GOP chief says press aids Democrats’ dirty campaign

Democrats are mounting the “dirtiest” presidential campaign in history, and the press is playing along, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie charged yesterday.

Mr. Gillespie said Democratic front-runner John Kerry and his party have tried to smear President Bush as having been absent without leave from the Air National Guard, while Mr. Bush and his fellow Republicans have campaigned strictly on public policy issues.

Democratic activists have gone so far as to plant false accusations that Mr. Bush once paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion, Mr. Gillespie charged.

“We now know that sometime this fall Kerry campaign operatives intend to go into pro-life chat rooms on the Internet to spread a scurrilous story that President Bush drove a former girlfriend to an abortion clinic, and paid for her abortion, according to the New York Daily News,” the RNC chief said.

The Daily News reported Monday that rock star Moby, a Kerry supporter, expressed hope of dampening Republican turnout in November by spreading anti-Bush gossip on the Internet.

“For example, you can go on all the pro-life chat rooms and say you’re an outraged right-wing voter and that you know that George Bush drove an ex-girlfriend to an abortion clinic and paid for her to get an abortion,” the newspaper quoted the techno-rocker saying, adding: “Moby didn’t claim that he believed the abortion story.”

Dirty tricks are old news in politics. Several analysts have said Mr. Bush might have won the popular vote in 2000 — and perhaps avoided the Florida recount fight — had it not been for a Democratic operative’s success in breaking a story on the Thursday before Election Day that Mr. Bush had been arrested for drunken driving almost 25 years earlier.

Mr. Bush’s advisers had urged their candidate to make the arrest known to the press a year earlier. Instead, revelation of his September 1976 arrest for driving under the influence in Kennebunkport, Maine — Mr. Bush, then 30, paid a $150 fine — became a “scandal” that dominated news coverage in the final days of the 2000 campaign. Before the DUI story broke, polls had shown Mr. Bush leading Democrat Al Gore.

Yesterday, Mr. Gillespie blamed Democrats for pushing news stories that cast doubt on Mr. Bush’s Vietnam-era service as a Texas Air National Guard pilot.

Noting military records confirming “one Lt. George W. Bush’s visit to an Air Force dentist while on guard duty” in Alabama, the RNC chairman joked that “the media will follow up with: ‘Well, that only proves his teeth were there, but do you have any proof of the rest of his body being there?’”

Mr. Gillespie contrasted Republican tactics with those of Democrats.

“We highlight policies, and note Senator Kerry’s long Senate record,” he said. “They accuse the president of desertion, a military crime punishable by death — as the [Wesley] Clark campaign did — or accuse the president of being AWOL, which is a felony punishable by imprisonment, as [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Terry McAuliffe has done.”

In a speech prepared for delivery last night at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Reno, Nev., Mr. Gillespie noted: “The Washington Times published a letter from Col. William Campenni who says he was a lieutenant with President Bush in the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.” In the letter published Wednesday, Col. Campenni, who is now retired from the Air Force and living in Virginia, said many Guard pilots got excused leaves from training duty because of civilian career conflicts, as Mr. Bush has said he did in the fall of 1972.

A McAuliffe spokesman accused Mr. Gillespie of “hyperventilating,” saying recently released Guard records failed to “clear up this controversy.”

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