Monday, September 8, 2003

The rhetoric of Democratic presidential hopefuls has sunk to a “new low” of “political hate speech” that will be rejected by voters, the chairman of the Republican Party said yesterday.

“I think history will show that this field has taken presidential discourse to a new low,” Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The kind of words we’re hearing now from the Democratic candidates go beyond political debate — this is political hate speech,” he said.

Rather than campaigning against one another during the party’s first debate in New Mexico on Thursday, eight of the nine Democratic candidates in attendance aimed their attacks at President Bush.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri called Mr. Bush “a miserable failure,” and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said the war in Iraq has increased the likelihood of more terrorist attacks.

“The truth is, there are more likely to be more people from al Qaeda bombing Iraqis and Americans today than there were before Saddam Hussein was kicked out,” Mr. Dean said.

Asked yesterday on CNN’s “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer” if the “miserable failure” statement is intended to be a campaign theme, Mr. Gephardt responded that “it is what it is.”

Terry McAuliffe, Democratic Party chairman, seized on that phrase more than once yesterday during an appearance on NBC: “George Bush has been a miserable failure in dealing with the domestic issues that relate to education, health care, job creation,” he said.

Mr. Gillespie said the Democrats’ message will backfire with voters.

“They appreciate the president’s strong and principled leadership and the fact that he has a positive agenda, and [Democrats] have, frankly, nothing but negativity and pessimism and protest to offer,” he said.

Citing previous elections, Mr. Gillespie said the rhetoric on either side of the aisle never reached such heated levels.

Accusing the Democratic Party of going negative is “laughable,” said Mr. McAuliffe, who said Republicans have used negative campaigns against both Democrats and Republicans.

“The Bush campaign went out and attacked John McCain. They attacked his wife, they attacked his children, they attacked his mental sanity, they attacked his patriotism,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Mr. Gillespie called the charges “patently false.”

“Terry McAuliffe cannot find one instance where this president in his campaign said anything about John McCain’s mental health or his wife’s,” Mr. Gillespie said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton was the only Democratic candidate to miss the first debate, and during a dinner for the Central Virginia Business Construction Association in Richmond on Saturday criticized his party for treating black voters like a “mistress.”

“A mistress is where they take you out to have fun but they can’t take you home to Mama and Daddy.

Either we’re going to get married in 2004, or we’re going to find some folks who ain’t ashamed to be seen with us,” he said.

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