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Hands-on campaigning

Bush, Cheney, Kerry, Edwards stump back-to-back in Colorado

By Leigh E. Rich

If they’re not engaged in an official debate, then the presidential candidates and their running mates are most likely in Colorado.

Since the first presidential debate on the last day of September, Dick Cheney, John Kerry, George W. Bush and John Edwards all have stumped—practically back-to-back—in the Rocky Mountain state.

Sen. Kerry brushed up for the second presidential debate, held last Friday at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., at the Inverness Hotel in Centennial, while President Bush spoke to a filled Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Monday and a Colorado Springs crowd on Tuesday—one day prior to the third debate in Tempe, Ariz.

Edwards held another town hall-style meeting in Colorado, this time on the topic of job creation, at Adams City High School in Commerce City—virtually at the same time as Bush’s Springs stopover. And Cheney kicked off the Colorado appearances from Denver’s downtown Marriott the night the first presidential debate was held in Miami.

Even Kerry’s oldest daughter, Alexandra, joined Congressman Mark Udall, D-2nd CD, and 6th and 7th CD Democratic candidates Joanna Conti and Dave Thomas on Monday morning to speak about environmental issues that affect Colorado’s economy and tourism.

Though the candidates have all left the Centennial state for now, there are still two weeks left in the election and both campaigns have voiced concerns about what Coloradans will do at the polls come Nov. 2.

“The polling, as you all know, has been all over the map,” Udall said Monday morning, adding that “people in Colorado want a change. We need change.”

“We actually are a battleground state,” Gov. Bill Owens told the Red Rocks crowd Monday afternoon at the “W Rocks” stump. “We are absorbing the other side’s attention and money. … This is a very serious campaign.”

Owens laid out three reasons why Colorado, which has traditionally voted red when it comes to the office of the president, has turned into a swing state in the 2004 election.

First, “it is going to come upon us, our nine electoral votes, to reelect this president,” Owens said.

The Bush campaign has acknowledged that it can’t overlook Colorado as a sure thing this time around, even though the last time the state voted for a Democratic candidate—with the exception of Bill Clinton in the 1992 election that included viable third-party contender H. Ross Perot—was in 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson went up against Barry M. Goldwater.

Second, Owens said, the balance of party power in the Senate depends on Colorado.

“The United States Senate is closely divided. We need to keep Colorado in the Republican column,” Owens urged.

And the third reason—“it’s called Amendment 36,” Owens said, spending the better part of his speaking time campaigning against the ballot initiative that would divide Colorado’s electoral votes proportionally according to the popular vote and end the current “winner-take-all” approach.

The Red Rocks crowd booed the amendment, particularly when Owens stated that “a gentleman down in Brazil named Jorge de Alva” has backed 36 but has not accepted invitations to debate the governor on the issue.

J. Jorge Klor de Alva, an American citizen with a doctorate and a law degree and a former professor of anthropology at Princeton University and the University of California at Berkeley, is a donor to the nonprofit People’s Choice for President—an organization that teamed up with the Colorado campaign Make Your Vote Count to secure the signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot.

“Instead of plus-nine for our president,” Owens warned, “it would be five for our president and four for (John Kerry). … We don’t want to divide our votes this year. … We’ve got to defeat it this year for President Bush’s sake. We’ve got to defeat it this year for Colorado’s sake.”

And one person shouted from the crowd, “And for America’s sake!”

Though Colorado’s Amendment 36 has made national news in recent weeks, the Bush-Cheney team has refused to talk about it.

During a media conference call with the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign team the day before the second presidential debate, campaign manger Ken Mehlman said, when asked about the amendment, “I’m not going to comment on that initiative in Colorado. I’m confident that President Bush will win the popular and the electoral vote.”

Mehlman, deputy campaign manger Mark Wallace and chief strategist Matthew Dowd also refused to comment on how the president was preparing for the second, town hall-style debate on Friday.

“I’m confident tomorrow,” Mehlman said last Thursday, “notwithstanding that Senator Kerry is an effective debater … the president will lay out his vision for the next four years,” though adding twice that “I’m not going to get into that” when reporters pressed him for preparation details.

