opponents.

“We’ve seen the tricks the Republican Party has tried to pull. … They have played games with the electoral process in the past,” Gates said, adding that the “Republican Party knows that it is suspect after the way that it acted in Florida” in the 2000 election.

“This is the classic Republican playbook they’re pulling out mid-October,” said Steve Haro, Colorado communications director for the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

When asked to comment on Halaby’s contention that the DNC document accuses the Republican Party of engaging in voter intimidation, Haro responded, “The record speaks for itself.”

Halaby refuted allegations that the Republican Party has engaged in such late-October intimidation tactics.

“There’s no evidence of that whatsoever. And it’s a lame excuse,” he said.

But Gates pointed to headlines concerning voter registration fraud that have been making Colorado news all week, particularly the promises of prosecution issued by Secretary of State Donetta Davidson and Gov. Bill Owens, both of whom are Republicans.

“Just read the newspaper this morning. Donetta Davidson basically threatened people,” Gates said, referring to Davidson’s warnings during a press conference Wednesday about how she hopes she’s “scared (fraudulent voters) to death.”

“This is old-fashioned voter suppression,” Gates maintained.

During Thursday’s GOP press conference, however, Halaby also insisted that Gates responded positively to a letter Halaby sent on Sept. 14 “urging him to join with us in an effort to ensure … all voters … cast their vote free of intimidation.”

According to Halaby, Gates agreed that “the goal was a proper one and he would join me in those efforts.”

In an interview Thursday evening, when asked whether Halaby’s characterization of that exchange regarding the letter was accurate, Gates replied, “Of course it’s not.”

The only evidence that speaks to this he said-he said dispute is a press release issued by the Colorado GOP on Sept. 14 that included a copy of that letter addressed to Gates.

In part, the letter read: “We must avoid charges of voter intimidation leveled by one side against the other, which damages the political process and creates a climate of divisiveness that ultimately will drive voters away from the polls. To avoid such senseless and destructive recrimination, and to ensure that each Coloradan’s vote is counted, let’s work together to protect the integrity of the voting process.”

Gates also denied ever seeing the DNC document that publicly debuted Thursday on the Drudge Web site.

It’s “a DNC memo I have never even seen and nobody on my staff has ever even seen. They (the Colorado Republicans) should be embarrassed.”

Haro verified the authenticity of the directive, but downplayed the Republican reaction as nothing but a diversion from the previous night’s debate.

“The reality is … (the Republicans) are taking a 66-page document and whittling it down to one word, ‘pre-emptive.’ And they are now making a big display over this one word. … (The debate is) what we should be talking about. Not one word in a 66-page document.”

And both Haro and Gates said the term “pre-emptive” wasn’t the best descriptor.

“It the end, it was just a poor choice of words. … I would have said ‘proactive,’” Gates said, while adding, “We’ve made no apologies.”

Halaby’s interpretation of the wording, however, isn’t quite the same, though he admits that “much of (the manual) is routine poll-watcher guidelines.”

“Listen, the language is very clear,” Halaby said. “I’ve heard the spin they’ve already put out today. … They are saying it doesn’t say what it says.”

Halaby also accused the DNC and the Kerry campaign of using the “race card” as a wedge issue. “They are trying to play the race card—something that we haven’t had in politics in Colorado. … They want to rile up the minorities to denounce tactics that do not exist.”

The Democrats deny such a maneuver, instead claiming that the Republicans are merely running scared.

According to Haro, “history has shown that when turnout is high, Republicans lose.”

And Gates agrees. “The Republican Party is preparing to lose on Nov. 2, because the only thing they’re talking to reporters about is all the lawsuits they’re going to file on Nov. 3 … when things don’t go their way.”

“The minute (Halaby) said we’re trying to play the race card,” Haro added, “he played the race card,” citing this as evidence of “how exclusionary these people are. What’s wrong with saying (every vote counts)? … We want to make sure that their tactics do nothing to suppress turnout (and) do nothing to turn off voters.”

But Halaby emphasized it “is a criminal act to falsely allege something that does not exist” and called upon the Democrats on Thursday to “renounce these underhanded tactics.”

Using a phrase from the page in question fin the DNC guide, Halaby emphasized, “If there are ‘no signs of intimidation,’ then we’re doing things right.”

When asked about the Republican counterpart of the manual, however, Halaby said his office only has one copy and directed reporters to contact the Republican National Committee.

“We do not have any such negative, underhanded tactics built in to address something that doesn’t exist,” he maintained, deeming the Democratic document “a new low in gutter politics.”

But the Colorado Democrats held their ground.

According to Haro, “We know that voter fraud occurrences have happened in the past. For the most part, Republicans have been behind these instances.”

“The Republican Party doesn’t have the right to lecture anybody about this issue,” Gates said, “and the Democratic Party is going to ensure that our rights are protected. …The whole thing is pretty awkward, considering this is a memo nobody has even seen.

“It really does sort of smack of desperation on their part,” Gates maintained, adding that if the war, the economy, job loss and the “polls are going against you, you start chipping away” at your opponent’s internal documents.

“George Bush went 0 for 3 (in the presidential debates),” Haro added. “They’re running scared and this is all they know how to do.”

Rich, L. E. (2004, October 15). Dems caught red-handed: Colorado GOP deems DNC playbook ‘abhorrent.’ The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 15.

Second Place – Government and Political Writing – Colorado Press Women – May 2005

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