- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Talk-radio hosts opened their microphones yesterday at the White House to a stream of top officials as President Bush's final sprint to election day took on a carnival feel.

Democrats said it was more like a circus.

There, in a heated tent in the White House's rain-slicked driveway, was Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge chatting up the "John Boy and Billy Show" out of Charlotte, N.C. but only after vice presidential counselor Mary Matalin yielded the on-air seat. Charlotte's Republican Rep. Sue Myrick, who is up for re-election Tuesday, also had a turn.

Six days before the election that will decide control of Congress, "Radio Day," a 13½-hour talkfest, was but one event that the White House staged to showcase its agenda on issues dear to swing voters (the sputtering economy) and the Republican Party's conservative activists (the confirmation woes of Bush's judicial nominees).

In a building across the driveway, White House budget director Mitch Daniels announced plans to push more government contracts to small businesses because, he said, "We know where the jobs come from in this economy."

Mr. Bush took to the East Room to decry the "poisoned and polarized atmosphere" that has kept several of his conservative judicial picks from confirmation by the Democrat-controlled Senate. He proposed unenforceable deadlines what an aide described as a "gentleperson's agreement" for selecting and confirming future nominees to the federal bench.

"This is a campaign tactic, not a realistic proposal," scoffed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachussetts Democrat.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri called the event "Appease the Right Wing Day at the White House," and accused the administration of inappropriately mixing the official and political.

Phil Valentine of WLAC in Nashville, Tenn., broached the issue with Karl Rove, Bush's chief political operative.

Mr. Rove said he was on air only to share the administration's "unfiltered" message.

"People are smart enough to make up their own minds," he said. Mr. Rove dodged the questions of regular White House correspondents with a preoccupied, "On to my next. Where to next?"

One canvas-covered folding table away, syndicated conservative host Oliver North told White House communications director Dan Bartlett that "some in the Democratic Party think this is an unfair political advantage six days before the election."

Replied Mr. Bartlett: "I think they have a lot to beef about because they're worried about the fact that Republicans and the administration have a positive message for America, and they're just lashing out."

Mr. North also pointed out that a liberal radio host was at work two seats down and, among the 50 talk shows and news programs welcomed to the North Lawn, the White House "didn't invite just right-wing goons like me."

Taylor Gross, the press-office staffer who organized Radio Day, said it was a long time in the making and designed to give access to those in the media who do not normally have access to the White House.

Yesterday marked the end of Mr. Bush's two-day break from from campaigning. With a trip today to South Dakota, then Indiana and West Virginia, he will be on the road through Tuesday's vote.

Mr. Bush aims to defy history with midterm gains that deliver him full control of Congress, erasing Democratic roadblocks to his tax, homeland security, judicial and health care policies.

John Boy and Billy, in their folding chairs just steps from the White House front door, were all too happy to help.

"I don't hide the fact that I vote a straight Republican ticket," John Boy said on his way back to North Carolina. An extra boon to the White House, John Boy and Billy are heard on stations in 24 states.

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