- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

The White House wants Republicans to shift from an air war to a ground war against Democrats for the November elections and beyond, but some Republicans say elements of the new strategy are naive or even wimpish.
President Bush's political advisers have been spreading the word among the party leaders and activists about the "Bush model" for winning elections. Two of the main elements are:
Less reliance on television advertising and direct mail and far more on person-to-person contact at the grass-roots level to boost Republican turnout on Election Day. Bush strategists say this is similar to the way Democrats have appealed to labor unions and minority groups to turn out their voters.
Emphasizing what Republicans are for, not what they're against, and not speaking ill of Democrat candidates in the spirit of Mr. Bush's having restored civility to politics, for which he gets high marks in opinion polls.
Whether by design or coincidence, the Bush strategy addresses the problems that new campaign finance regulation now pending in Congress would create for their party, Republicans say.
"The Bush model is designed in large measure to compensate for a bad campaign finance bill becoming law this year," said Timothy J. Morgan, a Republican National Committee member from California. "The Bush model would affect enough close races so that on a national model it should work."
Republican strategist Frank Luntz says he agrees that the "Democrats have perfected an incredible turnout model of ethnic minorites and rank-and-file labor union members, and it's smart for the president to seek an alternative model for Republicans."
"They can't depend on television. They have to depend on people and message," he said.
But Mr. Luntz doesn't think that alone would be enough to counter a "bad" campaign finance law that would still allow unions to campaign full-time for Democrats. "If you just shut down corporations and not unions, it's tantamount to committing political suicide."
Sadie Fields, head of the Georgia Christian Coalition chapter, said too many Republican activists already think their party has turned its once bright colors to pale pastels.
"The grass roots always worry about the seemingly few differences between the two parties, and the Republicans need to be careful not to become one party with two heads," she said. "Overall, I think the [Bush] strategy is probably OK. I don't have any problem with candidates saying what they are for. People are tired of really negative campaigns.
"However, you have to give the grass roots something to energize them so they come out and work for you," Mrs. Fields said. "You have to point up differences."
Mr. Morgan also objects to the nice-guy component of the Bush model. "It reminds me of how the left tried to force President Reagan to say we would never be first to use nuclear weapons to defend Europe," he said. "But Reagan knew the Soviets had tactical superiority and we might have to use nukes to compensate."
"In this case, Republicans have to use every communications device at our disposal, including negative campaigns," Mr. Morgan said. "And it makes no sense to renounce them any more than it would have for Reagan to have renounced first use of nukes in Europe."
An administration official said privately that the strategy that the White House is urging Republican candidates to follow is "a different model of political engagement it means you engage the other party without tearing them down."
Regarding the turnout component, the administration official said, "The goal is to do what the Democrats have done well in the last two campaigns. They've had people who share a common interest contacting each other and saying, 'We have the same interests and this guy's good for us. We should turn out for him.'"
Grass-roots turnout is crucial because Republicans suspect that President Bush will sign a new campaign finance bill if it makes it through Congress, even if the measure puts Republican candidates at a disadvantage.
These Republicans say the Enron bankruptcy and Democratic efforts to tie the Bush administration to it make such a bill even more likely.
"With so many squishes on our side [in Congress] on this issue, it's going to pass, I'm afraid," Mr. Morgan said. "And in the Enron atmosphere, the president will be under greater pressure to sign a bill."
Enough Republicans in both houses have signed on to the similar House and Senate versions of the measure to give it the appearance of bipartisanship, and bipartisanship has become a hallmark of the Bush presidency.
"Something clearly will pass this time," said Mr. Luntz said. "In the Enron atmosphere, nobody wants to be opposed to removing corporate money from the political process. I'm just afraid they'll pass bad legislation just so they'll have something."
David Norcross, a Republican National Committee member, said the Bush strategy "ties in with campaign finance reform which, if it becomes law, could cost us many seats in both houses [of Congress]."
"This grass-roots advocacy program is a way to counter it," he said.
"Democrats get a free ride because they don't have to pay the labor unions to use their millions of members and the compulsory union dues they pay to turn out the vote," Mr. Norcross said. "Republicans don't have an equivalent counterforce and won't be able to pay to put one together if we get campaign finance 'reform.'"
The reason, he said, is that Republicans "won't be able to use [federally unregulated] soft money and there is not enough [federally regulated] hard money to put one together."
"Second, the campaign finance scheme will chill our allies from doing independent expenditures to help us, because they are going to be limited in what they can do in the last 30 days of an election," Mr. Norcross said.

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