Thursday, October 14, 2004

Sen. Mark Dayton is being mocked back home for closing his Capitol Hill office because of his professed fear of a terrorist strike, with his state’s largest newspaper calling him a “Cassandra,” a “flake” and a “little chicken.”

The Minnesota Democrat’s action has “been the talk of talk radio around here,” said Randy Wanke, communications director for the Minnesota Republican Party.

A frequent topic on the airwaves last month was the senator’s boycott of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s address to Congress.

Republicans say Mr. Dayton is merely living up to his 90 percent lifetime rating by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and his opposition to President Bush’s war on terror — at least in Iraq.

The editorial board of the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis — a consistently liberal page that endorsed Mr. Dayton in his U.S. Senate race in 2000 — wrote yesterday that they were “scratching their heads at Mark Dayton’s pre-emptive shuttering of his Senate office.”

“In staking out this Cassandra position, Dayton has added considerably to unfortunate aspects of his reputation: loner, loose cannon, flake,” the editorial said.

Although the paper noted that those common criticisms of Mr. Dayton are “often overboard,” this was not one of those times because “it’s simply impossible to take Dayton’s alarm seriously.”

Dayton spokeswoman Chris Lisi said the senator “doesn’t have any reaction” to the way the story is playing in Minnesota.

“Talk radio is talk radio,” she said. “We have no comment. You have our statement, and the senator is doing” interviews.

The flap began Tuesday after Mr. Dayton’s nationally televised press conference on his decision, when the senator said he was acting out of concern for “the lives and safety” of his staffers.

He cited an intelligence briefing given to senators on Sept. 22 that “alarmed him” as the reason for closing his Washington office. No other member of Congress has followed suit.

“Take it as political theater, it is farcical — and counterproductive,” the Star-Tribune editorial continued, accusing Mr. Dayton of “sloganeering” an “urgent and vital subject.”

“Instead of pointing out the emperor’s startling nakedness, Dayton has cast himself as the lone little chicken who claims the sky is falling,” it concluded.

“The Trib editorial page, which is the most liberal editorial page in the nation, took the senator to task over this, which says a lot,” Mr. Wanke said. “Minnesotans are left scratching their heads, just like the mayor of Washington, D.C. We believe, as a number of other people do, that it sends the wrong message to terrorists.”

Mr. Dayton has been a persistent critic of the president on national-security matters and his conduct of the war.

A day before Mr. Allawi’s visit to Congress in late September, Mr. Dayton announced that he would not be attending the speech, saying it was “more window dressing” from the Bush administration.

“I’m going to respectfully not attend that, because I think he should be in Iraq,” Mr. Dayton said, then adding that Mr. Allawi “ought to be over there running the country and not coming here for a staged production.”

Mr. Dayton joined the minority of senators in voting against the war in Iraq, but he did approve of the $87 billion spending bill to support the troops and reconstruction effort.

Calls to the Democratic Farm and Labor Party of Minnesota were not returned yesterday.

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