A similar pre-debate conference call with Kerry’s team on Friday lent some insight as to how the senator prepped in Colorado. Taking over the conference areas of the Inverness Hotel, Kerry engaged in mock debate sessions, practiced the town-hall format, reviewed the issues and other pertinent materials, and spent time with advisers, said senior strategist Ted Devine.

“I suspect, after the first debate,” Devine said—deeming Bush’s preparations for the first debate as “running around on his ranch”—“the president will be spending a lot of time in debate prep.”

The second time around

Both candidates came well prepared for the second of the three presidential debates, addressing prescreened questions from the audience selected by moderator Charles Gibson.

“Making the right choices” seemed to be the focus of the second debate.

In answer to the first question about the claim that Kerry is too “wishy-washy,” the Massachusetts senator maintained that his opponent’s campaign is a “weapon of mass deception” in this regard and stated that he supports the goals of the Patriot Act, the No Child Left Behind Act and tax cuts, just not how the Bush administration has implemented them.

President Bush opened his side of the discussion with Kerry’s vote against the $87 billion in funding for the military.

He also ended the debate with this argument—in a rebuttal to a question about “three instances in which you (Bush) … made a wrong decision and what you did to correct it”—stating that Kerry “complains about the fact that our troops don’t have adequate equipment, yet he voted against the $87 billion supplemental I sent to the Congress and then issued one of the most amazing quotes in political history.”

But both Bush and Kerry sidestepped this final question, with the president reiterating three times that he has made “the right decision,” particularly with regard to Iraq and tax cuts, and the senator focusing on Bush’s “catastrophic mistake” in Iraq “not to live up to his own standard, which was build a true coalition, give the inspectors time to finish their job … go through the U.N. process to its end and go to war as a last resort.”

Early on in the debate, however, Bush seemingly admitted making a mistake.

“I wasn’t happy when we found out there wasn’t weapons” in Iraq, Bush said, “and we’ve got an intelligence group together to figure out why.”

Throughout the debate, Kerry pointed out what he believes are other Bush mistakes, including allowing Iran to grow as a nuclear threat while being “preoccupied with Iraq”; not engaging with North Korea “despite the warnings of former Secretary of Defense William Perry”; choosing “a tax cut over homeland security”; permitting a “$25 billion giveaway to the biggest corporations in America, including a $254 million refund check to Enron”; breaking the “pay-as-you-go rule” with regard to the deficit; and choosing a stem cell research “policy that makes it impossible for our scientists” to find cures.

In retort, Bush claimed Kerry’s big mistake is approaching the question of Iraq with the “mindset” that “America must pass a global test before we (use) force to protect ourselves.”

He also maintained that Kerry’s “grand idea” of “holding a summit” in Iraq won’t work. “Nobody is going to follow somebody who doesn’t believe we can succeed and with somebody who says the war … is a mistake.”

Talking over Gibson as the moderator tried to follow up on a question that raised the issue of unilateral action, an impassioned Bush told Kerry, “You tell Tony Blair we’re going alone. Tell Tony Blair we’re going alone. Tell Silvio Berlusconi we’re going alone. Tell Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland we’re going alone. There are 30 countries there.”

Bush also repeated nine times some form of his claim that “sometimes in this world you make unpopular decisions because you think they’re right,” while accusing Kerry early on that he changes his mind “because of politics.”

Third time’s the charm

In the third debate, however, Bush flipped in this stance and instead accused Kerry of not going along with the majority.

“ You know, there’s a mainstream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank,” Bush said with regard to Kerry’s record on taxes and government spending.

Kerry countered twice with the defense that he “broke with (his) party” in the 1980s “fighting for fiscal responsibility.”

“I have supported or voted for tax cuts over 600 times. I broke with my party in order to balance the budget, and Ronald Reagan signed into law the tax cut that we voted for.”

Later on, Bush reiterated his claim, this time concerning the partial-birth abortion ban: “My opponent, in that he’s out of the mainstream, voted against that law.”

For his part, Kerry repeated allegations that America has lost 1.6 million jobs on the president’s watch. “He’s also the only president in 72 years to lose jobs,” Kerry maintained.

