- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

Democratic leaders beyond the Beltway are taking President Bush's combined charm-and-outreach campaign seriously enough to throw up a protective shield around their voter base.

Mr. Bush has invited Democratic House and Senate leaders to the White House for personal chats, spoken at their private retreats, had famous liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts over to see a movie and met with the Congressional Black Caucus.

Democratic leaders credit Mr. Bush with having made more of an effort to consult with the opposition's congressional leadership in his first two weeks in office than President Clinton did in his first two years.

"It probably would have served Bill Clinton to have done a lot of outreach in the beginning and probably has served Bush well," said Gwethalyn M. Phillips, chairman of Maine's state Democratic Party. "I think what we have to do as Democrats is wake up and say, 'Hey, this guy is really pretty smart strategically.' It's up to each of us Democrats to look past his smile to see what his policies really are."

Democratic leaders like Mrs. Phillips are trying to counteract Mr. Bush's nice-guy campaign.

"If he is counting on people to be so superficial as to believe he is simply a nice guy, then the American people will be in a lot of trouble. We are making sure we tell our own constituencies about what is really going on," she said. "We are pointing out to them what his policies really are, so that they are not dependent on a 30-second sketchy news summary on TV and a nice smile."

Wisconsin Democratic Chairwoman Terri Spring said she is "telling constituents it's the policies and programs he's pushing that count and we tell them, 'Look behind the smile it doesn't tell the story.' "

Tennessee Democratic Chairman Bill Farmer echoes Mrs. Spring.

Mr. Farmer, like other state party leaders, has been accusing Mr. Bush of electoral robbery.

"Democrats didn't lose the election," Mr. Farmer tells Democrats in his state. "Except for the [U.S.] Supreme Court appointing Bush president, we would be dealing with President Gore."

"I suppose you could say a period of civility between Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress has prevailed since Bush came in," Mr. Farmer said. "However, I heard [Senate Minority Leader Tom] Daschle and [House Minority Leader Richard A.] Gephardt and they were very clear and loud and specific say they were willing to work with Republicans but Republicans have to work with us."

Most elected Democrats and state party chairmen, at some point in a conversation about Bush outreach, take their party's line a hard line by any standard in doubting Mr. Bush can match his legislative and policy actions with his outreaching words.

"Bush is trying to give the impression he is reaching out to both sides, but when you analyze what he has done, it is the opposite, particularly when you look at the [John] Ashcroft appointment," said West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Thomas P. Maroney.

But Democrats acknowledge that Mr. Bush's striving toward inclusiveness and civility in Washington is having an effect.

"The secret of bipartisanship is not only Democrats' being invited for White House visits and photo ops, it is also trying to elevate the tenor and tone of the debate in Washington," said Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat. "Clinton was able to do bipartisanship on welfare reform and other issues, but civility wasn't there. On that score, Bush is doing very well right now."

Virginia Democratic Chairman Larry Framme is forthright in saying the Bush approach "does make a difference" and that Mr. Bush can and probably will make his charm work for him to get legislation enacted, unlike Mr. Clinton.

"I don't get the sense Clinton tried to take that charm and personally sell it to Congress, but I get the sense that it is different with Bush that he will decide he will apply that perennial charm to try to get his programs through," said Mr. Framme.

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