- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Republicans already are considering various strategies for President Bush to use against Howard Dean, the man they expect to head the Democratic presidential ticket next year.

Republicans say one tactic for containing Mr. Dean’s surging campaign is to connect the former Vermont governor with George McGovern, the antiwar liberal Democratic presidential nominee who lost in a landslide to President Nixon in the 1972 election.

Frank J. Donatelli, former Reagan White House political director, said, “It will be necessary for Bush to make Dean unacceptable to independents and a segment of the Democratic Party — to ‘McGovernize’ him.

“Howard Dean will want to be the Democratic version of John McCain, and the Bush folks have to make sure he is McGovern,” Mr. Donatelli said.

Republicans say Mr. Dean, whose campaign received a huge boost from Tuesday’s endorsement by former Vice President Al Gore, is likely to emerge as the Democratic nominee for next year’s presidential election.

“Unless Hillary Clinton steps in, in which case I believe the nomination would be hers, Dean will probably emerge as the nominee in February,” Republican strategist Eddie Mahe said.

Opinion polls show that Mr. Dean is widening his lead over his nearest Democratic presidential rivals in the first two binding nomination contests — Iowa and New Hampshire.

Republican strategists say the fall election will rest mainly on the public’s attitude toward the war in Iraq. They predict that the rebounding economy will benefit Mr. Bush, prompting the Democrats to focus on other issues.

But in the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night, Mr. Dean, who first gained popularity based on his opposition to the Iraq war, attacked Mr. Bush’s economic record.

“The president has lost 3 million jobs,” Mr. Dean said. “What this election is about is taking this country back for ordinary people.”

Mr. Dean’s insurgent, anti-establishment campaign has drawn comparisons to the 2000 run for the Republican presidential nomination by Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, however, says Republican attempts to portray Mr. Dean as a fire-breathing McGovernite might be difficult.

“Dean clearly is a phenomenon, but not necessarily a Goldwater or a McGovern,” said Mr. Gingrich, Georgia Republican. “Dean is more clever and tougher.”

But Republican strategists say the Bush campaign will seek to portray Mr. Dean as a tax-and-spend liberal who cannot be trusted on national-security issues.

If the former Vermont governor secures the nomination, the Bush forces “will need to execute a plan to keep Mr. Dean’s stature in the presidential contest from growing any bigger than it already is,” Mr. Mahe said. “Bush has to make sure his base is as excited as Dean’s. So you will see Bush surrogates going after Dean for wanting to raise taxes, re-regulate business and showing weakness on national defense.”

Mr. Dean, however, has impressed some Republicans with his abilities to raise money and motivate the Democratic Party’s liberal base. Once-skeptical Republicans say this could make him competitive with Mr. Bush.

Mr. Dean’s strengths, said former Bush campaign strategist Charles Black, is that “he showed he can come from nowhere to be the front-runner, be good on his feet, gather a very intense base of support. You have to think that every Democrat — at the grass roots at least — will want to turn out if he is the nominee.

“Also, Dean has a few things in his record — like an ‘A’ rating from the National Rifle Association — that would allow him to move more toward the center of the political spectrum after he becomes the clear nominee,” Mr. Black said. “But the Bush campaign and its surrogates should hold Dean to the more radical positions he has taken more recently.”

As governor of Vermont, Mr. Dean signed legislation granting homosexual couples the right to have civil unions. He also has called for the expansion of government-run health care.

Yet it is his opposition to the Iraq war and relative inexperience in foreign affairs that Republicans hope to exploit in a general campaign.

Republican pollster David Winston said the president’s team “will have to draw contrasts with Dean on taxes and, at the same time, focus on the war against terrorism — and Saddam Hussein’s complicity in fostering terrorism.”

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