Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bracing for the worst

Conservatives expect Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, to snag her party’s presidential nomination in 2008, according to a straw poll conducted last week during the Conservative Political Action Conference and released yesterday.

The poll found that 68 percent think the former first lady is the Democratic front-runner.

The jury is still out on Republican contenders, though.

“On the Republican side, it’s clear that no one has the inside track for 2008 at this early date,” American Conservative Union director David Keene said.

“The first- and second-place finishes by Rudy Giuliani and Condoleezza Rice at 19 percent and 18 percent, respectively, probably reflect their celebrity status more than anything else,” Mr. Keene said.

He noted that 96 percent supported President Bush’s ideas for Social Security reform, but, by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent, the respondents opposed the president’s guest-worker immigration proposal.

On U.S. foreign-policy issues, respondents trended more “mainstream” conservative than “neoconservative,” the poll said. By 61 percent to 34 percent, they said the United States should use military might to defend national security and economic interests, rather than promote democracy around the world.

The poll was based on 600 respondents drawn from an overall conference attendance of about 4,000.

13 and counting

We have 13 days to go before CBS News anchorman Dan Rather abandons his chair in the wake of an ill-fated attempt to build a “60 Minutes” story around forged memos that questioned President Bush’s Vietnam-era National Guard service.

The drama goes on, however.

Although CBS conducted an internal investigation, the network neglected to mention in its public report that it hired a private investigator named Erik T. Rigler, a former FBI agent and Navy pilot, to track down the source of the troublesome documents, wrote Joe Hagan of the New York Observer yesterday.

“Though CBS had promised transparency in investigating the memo scandal, of a half-dozen CBS News producers who spoke to The Observer, only one had even heard a rumor that the network had hired the private investigator,” Mr. Hagan wrote, noting that Mr. Rather “has been officially muzzled.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Rather might have to be extracted from his chair with a forklift.

After the newscast ends, he will star in an hourlong vanity showcase called “Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers.” Mr. Rather will answer questions posed by someone off-camera.

“It’s uncertain, at this point, to determine how tough or detailed the ‘interview’ will be,” noted the Rocky Mountain News yesterday.

Same old, same old

Stand clear, everybody, Ralph Nader is on the loose. Again.

The meanie greenie himself will inaugurate a — what else — “Stop the War” campaign, complete with old-school rhetoric that would be right at home in 1968.

At high noon at the National Press Club today, Mr. Nader “calls for an end to Bush Family War Profiteering,” according to an advance statement.

The two-time presidential hopeful is vexed by the “institutionalization of corruption and secrecy that is taking hold in Washington, D.C., particularly in the military budget and its corporate contractors, as a result of the Iraq War.”

Mr. Nader has joined forces with Democracy Rising, a District-based group intent on “empowering activists … Through people power — grass-roots pressure — we will push Congress and President to end the occupation and bring the troops home.”

Cell sell

New Jersey will be an epicenter of debate on embryonic stem-cell research this fall.

Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, a Democrat, wants the state to spend $150 million in borrowed funds on stem-cell research — an idea supported by 47 percent of residents, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

“New Jersey voters overwhelmingly support stem-cell research but backing declines sharply when an expensive price tag is put on the program,” poll assistant director Clay F. Richards said.

Mr. Codey’s plan is a “gross betrayal of the public trust and a shameful waste of taxpayer money,” said Marie Tasy of New Jersey Right to Life, according to yesterday’s Trenton Times.

“Not only is this an affront to millions of New Jerseyans who have ethical and moral problems with this mad science research, but it is something taxpayers should not fund,” agreed Steve Lonegan, the mayor of Bogota and a Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Barbara Buono, Metuchen Democrat, said she was “delighted to see that the state is ready to strengthen its commitment to this potentially lifesaving research.”

Social insecurity

Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) began a caustic media drive yesterday against Rep. Jim McCrery, the Louisiana Republican who will shape Social Security reform legislation as chairman of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee.

The watchdog group — which touts itself as nonpartisan — has placed ads in Louisiana newspapers saying Mr. McCrery is unfit for the role because he accepted $200,000 in donations from financial and securities services and has former aides who are lobbyists in the securities field.

“McCrery … is compromised as chairman,” said CAF deputy director Ellen Miller. “He can’t make those decisions fairly with Wall Street’s money in his pocket.”

Mr. McCrery called the efforts “meritless” and accused CAF of “extreme liberal bias” after determining that the group’s top individual contributors were Democratic top cats George Soros and Stephen Bing.

“CAF’s baseless attacks sound like more angry rhetoric from the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party. Such hypocritical misrepresentations are an effort to forward their special-interest agenda rather than be candid with the public,” observed Tracey Schmitt of the Republican National Committee yesterday.

Hoping for Halliburton

Democrats are poised to pounce on the news that President Bush’s uncle, who serves on the board of a U.S. defense contractor with $100 million in business in Iraq, recently sold his stock at a healthy profit.

William H.T. “Bucky” Bush exercised options on 8,438 shares worth $450,000 from St. Louis-based Engineered Support Systems Inc. (ESSI), according to a Jan. 18 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“There is nothing illegal about exercising stock options, but Bush’s interest in a company with so much Iraq business is sure to evoke criticism from Democrats,” Reuters news agency noted yesterday.

“Mr. Bush has been on our board for the past five years, and he has absolutely nothing to do with any of our contracts with the U.S. government or anyone else,” ESSI Vice President Dan Kreher said.

• Contact Jennifer Harper at or 202/636-3085.

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