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First Read: Bush cautiously campaigning

Bush cautiously campaigning. “First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 | 9:30 a.m. ETFrom Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

In today's issue:
Bush boosts Harleys and "Swanny" in Pennsylvania
Laura Bush outdoes her husband on the trail"Alan Gold's" gambling habit and other Connecticut Senate news
The macaca's still on George Allen's back

First glance
President Bush turns his focus to the economy in a hard-hit state that's crucial for his party this year.  Yet in a reflection of the limits on his ability to boost Republican candidates, he sticks to events with little or no press coverage in GOP-friendly areas, rather than venturing into swing territory, and devotes his fundraising effort to the party's struggling gubernatorial nominee rather than to its handful of vulnerable members of Congress, some of whom have sought to distance themselves from Bush this year.

Bush stops in York, PA for a tour of the local Harley-Davidson plant at 2:25 pm and a closed-press roundtable on the economy at 2:50 pm.  The factory is the company's largest facility, accounting for about half its workforce as well as 230 acres of land (there must a be a test track...).  After the roundtable, he'll offer a statement on the economy.  Bush then headlines a fundraiser for gubernatorial nominee Lynn Swann in Lancaster, PA at 5:30 pm.  "Swanny" is the second African-American Republican gubernatorial nominee Bush is boosting in recent weeks.  And like Ken Blackwell of Ohio, Swann's effort -- he's challenging Gov. Ed Rendell (D) -- is uphill.  A new Quinnipiac poll shows Rendell leading Swann by 57%-38% among likely voters.

As NBC's Tammy Kupperman points out, at nearly every fundraising stop he makes, Bush remarks that he wishes his wife Laura were there.  And so he must, given how polls consistently show her to be more popular with the general public than he is.  But the couple can accomplish more separately, and in the last six months or so, Laura Bush has increasingly hit the trail on behalf of some of the GOP's most endangered incumbents and most competitive candidates, raising money for at least 20 of them, counting today's effort.

Today she appears at four events in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.  First is a closed-press breakfast for Rep. Geoff Davis at a private home in Lexington, KY, then comes a closed-press luncheon for Sen. Mike DeWine at a country club in Kettering, OH, a campaign stop with DeWine and Rep. Mike Turner in Dayton, and finally, an open-press reception for GOP candidate Chris Wakim in Fairmont, WV.  Wakim faces the ethically challenged Rep. Alan Mollohan (D) this fall.  Note that Turner's Democratic opponent is dropping out of the race as we speak, after she and her husband were charged with domestic violence earlier this week, but that race wasn't shaping up to be competitive in any case.

Laura Bush's value on the trail lies not only in her personal popularity, but also in what she talks about.  Her husband and the Vice President tend to focus on three topics at fundraisers: Iraq, the broader war on terror, and tax cuts.  Laura Bush, on the other hand, recently has steered clear of talking about Iraq.  Nor does has she addressed the social issues that motivate the party base.  This past Monday, when raising money for the GOP candidate to replace retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R) in Illinois, the subjects she addressed included: the candidate's support for the line-item veto and the Bush tax cuts; environmental issues like recycling and protecting natural resources; the Administration's anti-gang initiative; and education.  She barely referenced Iraq and made no mention of abortion, despite the retiring Hyde's being one of the most staunchly pro-life members of Congress.

And while Bush showcases yet another of the GOP's minority candidates, presidential contender and Sen. George Allen (R) continues to grapple with his "macaca" line from last Friday.  As we noted yesterday, Allen is the second GOP presidential candidate in recent weeks to utter a racially insensitive remark and then say he was unaware that it was potentially offensive.  His damage-control efforts once again make the front page of the Washington Post.  Potential presidential rival and fellow Sen. John McCain (R) may get asked about it when he campaigns for Allen in Norfolk later today.

Have you checked out's political calendar lately?

Security politics
The Financial Times casts Bush's remarks yesterday at the National Counterterrorism Center in the larger context of a GOP effort to "make counter-terrorism a centrepiece of the forthcoming midterm congressional elections," while "the Democrats, who plan to capitalise on Mr Bush's growing difficulties in Iraq, continue to focus on Washington's alleged inability to implement key counter-terrorist recommendations of the 9/11 commission."

"The two parties are splitting the debate, with the president and Republicans pressing for tools to fight terrorism abroad as they seek to expand the issue to a global scale, and Democrats staying closer to home, arguing that the international war against terror makes Americans less safe," says the Washington Times.

We may hear from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) about the recent terror threat and the politics of it today, per MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell.  Clinton has an event to promote voluntary service in remembrance of the September 11 attacks in New York at 1:00 pm.  The New York Daily News writes up husband Bill's criticism yesterday of the Administration for linking the thwarted terrorist attack in London to Iraq.  "'The Republicans should be very careful in trying to play politics with this London airport thing, because they're going to have a hard time with the facts,'" he said on ABC.

The Los Angeles Times reports that "Bush told Middle East experts at a private meeting this week that a three-way division of Iraq would only worsen sectarian violence and was not an option for solving the country's problems...  The experts said in interviews that Bush signaled that he intended to make no policy changes in Iraq, despite warnings from military leaders and election-year arguments from Democrats that the war is a drain on resources and a distraction from the administration's campaign against terrorism."

