- The Washington Times - Monday, July 12, 2004

President Bush has decided that excoriating Democrats for blocking his judicial nominees is a potent political strategy that he will exploit in both the presidential race and congressional elections.

The Bush campaign thinks the Democratic ticket of Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards is particularly vulnerable on this issue because Mr. Edwards sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“It’s just another example of how they stand out of the mainstream,” said Mathew Dowd, the Bush campaign’s chief strategist. “They stand out in blocking judges that have been highly qualified in various states.”

He added: “We will talk about it more in the months ahead.”

Mr. Bush first resurrected the issue last week, when visiting Mr. Edwards’ home state of North Carolina. The president met with his judicial nominees in that state and then railed against the two Democratic candidates for preventing them from getting up-or-down votes in the Senate or, in some cases, even hearings by the Judiciary Committee.

“They’re the ones blocking the nominees in the first place,” Mr. Bush said. “Take for example here in North Carolina. Senator Edwards will not allow two of the nominees to whom I referred to even get to the committee for a hearing.”

Mr. Bush then traveled to Michigan, where he met with another batch of blocked nominees and renewed his criticism of Democrats.

It is a strategy that paid dividends in the midterm elections of 2002, when aggressive campaigning by Mr. Bush led Republicans to historic victories. At almost every stump appearance, the president talked about judges.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we won races all throughout the country” on the issue, White House political strategist Karl Rove told The Washington Times earlier this year. “We won the Senate race in South Carolina — judges; won the North Carolina race — judges; won the Georgia race — judges.”

Mr. Rove said voters responded enthusiastically whenever Mr. Bush invoked the issue.

“If he said judges, people cheered,” he said. “They didn’t know exactly what it was, but they’d know that something was fundamentally flawed with the courts, that we’ve got a bunch of judicial activists, that Bush could be trusted to appoint good people to the courts, and there was something stinky about how all these people were being held up.”

It was no accident that Mr. Bush began railing against Democrats on the issue of judges just one day after the Senate narrowly confirmed one of the president’s judicial nominees, Arkansas lawyer Leon Holmes. Mr. Holmes was the last in a batch of 25 judicial nominees who received votes in the Senate as part of a deal in which Mr. Bush agreed not to make any more recess appointments.

Mr. Holmes, a staunch opponent of abortion, was approved by a vote of 51-46 after apologizing for writing in 1980 that rape victims rarely get pregnant. Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards did not vote on the nomination because they were campaigning.

“I am pleased that the Senate recently voted on 25 of my judicial nominees,” the president said in Michigan. “That was a welcome step. Yet, it’s not enough.”

Mr. Bush said some senators are still “playing politics” with judicial nominees.

“They don’t appreciate the fact that I named judges who will faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench,” he said. “They apparently want activist judges who will rewrite the law from the bench.”

Mr. Dowd suggested that the president was just getting warmed up.

“This is an issue that’s important to highlight,” he said. “We will talk about it again.”

Out of the 254 nominees sent by the Bush administration to the Senate, nearly 200 have been confirmed. Six nominees to the circuit court have been denied confirmation votes; two of those nominees were subsequently appointed by Mr. Bush during a Senate recess, but have yet to be confirmed. Dozens more have been stalled in the Judiciary Committee.

Staff writer Charles Hurt contributed to this story.

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