- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Grass-roots Republicans reacted angrily to a deal that would transfer the management of six U.S. ports by an Arab-owned company in Dubai, but that anger subsided once they learned more about the agreement, state party chairmen said yesterday.

“The more information we got out, and the fact that there has been a cooling-off period for an investigative review, the better the reaction has been,” said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett.

Interviews with Republican leaders yesterday revealed that the flurry of concern at the party’s base when the story broke largely has dissipated after a massive information offensive through party communications channels.

“I heard from people when the news was fresh — from the populist, protectionist types. But I think it’s better now than it was two weeks ago,” said Tim Shallenburger, the Kansas state party chairman.

Mr. Shallenburger, the former speaker of the state House, said his first reaction to the port deal was similar to the reaction he heard from party activists.

“I was a little shocked. But the Republican National Committee does a good job of spin, and they started sending me information as the news broke,” he said. “The more I investigated it and heard about it, the better I felt.”

Other Republican chairmen said that although the shipping port deal by a global company owned by the Dubai government in the United Arab Emirates had turned into a heated controversy in the nation’s capital, it had not sparked a similar reaction at the grass-roots level.

“On a scale of one to 10, there hasn’t been much reaction to be honest with you,” said Colorado party Chairman Robert Martinez. “It hasn’t been brought up in any party forums I’ve been talking to or the Lincoln Day dinners we’ve been holding.”

Others said that the issue has been raised in the past week at party meetings, but that the reaction on the whole has supported President Bush’s arguments for the Dubai firm’s ownership of the terminal company.

“We had a state central committee meeting last night and one member, a former FBI security official, stood up and was very supportive of the president’s action,” said Connecticut Republican Chairman George Gallo. “I know it’s on the front pages in Washington, but it doesn’t seem to be resonating in Connecticut.”

Republican support for Mr. Bush’s defense of the deal appeared strongest in the South, where it initially triggered some complaints among the party’s conservative base.

“But when the facts were laid out, that the UAE has been a strong ally of the U.S. and what is involved in operating ports, not owning them, that concern subsided,” said Georgia Republican Chairman Alec Poitevint.

Arkansas Republican Chairman Gilbert Baker, a state senator, said his party’s base in the state had “confidence that protection of the ports was going to be a higher priority for Bush” because of the way he has “handled the whole war on terror.”