Monday, January 5, 2004

A conservative advocacy group will begin running a TV ad in Iowa against Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, in a move questioned by some of President Bush’s supporters.

The Club for Growth Political Action Committee said the 30-second spot against the former Vermont governor will begin running in Des Moines today — two weeks before the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

In the ad, a farmer says he thinks that “Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading …” before the farmer’s wife then finishes the sentence: “… Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.”

The anti-Dean ads puzzled some of Mr. Bush’s strategists and supporters, who see Mr. Dean as the most beatable of the major Democratic hopefuls.

“The prevailing wisdom is that Bush can beat Dean hands down,” said longtime Republican consultant Rod Smith. “So why would the Club for Growth or anyone else on our side be attacking him now? That doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”

Republican strategist Alan Hoffenblum said the Club for Growth should heed the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater’s admonition: “Never interfere with your opponents when they are in the middle of destroying themselves.”

The club has promoted Republican candidates who espoused fiscal conservatism. But the group also roundly has criticized Mr. Bush and the Republican Congress for recently enacted legislation federally subsidizing prescription drugs for the elderly and other examples of what it regards as spending excesses.

“We are a group trying to promote good policy for the nation, not to help George Bush,” Club for Growth President Stephen Moore said in an interview.

Mr. Moore is not shy about stating his view of Mr. Dean: “For the last year, he has moved further and further to the left and admitted he would repeal the Bush tax cuts, which jump-started the economy. For that reason alone, Dean poses a grave threat to the economic well-being of all Americans.”

Mr. Moore defended the ad campaign by saying that the “left-wing takeover of the Democratic party by Dean and his supporters is not a good thing for sound policy-making, even though it is a good thing for Republicans, because it makes it easier for them to win elections,” he said.

Mr. Dean is “hopelessly out of step with the rest of America.” Mr. Moore said.

The Club for Growth PAC plans to spend a relatively modest $100,000 initially on its Iowa anti-Dean campaign ads.

The Club for Growth was founded in 1999 to elect what it calls “pro-economic growth fiscal conservatives.” Mr. Moore said the club and its members raised or donated more than $10 million to help elect 17 new members to Congress in the 2002 election cycle.

Mr. Moore said his PAC will announce next week a $4 million campaign to counter the expected, massive ad campaign by what he calls “left-wing groups” largely funded by liberal activists and businessmen such as George Soros and Peter Lewis.

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