- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Republicans are challenging Democratic claims that Al Gore has been the most influential vice president in history in the wake of the removal of Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives by armed federal agents.

"In Elian's case, the vice president has shown that he has been been either ineffective or not influential," Texas Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign spokesman, Mindy Tucker, said in an interview yesterday.

For several weeks, Mr. Gore, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, had opposed the Clinton administration's position that the Gonzalez boy should be removed from the Miami home of his relatives.

"Al Gore agrees with us that this matter should have been settled by a court of law, not by Attorney General Janet Reno or the bureaucrats in Washington," Clifford May, communications director for the Republican National Committee, said.

"But Al Gore did nothing to help," said Mr. May. "He was entirely ineffectual."

Mr. Bush has been sympathetic to Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives and condemned what the Clinton administration did Saturday.

He told reporters yesterday: "This is not a political issue as far as I'm concerned. What is important for those of us in the political life is to be consistent in our message, thoughtful in our response.

"I thought my position was a very thoughtful one, thoughtful for the boy, thoughtful for the deceased mom, and thoughtful for the dad as well."

In a Zogby poll of 680 likely voters Sunday, 29 percent of independents said they were less likely to vote for Mr. Gore because of his opposition to Mr. Clinton on returning Elian to his father. Only 6 percent of independents said they were more likely to vote for Mr. Gore as a result of his position.

"The appearance, at least, was that Gore's break with the administration over Elian was a political move to appeal to Cuban-Americans in Florida," independent pollster John Zogby said.

Politically, in Mr. May's view, the way the Clinton administration handled the taking of the boy "is hurting not Bush, but Gore, whose biggest claim to succeeding Clinton in the White House is that he has been the most influential vice president in history."

"But what happened in the dawn hours of Saturday shows that either he knew what the administration and Reno were going to do, and didn't have the courage of his convictions or the influence he claimed over his own administration to stop it, or he was kept out of the loop by his own administration," Mr. May said.

Mr. Zogby noted that Mr. Gore said several weeks ago that the Elian issue should be settled in the courts and that, meanwhile, the boy should reside with his relatives in Miami and should be given asylum in the United States.

"That hurt him with independents and with men and women alike," said Mr. Zogby. "He needs the support that usually goes to Clinton and Democrats, and already he is hurting among men. So this poses only pain and no gain for Gore."

But Democratic campaign strategist Mark Mellman doubted most voters know about Mr. Gore's position on Elian or that it would drive voters' decision in November. "This won't even make the list of the top 20 reasons for the outcome of the presidential elections when we look back," he said.

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