This was the battle cry heard from the Kerry team in the conference call prior to the second debate. The Bush campaign, Kerry economic adviser Jason Furman said, has been “going into the same fantasy world of spin … with excuses and denials” regarding America’s economy.

“Let’s look at their own forecast. … They are millions of jobs short of the … standard they set,” Furman said.

Bush defended his tax-cut policies in the third debate in light of an economy he said he inherited. The “tax relief was important to spur consumption and investment to get us out of this recession. People need to remember, six months prior to my arrival, the stock market started to go down. And it was one of the largest declines in our history. And then we had a recession and we got attacked, which cost us 1 million jobs.”

“Does the president understand (what is happening to middle-class families)?” Kerry adviser Devine posed to teleconference reporters last week. “Does he have a different understanding of what’s happening here? … Does he really believe that America’s economy has turned the corner?”

But the focus of the final debate seemed to be on education and health care, despite the fact that moderator Bob Schieffer opened the evening on domestic policy with a question of foreign policy.

Will “our children and grandchildren,” Schieffer asked, “ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?”—to which both candidates trotted out well-worn statements about the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

Kerry, attacking quickly out of the gate, maintained, “I believe that this president, regrettably, rushed us into a war, made decisions about foreign policy, pushed alliances away. And, as a result, America is now bearing this extraordinary burden where we are not as safe as we ought to be.”

Almost as predictable, Bush retorted, “Yes, we can be safe and secure, if we stay on the offense against the terrorists and if we spread freedom and liberty around the world. I have got a comprehensive strategy to not only chase down the al-Qaida, wherever it exists … but to make sure that countries that harbor terrorists are held to account. … We held to account a terrorist regime in Saddam Hussein. … I signed the homeland security bill to better align our assets and resources. My opponent voted against it.”

And neither candidate seemed to have an answer to Schieffer’s “what do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who’s being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?”

The president used all of his allotted answer time to talk about education, including helping Americans attend community colleges, expanding Pell Grants and raising standards in early education.

“No, education is how to help the person who’s lost a job. Education is how to make sure we’ve got a workforce that’s productive and competitive.”

Kerry spent the better part of his answer responding to a previous comment about fiscal responsibility and then promised “to do those things … (to) help workers to transition,” after accusing Bush of cutting job-training money as well as Pell Grants and Perkins loans.

The “president just walks on by this problem,” Kerry said.

Neither discussed how he would help the post-baccalaureate citizen who already has one or more college degrees.

Bush again raised the subject of education when Schieffer asked whether it is time to raise the minimum wage and later in response to a question about affirmative action.

“Listen, the No Child Left Behind Act is really a jobs act when you think about it,” Bush stated.

“And, secondly, like my opponent … I agree we shouldn’t have quotas. … But we ought to have an aggressive effort to make sure people are educated, to make sure when they get out of high school there’s Pell Grants available for them.”

Concerning jobs and affirmative action, the Massachusetts senator promised to “make the playing field as fair as possible.”

Throughout the debate, Kerry also spoke heavily to the current health care crisis in America, citing statistics about how many citizens in different states have “lost their health insurance under President Bush’s watch” and how “this administration has stood in the way of commonsense efforts that would have reduced costs,” such as importing drugs from Canada and negotiating bulk purchasing of prescription medicine.

Bush, who commented early on in the debate about using Canadian supplies to solve the shortfall in this season’s flu vaccine, promised to reform medical liability lawsuits and the “defensive practice of medicine” and encouraged health savings accounts and introducing “high technology into health care.”

Despite attacks from each other, both candidates defended their education and health care records.

According to Bush, “only a liberal senator from Massachusetts would say that a 49 percent increase in funding for education was not enough,” while Kerry promised he has “a better plan” for a healthier America:

“The fact is that my health-care plan, America, is very simple. It gives you the choice. I don’t force you to do anything. It’s not a government plan. The government doesn’t require you to do anything. You choose your doctor. You choose your plan. If you don’t want to take the offer of the plan that I want to put forward, you don’t have to.

“You can keep what you have today, keep a high deductible, keep high premiums, keep a high co-pay, keep low benefits.”
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). Hands-on campaigning: Bush, Cheney, Kerry, Edwards stump back-to-back in Colorado. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 10, 14–15.

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