- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

LOS ANGELES Republicans here are reveling over continued dissension in Democratic ranks, prime-time emphasis on faded party liberals and now a new poll that shows George W. Bush getting a bounce from the Democrats' own convention.
"They've always put on a really good facade up until now," said Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey. "This is a party trying to figure out, does it win an election or does it go back to its liberal base?"
While that assessment is expected from Republicans, some Democrats publicly expressed growing frustration over Vice President Al Gore's poor performance in the polls.
"We pick up the morning paper, and we can't understand how a guy like George W. Bush can be leading a guy with the kind of caliber, experience and know-how as Al Gore," Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware told a breakfast meeting of the Michigan delegation yesterday.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts even grumbled about the overshadowing and lingering presence of President Clinton.
"We may need to get the Jaws of Life to pry him free from the thing but we've got to pry him free. The fact is … he is a vastly talented, enormously engaged political person, but he has to step back now."
A new bipartisan poll taken overnight Tuesday shows Democrats have plenty to grumble about. According to the Battleground survey, Mr. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee and governor of Texas, actually increasing his lead over Mr. Gore from eight to 11 points during the Democratic Party's showcase.
Republican leaders' assessment was that Democrats have squandered valuable time on internal squabbles, such as Rep. Loretta Sanchez's fund-raising flap at the Playboy Mansion, and on more serious problems, such as the black community's rift with vice-presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman over affirmative action and school vouchers.
"This is a pretty dispirited Democratic Party right now," said Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson. "There's an apathy [in the hall] that I sense that certainly wasn't at our convention. There are a lot of empty seats, people don't jump up and down out of their seats with enthusiasm to applaud speakers."
Some Democrats, however, said the party is unified.
"There's tremendous enthusiasm about Al Gore and his message," said Jon Corzine, a U.S. Senate candidate from New Jersey. He said delegates are "fired up."
While Republicans still expect the presidential race to be essentially a dead heat by Labor Day, they say the signs of discontent at the convention point to trouble ahead for Democrats, both in getting out their own vote and luring independents.
Combined with Monday night's partisan attacks, in which Democrats criticized Mr. Bush directly or indirectly 138 times (by the GOP's count), Republican strategists say there is evidence of at least a temporary backlash against the Democratic ticket.
"I don't think it's serving their interests," Mr. Nicholson said. "It's probably helping us. It turns off the American people, and that's what this battle is about."
Said one Republican operative, "If they're trying to say they are new Democrats, why did they drag out the 'Lefty Loser' contingent?" referring to Tuesday night's lineup of former Sen. Bill Bradley, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. All three men have failed in presidential bids over the past 20 years.
"I know why they did it they're trying to consolidate their base," said Mr. Nicholson. "But it surprised me how far they went to the left for a party that's trying to reinvent itself."
Mr. Gore has been attracting only about 75 percent of Democrats in surveys, compared with more than 90 percent Republican support for Mr. Bush.
"They lurched left … with Ted Kennedy leading the way," said Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III of Virginia.
In contrast, Mr. Bush controlled the Republican convention in Philadelphia to such an extent that the party complied with his desire to scrap the traditional night of partisan jabs at Democrats. Virtually no one mentioned Mr. Gore from the podium.
Mrs. Whitman said the speech by her fellow New Jerseyite, Mr. Bradley, raised many of the same issues for which he criticized Mr. Gore in the Democratic primary.
Mr. Bradley "used about one paragraph to talk about Al Gore and then went off on a diatribe, I felt, of the failures of this administration … that there are 44 million uninsured Americans. That, to me, was vintage Bill Bradley talking about his campaign four years from now," Mrs. Whitman said.
"I'm surprised they allowed him to give that speech," she added.
Republicans said the chinks in Democrats' armor will not change the GOP's strategy or its campaign message, but the noticeable dissension at this convention could have an impact on Democratic fund raising.
The Republican National Committee is operating a "Victory 2000" command post on the fifth floor of a building across the street from the Staples Center, site of the Democratic convention. Mr. Nicholson, Republican governors and congressional Republicans such as Rep. David Dreier of California hold daily press briefings to counter the Democrats' message.
They also prowl the halls of the convention, seeking intelligence and reporters.
One Republican source said the GOP is especially interested in the continuing split between Mr. Lieberman and black Democrats, saying it highlights one of Mr. Gore's shortcomings in leadership compared with Mr. Clinton.
"Clinton had this incredible ability to say, 'Shut up and get in line behind me,' " the Republican said. "Gore just doesn't have that ability."
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, once considered a vice-presidential candidate for Mr. Gore, acknowledged yesterday Democrats still have work to do with their base of traditional supporters.
"Right now, the Democratic base is energized and in the days ahead it will be united," Mr. Richardson told The Washington Times. "This is a period where we're getting our strategy together."

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