- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

McCain’s hire

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and likely presidential candidate in 2008, has hired one of President Bush’s top re-election advisers to help run his political action committee, the Associated Press reports.

Terry Nelson, political director of the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, will be senior adviser to Straight Talk America, said several officials familiar with the hiring. They spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt an announcement by Mr. McCain’s committee.

Mr. McCain is using the PAC to raise money and organize his travel on behalf of Republicans running in November’s midterm elections.

The PAC is also a launching pad for what most Republicans consider to be a likely presidential run by Mr. McCain. Mr. Nelson’s hiring puts him in position to play a major role should Mr. McCain seek the White House again.

The Arizona senator ran in 2000, upsetting Mr. Bush in the New Hampshire primary, but losing the nomination in a bitter two-way race. The Bush and McCain camps eventually came to terms, and Mr. McCain campaigned vigorously on Mr. Bush’s behalf in the 2004 re-election campaign.

Mr. McCain is courting Mr. Bush’s supporters, major fundraisers and advisers. Mark McKinnon, the president’s chief media strategist, has signaled his willingness to help Mr. McCain unless Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gets in the race.

Both Miss Rice and the president’s brother have said they will not run.

Changing the debate

“Politics is pretty simple,” Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard.

“If the debate in an upcoming election puts your party at a disadvantage, it makes sense to try to change the debate. At the moment, the 2006 midterm election is framed as a referendum on the Bush administration and congressional Republicans, putting Republican candidates on the defensive. Party strategists, led by [Republican National Committee Chairman] Ken Mehlman, want to rejigger the debate so it’s about a choice between candidates, putting Democratic candidates on the defensive as well. In short, they want it to be a choice election, not a referendum election,” Mr. Barnes said.

“This is not a new idea. Republicans brought about a choice election in 2004. Democrats believed they were a cinch to win a referendum on President Bush‘s first term, and Republicans worried they were right. But Republicans were able to make Democrat John Kerry at least as much of an issue as Bush was, especially on national security.

“For 2006, the Republican National Committee, the White House, and most Senate and House Republicans are on board with the choice strategy. In fact, some members of Congress are already repeating a phrase first used by Bush in meetings with congressional allies. It’s an assertion that Democrats would ‘raise your taxes and raise the white flag’ in Iraq.

“There’s another part of the 2006 Republican strategy. This spring and summer, Republican leaders in the Senate and House plan to bring up a series of issues that are popular with the Republican base of voters. The aim is to stir conservative voters and spur turnout in the November election. Just last week, House Majority Leader John Boehner and Whip Roy Blunt met with leaders of conservative groups to talk about these issues.

“House Republicans, for their part, intend to seek votes on measures such as the Bush-backed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a bill allowing more public expression of religion, another requiring parental consent for women under 18 to get an abortion, legislation to bar all federal courts except the Supreme Court from ruling on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance, a bill to outlaw human cloning, and another that would require doctors to consider fetal pain before performing an abortion.”

Forced out?

New York Sun media critic David Blum, author of a book about CBS’ “60 Minutes,” says that, contrary to the official line, the network forced longtime correspondent Mike Wallace to quit the show.

“They’ve been trying for the past several years to get him to cut back, and he would always agree, and then he would always produce far more pieces than he was contracted to do,” Mr. Blum said yesterday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

“They were very anxious to open up not only that slot, but also that considerable amount of money that he was earning to hire younger correspondents, more correspondents to fill out the show.”

Mr. Blum added, “The fact is that there’s an entire generation, if not multiple generations of people, who really don’t know what Mike Wallace is. And I think that CBS had to acknowledge that and is trying to bring about a change in the show. But it took a long time because Mike wouldn’t leave.”

Kissinger’s view

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger yesterday offered words of sympathy to President Bush as his administration struggles to maintain support for the war in Iraq.

Mr. Kissinger, who served under President Nixon during the Vietnam War, told CNN’s “Late Edition” that his experience facing public opposition to that conflict gives him a unique window into the situation faced by the Bush White House.

“My heart goes out to the president because I’ve served in an administration that faced a very divided country in a very difficult set of circumstances,” Mr. Kissinger said.

He said the Bush administration deserves the benefit of the doubt as it seeks to quell sectarian violence in Iraq.

“The president is trying to head out in a direction that avoids civil war in Iraq, and that prevents the insurgents from dominating and establishing some sort of fundamentalist regime,” Mr. Kissinger said.

“I think we should attempt to work together on this. I would support the objectives,” he said, adding that for the time being “nobody has yet put forward a better program.”

Condi’s popularity

“She doesn’t want to run the country, she says, but Condoleezza Rice is the hottest thing in politics right now,” Paul Bedard writes in the Washington Whispers column of U.S. News & World Report.

“Pollster Frank Luntz did a straw poll at the recent California Republican convention. Guess who won? Stanford University’s provost before joining the Bush administration, Rice was first with 29 percent, followed by Virginia Sen. George Allen at 26 percent and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at 16 percent,” Mr. Bedard said.

“What’s it mean? With Rice on the 2008 ticket, even as veep, California could go Republican.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected]

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