- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2000

The campaign of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas is blitzing supporters on Capitol Hill and nationwide with phone calls to dispel worry over his loss in Michigan and warn that Democrats will abandon Sen. John McCain in the fall.

"Clearly, they're turning up the volume," said Laura Cox, spokeswoman for Sen. Paul Coverdell, Georgia Republican and a Bush supporter. "Chances are, the unions and liberal Democrats are going to be voting for [Vice President] Al Gore and not John McCain."

Mr. McCain won Michigan's open Republican presidential primary on Tuesday with heavy support from Democrats and independents, but he attracted only one in four Republican voters.

The new Bush effort includes some serious arm-twisting behind the scenes by Bush surrogates to encourage members of Congress who have not yet endorsed Mr. Bush to do so now, Hill sources said.

In a barrage of phone calls and e-mail messages, Bush supporters like Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, are urging the faithful in Congress to downplay the Michigan result as a fluke and to go on the airwaves in states with upcoming primaries to get out the vote.

"Roy Blunt is wielding a heavy hammer right now," said a senior House Republican aide.

"We're being bombarded with talking points," said an aide to a Senate Republican.

Mr. Blunt said Thursday that members of Congress who endorse Mr. Bush "have a real opportunity to get involved" in 23 states' Republican primaries between now and March 14. He said recent converts include Republican Reps. Nick Smith of Michigan and Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland, both of whom previously supported Steve Forbes.

"Collectively, they aren't helpful," Mr. Blunt said. "Individually, they can be very helpful. They have a network of people who've helped them."

Mr. Bush's seven-point loss in Michigan has prompted more second-guessing about his strength as a candidate and his campaign strategy. But Bush supporters say there is not the same level of alarm that followed his 18-point loss to Mr. McCain in New Hampshire's primary on Feb. 1.

"It's not the first time, so it's not as much of a shock to people," said Michele Davis, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican and another Bush supporter.

Said one Senate Republican staffer, "It's almost like you're on an airplane and the captain tells you that you're going to hit turbulence. You still know you're going to land safely."

One reason that Bush supporters are not in full panic mode is the recognition that Democrats swayed the Michigan primary. Urged by Democratic leaders to vote for Mr. McCain, twice as many Michigan Democrats voted this year as did in the 1996 Republican primary.

"We're focused on Governor Bush doing extremely well with Republicans," Miss Cox said. "Democrats won't be able to select the Republican nominee. We're very focused on that fact."

Of the 23 Republican primaries to be held through March 14, only six states allow Democrats to choose delegates.

Another reason for relative calm is Mr. Bush's 11-point win in South Carolina last Saturday.

"Our spirits were lifted after South Carolina," said a House Republican leadership aide. "The intensity he showed in South Carolina is the intensity he needs to display throughout the campaign."

But many Bush supporters acknowledge concern with what they view as the campaign's recent strategic blunders. They especially chafe at the campaign spending $2 million in Mr. McCain's home state of Arizona where Mr. Bush lost by 24 points on Tuesday and the decision for Mr. Bush to speak on Feb. 2 at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., an institution that has been accused of an anti-Catholic bias.

Chris DePino, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party and a strong Bush ally, said he agrees with Gov. John Rowland that it was "stupid" for Mr. Bush to speak at the school. The McCain campaign used recorded phone messages to alert voters in Michigan, a state with a large Catholic population, that Mr. Bush had appeared at the university.

"It created an issue where none should exist," Mr. DePino said. "We gift-wrapped it and sent it over to John McCain to use. Christianity is not the issue in this campaign."

Mr. DePino also said it was "a little bit disconcerting" that the Bush campaign spent so much money in Arizona.

"Party chairmen know how precious it is to raise money," he said. "We try to place our money for its highest and best use. We certainly could have used it better in other areas."

Said a House Republican leadership aide, "That's pretty stupid money management. There's growing concern about how they're spending their money."

Mr. Bush told reporters Thursday, "I never expected to win Arizona. It was just part of our overall strategy."

Mr. DePino said he has been urging the Bush campaign to bring the candidate to Connecticut, where Mr. Bush has not stopped since last summer.

"I'm hopeful he'll come back before the March 7 primary," Mr. DePino said. "His presence is dearly needed in the Northeast."

One Republican operative summarized the mood of Bush supporters on Capitol Hill this way Thursday: "I wouldn't call it scrambling. People who were in the Bush camp are still in the Bush camp. But they're dejected. The more you see of George Bush, the more unsure of George Bush you become."

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