- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Eyes on California

The California recall has gotten unprecedented national television coverage for a statewide election, receiving more airtime on the top three networks than the White House race, the Associated Press reports.

From Aug. 1 through Sept. 25, the nightly newscasts on NBC, ABC and CBS devoted a total of 127 minutes to the recall, said Andrew Tyndall, who monitors TV news for his Tyndall Report newsletter. During that period, the Democratic presidential contenders received a total of 36 minutes.

That represents unprecedented national airtime for a statewide election, Mr. Tyndall said. Last year, the networks gave all gubernatorial races nationwide a combined 40 minutes of attention.

The world is watching, too, fascinated with Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger’s metamorphosis from Hollywood action star to pol, AP television writer Lynn Elber said.

“It’s all people wanted to talk about,” said Joel Aberbach, a professor of political science and policy studies at the University of California at Los Angeles who noted high interest about the recall during a recent European trip.

Democrats gain hope

“As President Bush’s poll numbers slide, Democratic House prospects start to brighten, at least a bit,” political analyst Stuart Rothenberg writes.

“The party of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) certainly has a long way to go before strategists can reasonably make the case that they have a fighting chance for control of the House,” Mr. Rothenberg said in Roll Call.

“But every district that Democrats take from Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) in 2004 will be a step toward their goal of 218 seats. And to hear Democratic operatives tell it, there may finally be some light at the end of the tunnel,” as more Democrats express an interest in running for the House.

Mr. Rothenberg said the top Democratic targets at this point appear to be freshman Republican Reps. Max Burns of Georgia, Rick Renzi of Arizona and Steve Pearce of New Mexico, as well as veteran Reps. Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, Anne M. Northup of Kentucky, Rob Simmons of Connecticut and John Hostettler of Indiana.

A weak field?

President Bush’s senior advisers, in interviews last week, “repeatedly described the Democratic field as unusually weak and divided, providing an important if temporary cushion for Mr. Bush,” the New York Times reports.

“Still, they said the recent sharp drop in the president’s approval ratings, the continued loss of jobs in the economy and the problems plaguing the American occupation of Iraq only made the political outlook more uncertain in an election that they have long thought could be as tightly contested as the one in 2000,” reporters Richard W. Stevenson and Adam Nagourney said.

The Bush campaign has decided to delay the start of advertising until about the time the Democrats settle on a nominee, “a rejection of what had been a central element of President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign,” the reporters said. Mr. Clinton began advertising 16 months before Election Day, in an effort to define the election before the Republicans chose an opponent.

Rumsfeld’s point

“If you are like most Americans, the news you see on television and read in the press from Iraq seems grim — stories of firefights, car bombs, battles with terrorists,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

“It is true that Coalition troops are serving in difficult and dangerous circumstances. But what is also true, and seems to be much less often reported, is that the Coalition has — in less than five months — racked up a series of achievements in both security and civil reconstruction that may be without precedent,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“I recently visited our forces in Tikrit, Mosul, Baghdad and Babylon. Their spirits are good, because they know their mission is important and they know they are making progress. Many recently got access to satellite television from the U.S. — and their first glimpse of the news coverage back home. Some expressed amazement at how few of their accomplishments are reflected in the news on Iraq. As one soldier we met in Baghdad put it, ‘We rebuild a lot of bridges and it’s not news — but one bridge gets blown up and it’s a front-page story.’”

Tony and Bill

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were not the close pals they appeared to be, according to a book about the British prime minister’s relations with President Bush and his predecessor.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Clinton had several rows, one of them lasting 90 minutes, Peter Riddell, chief political commentator for the Times of London, writes in his new book, “Hug Them Close.” Details of the book were reported in the Australian, a newspaper.

Mr. Blair found the president “weird,” and his team was heavily uncomplimentary about the Clinton contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. As for Mr. Clinton’s successor, Mr. Blair bombarded Mr. Bush with a stream of confidential advice, particularly in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The book reveals the messages, comparable to those sent by Winston Churchill to Frankin D. Roosevelt during World War II, which hitherto had remained a secret.

British officials, eager to avoid the image of the prime minister seeming too close to Mr. Bush, have said little or nothing about the messages. The book reveals that Mr. Blair wrote them frequently, in a familiar jerky style, highlighting areas for action. Many are thought to have been messages about his world travels as he tried to keep the international coalition together for action against the hard-line Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Hastert vs. Clark

Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, yesterday unleashed an attack on Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, a retired general.

“General Clark takes dead aim at small-business owners with his economic plan,” Mr. Hastert said in a statement.

“Twenty-three million small-business owners directly benefit from the tax cuts signed into law by the president. Those are the same tax cuts that Wes Clark wants to repeal. …

“The Treasury Department estimates that if those tax cuts did not go into effect, the unemployment rate would be 1.6 percent higher, 3 million fewer Americans would be working, and real [gross domestic product] would be 3-4 percent lower.

“It is an open question whether General Clark was a brilliant military strategist. But there is no question he has flunked basic economics with his job-killing, tax-raising scheme.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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