- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

Debate swing

Several Florida swing voters have swung — for Sen. John Kerry.

“It was a very good night for John Kerry,” says Washington political pollster Frank Luntz, after the first of three presidential debates.

Eighteen Florida swing voters — split almost evenly between 2000 George W. Bush and Al Gore supporters — participated in a Luntz Research debate focus group and “Kerry outshined Bush in nearly every measurement,” the pollster says.

Sixteen swing voters said Mr. Kerry won the debate; 16 said the Massachusetts senator was better prepared; and five of the 18 switched from “undecided” to Mr. Kerry’s camp.

Three Kerry sound bites that resonated particularly well with the group:

• “I’m not talking about leaving [Iraq]. I’m talking about winning.”

• “The future belongs to freedom, not fear.”

• “As I have said before, [ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein] was a threat. The issue is what you do about it.”

The Bush campaign counters that the debate will be remembered for four “strategic mistakes” uttered by Mr. Kerry: 1) proposing a “global” response to Iraq; 2) calling the war in Iraq a mistake, but later saying Americans weren’t dying in vain; 3) speaking of U.S. troops deserving better, albeit in a pre-debate interview saying his vote against additional troop funding was made in protest; and 4) insulting U.S. allies by saying the coalition was not “genuine.”

Ironically, Mr. Luntz, whose MSNBC post-debate focus group analysis was abruptly dropped by the cable channel after a complaint that the pollster had “Republican ties,” went so far as to say that Mr. Bush “lost the debate after just the first 15 minutes.”

Politics and passion

Amidst all the mudslinging, love is in the air over Washington.

First, congratulations to Washington public relations mogul Linda Roth, who met her new husband, Silvestro Conte, at — where else — a heart conference.

“It’s really not that kind of conference,” to paraphrase Dr. Marty Leon, chairman and president of the Cardio Research Foundation, which produces the largest interventional cardiology conference in the world, held annually at the Washington Convention Center.

The couple wed at the St. Regis, where numerous cardiologists in attendance included CNN talk-show host Larry King’s heart saver, Dr. Richard Katz, as well as heads of cardiology departments in Israel, Spain and Mr. Conte’s native Italy.

Meanwhile, Republican lawyer Dean Heyl says he was traversing Capitol Hill when he first laid eyes on Sarah Tanksley, a biologist with the National Institutes of Health. Now, a mere 10 weeks later, the couple eloped to Las Vegas — picking up a marriage license at the city’s 24-hour courthouse, then calling upon “Ernesto, a heavily tattooed man” who touts a drive-through wedding ceremony.

“The late ‘70s vintage limo that Ernesto provided came complete with a bullet hole in the back window,” notes the lucky bride. “Reverend Chip with the ‘A Las Vegas Garden of Love’ performed the ceremony in the back seat. The driver served as a witness.”

Mr. Heyl, who once headed D.C. Young Republicans, most recently authored the paper, “How to Prevent Your Campaign from Being Hijacked on Election Day.”

Sparing nobody

Former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw was honoree of last week’s annual Spina Bifida Roast at Washington’s new Mandarin Oriental Hotel, albeit roastees also included CBS News legend Walter Cronkite and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who were equally skewered by one congressman.

“Snyder and I are just happy you all didn’t sit us at the kids’ table,” said the 34-year-old Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., who noted the boyish Mr. Snyder was recently featured in Fortune magazine’s 40 richest people under the age of 40.

“Then there’s the great Mr. Cronkite, regarded as the most trusted man in America. Hard to believe that now he couldn’t even get a job at CBS News with that on his resume,” said the Tennessee Democrat. “It’s been a couple of very tough weeks for CBS and particularly his successor Dan Rather, but at least Dan got some good news this week. He just saved a boatload of money by switching his car insurance to GEICO.

“But at last we are here to honor Bernard Shaw, and what an amazing record,” notes Mr. Ford. “Actually, Mr. Shaw retired to write. He’s still working on his memoirs. A brief side note: When Bernie told President Bush recently that he was going to work on his autobiography, the president responded, ‘That’s great, who’s it about?’”

Fans of this column will enjoy John McCaslin’s new book, “Inside the Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans From Around the Nation’s Capital.” Mr. McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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