President Bush and his strategists are using the politically fallow month of August to conduct a coordinated campaign to sustain momentum for the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court.
The effort has two tracks — a public offensive that includes the president openly stumping for his nominee and a behind-the-scenes blitz designed to keep Senate Democrats on the defensive.
“Roberts needs to get his hearing done and the confirmation completed so he can be seated before the Supreme Court reconvenes in early October,” Mr. Bush said this week in Texas at the start of his monthlong working vacation.
The president is expected to reiterate that sentiment during numerous day trips to various states from his 1,600-acre ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Meanwhile, White House operatives, working closely with the Republican National Committee, are quietly urging regional interest groups in key states to keep up the pressure on Senate Democrats. The groups are writing letters asking for meetings with their senators while they are home for the August recess.
Several Republican strategists who spoke to The Washington Times said the idea is for the groups to demand consultations with their senators because Mr. Bush had consulted with those senators on the nomination.
The effort is targeted at Democrats in conservative states such as Arkansas and Louisiana, rather than liberal states such as Massachusetts.
The interest groups range from local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce and Fraternal Order of Police to less well-known groups such as the Colorado Catholic Lawyers Guild, which has requested a meeting with Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat.
In Florida, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is being targeted by statewide groups of real-estate agents, restaurateurs and medical professionals. In Iowa, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin has been asked to meet with the Iowa Sportsmen’s Federation. In New Mexico, Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman has been targeted by the state’s Alliance for Legal Reform and Fraternal Order of Police.
Judging by the limited resistance to the Roberts nomination being mounted by such Democrats so far, Republicans say the effort alreaedy is bearing fruit. As evidence, they cited remarks this week by Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
“I don’t really see any problems with this confirmation,” he told the Washington County Bar Association in Fayetteville. “The White House really reached out to the Senate on this one, and I’d assume that means the confirmation process will go a lot smoother. I think this was a good choice by President Bush.”
Another component of the August blitz entails aggressively booking Roberts advocates on local and regional talk radio programs, taking a template from the president’s successful re-election campaign.
Republican strategists are quick to emphasize that confirmation of Judge Roberts is by no means guaranteed. They recalled that while the initial rollout of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas went smoothly, the confirmation process turned ugly.
Mindful of such possibilities, White House officials are braced to respond aggressively to expected attacks against Mr. Roberts by Democrats, liberal interest groups and journalists.
Still, Republicans are heartened that the scorched-earth political warfare that many had predicted has not materialized in the 21/2 weeks since the president nominated Judge Roberts. They are pleased that they were able to quickly gain political altitude with the nomination, racing to cement public opinion before the Democrats could gain traction.
While Mr. Bush and White House operatives spend August lobbying for Judge Roberts, the nominee will spend much of the month studying material in preparation for his Senate confirmation hearings, scheduled for September. He also will undergo rigorous question-and-answer sessions such as the ones practiced by presidential candidates in preparation for debates.
Judge Roberts will be grilled by lawyers from White House Counsel Harriet Miers’ office and the Department of Justice, including acting Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand, who runs the department’s Office of Legal Policy.