- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Special-interest groups that have endorsed U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb are showing campaign-trail savvy in racking up free media coverage by staging endorsement and "voter education" appearances sometimes more than once.
Glen Besa, president of the Virginia Sierra Club chapter, said his group has had about 10 voter education events, including one today, bashing the environmental record of Mr. Robb's challenger, former Gov. George F. Allen.
And each time, wire services, newspapers and television and radio stations report the event as if the organization has newly endorsed Mr. Robb.
The Virginia Education Association also got a two-fer it endorsed Mr. Robb in April, but in August it released a report card criticizing Mr. Allen's education record. Once again, it was duly reported as an endorsement.
The Sierra Club, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's National Voter Fund and Handgun Control Inc. have also run advertisements criticizing Mr. Allen's record.
On the other side, Mr. Allen's groups have been less energetic.
None of his groups has run advertisements, and some of those that have endorsed him haven't even called a news conference to make their case on his behalf.
But Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Allen campaign, said the groups that have endorsed Mr. Allen are nonpartisan groups that evaluate the candidates and make their endorsement. They include the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which will hold a news conference announcing its endorsement today. Mr. Murtaugh contrasted that to the VEA and the Sierra Club, which he called "dead-to-rights Democratic groups."
Mo Elleithee, spokesman for the Robb campaign, saw the groups who endorsed Mr. Robb in a different way.
"These are folks who every day are on the front lines, whether they're for education or the environment or public safety," he said.
There are plenty of endorsements still to be announced.
Mr. Robb continues to pile up the endorsements, including yesterday's by the Veterans of Foreign Wars' political action committee.
But those groups that announced their support early and often have certainly helped Mr. Robb.
Jean Bankos, president of the VEA, said after it endorsed Mr. Robb it developed a plan for "how we're going to get the most bang for our buck."
That's what led to the August report card mailing that many papers reported anew as an endorsement of Mr. Robb more free press, and during back-to-school time.
Still, that doesn't bother Republicans as much as the television ads Mr. Robb's allies run and Mr. Allen's allies have yet to match.
"The problem is not press conferences, the problem is not op-ed pieces, the problem is not free media. The problem is $500,000 television ads, vs. squat," said one Republican activist. "That's just not the way taxpayer groups and these other groups do it."
Al Cors Jr. at the National Taxpayers Union, one of the groups one might expect to have endorsed Mr. Allen, said it is still considering its endorsement and one might be forthcoming. But even then the Union doesn't have much money to throw around, that shouldn't be surprising given its membership is, by definition, frugal, he said.
Mr. Allen may also have lost the expected endorsement of groups such as Gun Owners of America with his recent stances on firearms.
Some of the business groups supporting Mr. Allen do plan to spend money. The U.S. Chamber and NFIB are still finalizing their national strategies, and both groups believe the Allen-Robb race is important. Both could pay for issues ads if they think it's necessary.
Matt Latimer, a spokesman for the NFIB, said one reason for the disparity between the campaigns' supporters could be the status of the campaigns.
"We think that this is really a sign of the perilous shape Chuck Robb is in that all these groups have to come to his aid," he said. "While we're always ready to stand with Gov. Allen if the need arises, we think he's in terrific shape."
The business groups say they can offer something else. In addition to giving the maximum $5,000 for the primary and $5,000 for the general election allowed by law, they encourage their members to support Mr. Allen with their time and money.

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