Thursday, May 12, 2005

Key Republicans said yesterday that although Democrats did a better job in the early fight over President Bush’s judicial nominees, the GOP has achieved “parity” in the public relations battle.

“We were a little slower on the draw,” said a Republican strategist close to the effort. “But we’re there now — at parity with them in terms of mobilization and intensity and breadth and depth of coalition effort.”

The strategist said Democrats went into battle mode over judges the day after Mr. Bush was re-elected in November. Republicans did not catch up until about two weeks ago.

“It took conservatives and Republicans a little while to understand that we were going to have to do the same thing in order to get our message out,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In recent weeks, the Republican strategy for ending Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees has grown into a multifaceted public relations offensive by the White House, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and outside advocacy groups.

“It has all the tactical elements of a campaign,” said Stuart Roy, a consultant with Progress for America, an advocacy group running TV ads in support of the nominees.

Seeking to counter a similarly aggressive Democratic campaign to preserve the filibuster, Republicans are writing op-ed columns, booking Bush surrogates on cable news channels and deluging reporters with e-mails.

“We’ve been mobilizing our grass roots on this issue,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. “This is an incredibly important priority.”

The escalation in rhetoric is partly a response to intense pressure from rank-and-file conservatives who want Senate Republicans to insist on up-or-down votes on judicial nominees. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson yesterday railed against “waffling Republican” senators in a Boston Globe op-ed.

Meanwhile, the Union-Leader newspaper in Manchester, N.H., ran a front-page editorial urging Republicans to “wise up and have the guts to stop the Democrats’ current misuse of the filibuster.”

The conservative paper added: “We are quite sure the presidential primary voters of New Hampshire will be watching carefully to see how Republican senators act on this crucial matter.”

It was a veiled warning to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is expected to run for president in 2008. The Tennessee Republican is mulling a change in Senate rules that would block Democrats from filibustering judicial nominees.

To prepare the public for such a move, Mr. Frist has been working closely with the White House, the RNC and outside advocacy groups. Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, a political consultant, is playing a leading role in coordinating the various roles of each group.

For example, advocacy groups are in charge of running TV ads. Organizations like Progress for America are not prohibited from coordinating with the White House or RNC, because the campaign is not aimed at electing anyone.

In recent days, the administration has assumed an increasingly vocal role, with Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales speaking out on behalf of the nominees.

Yesterday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan flatly rejected any talk of a compromise that would confirm only some of the president’s seven blocked nominees.

“They should all get an up-or-down vote,” he told reporters. “Senate Democrats have gone to an unprecedented level to block nominees from receiving an up-or-down vote.”

But for every effort that the Republicans make to win public support in the burgeoning battle, Democrats are taking steps of their own to prevent the judges from getting an up-or-down vote.

Yesterday, for example, Mr. Frist hosted a conference call with College Republicans to rally support for the Bush nominees. But today, two Democratic senators — Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Charles E. Schumer of New York — will join Princeton University students in a mock filibuster in front of the Capitol Building.

An error in the last paragraph of this story in the print edition has been corrected in this online version. The last paragraph in the print version of the story incorrectly stated that Mr. Mehlman had hosted a conference call, when it was Mr. Frist who hosted the call.

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