Per the New York Times, July was the deadliest month so far for civilians in Iraq: "An average of more than 110 Iraqis were killed each day in July, according to the figures.  The total number of civilian deaths that month, 3,438, is a 9 percent increase over the tally in June and nearly double the toll of January."

A week ago, we wrote how Bush has become a key issue in the midterms, and how Democratic candidates across the country are using his image (negatively) in their ads.  In upstate New York, Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is airing a new TV ad taking on Bush's foreign policy in her race against Rep. John Sweeney (R).  The ad begins with Bush saying the United States is making progress in Iraq.  "I respectfully disagree," Gillibrand replies.  "I'm Kirsten Gillibrand, and I'll stand up to the President when he is wrong."

Lieberman vs. Lamont
Republicans continue to try to cast Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) as the victim of Democratic disunity over what course to take in Iraq, having apparently decided that they can gain more political ground against Democrats by glomming onto Lieberman than by supporting their own, hardly credible nominee, Alan Schlesinger.  Schlesinger himself told MSNBC's Chris Matthews yesterday, "What's happening with the White House is very clear.  I'm not going to allow Washington and the media to hijack this race and turn it into a national referendum on... the Democrat Party's future."

White House spokesperson Tony Snow said yesterday that Bush will not endorse Schlesinger.  Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney, fundraising in Phoenix, commented that Democratic National Committee chair Howard "Dean's party has turned its back on [Lieberman].  Senator Lieberman was my opponent in 2000... and one of the most loyal and distinguished Democrats of his generation.  Joe is also an unapologetic supporter of the fight against terror.  He voted to support military action in Iraq when most other senators in both parties did the same -- and he's had the courage to stick by that vote even when things get tough.  And now, for that reason alone, the Dean Democrats have defeated Joe Lieberman.  Their choice, instead, is a candidate whose explicit goal is to give up the fight against the terrorists in Iraq."

Dean's call for Lieberman to exit the race two days after the primary took place, which he made in the best interests of the party, hangs out there almost unechoed.  Many prominent Democrats were hesitant to follow suit even before the London-based terror plot was exposed, and may be even less inclined to now.  New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Russ Feingold, both presidential contenders, have been the only ones to do so, as best we can tell.  We'll see what former Sen. John Edwards (D), who very publicly changed his position on the Iraq war by saying his vote for the resolution was wrong, has to say when he campaigns with Lamont on Thursday.

Schlesinger, meanwhile, called yesterday for a debate over domestic issues, saying they've been obscured by the race's focus on Iraq.  And he had an interesting exchange with Hardball host Matthews over his gambling, uh, hobby:

Matthews:  Were you banned from casinos in Connecticut because you were counting cards from blackjack tables?
Schlesinger:  To be honest with you, some casinos have said, yes, we love your play.  Some casinos have said, no, we don't like your play.
Matthews:  So they banned you?
Schlesinger:  No.
Matthews:  What do they mean they don't like your play?
Schlesinger:  They say they prefer that I don't play because of my skill level.
Matthews:  And how do they say that?
Schlesinger:  Well, they say it in those words.
Matthews:  Do they tell you to leave?
Schlesinger:  Oh, a couple of times in casinos they've asked me to leave.
Matthews:  Well, how can you run for the United States Senate in a state where you're banned from some of these facilities?  That seems like that says something is wrong with you, like you're not credible.
Schlesinger:  Actually, no.  It has nothing to do with the race, and that issue has been dealt with over and over.
Matthews:  OK, have you had, in the fairly recent past, huge gambling debts that you've had to pay?
Schlesinger:  No, that's not true.  I had a dispute in 1989 and `92 and I settled them and I paid them.
Matthews:  How much?...
Schlesinger:  I think it was $10,000...
Matthews:  OK, did you ever use a false name to get a wampum card at an Indian-owned casino?...
Schlesinger:  Oh, absolutely it's true.  It's a marketing program for a casino and I didn't think it was anyone's business when I play at a casino, just like you can play anonymously.  And I just didn't want my name on any of their marketing lists.
Matthews:  OK, so you used.  What name did you use?
Schlesinger:  Alan Gold.

The New York Times front-pages how Lieberman has retooled his campaign.  "The senator appears so emboldened that in spite of the Democratic unity around Mr. Lamont, some Washington Democrats are now acknowledging that a Lieberman victory in November is a distinct possibility.  According to guests at a fund-raiser for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton... on Saturday, Mrs. Clinton - who is supporting Mr. Lamont - said that Mr. Lieberman had more than a 50-50 chance of winning re-election."  (What the article doesn't analyze is whether the White House cozying up to Lieberman will hurt him among independents and the Democrats who voted for him a week ago.)

The Hill reports today that a "group of Senate Democrats is growing increasingly angry about [Lieberman's] campaign tactics since he lost the Democratic primary," and that if "he continues to alienate his colleagues, Lieberman could be stripped of his seniority within the Democratic caucus should he" win the election.  Right now, he is in line to claim the chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Relations Committee.

On the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, Lamont emphasizes his successful career in business in laying out "how the experience I will bring to the U.S. Senate will help Connecticut and the Democratic Party during this time of testing for our country."

Lamont also "apologized on a local talk radio program Tuesday for his campaign manager's description of Waterbury as a place 'where the forces of slime meet the forces of evil.'" - AP

The Bush/GOP agenda
With Bush in Pennsylvania today, the Philadelphia Inquirer uses the opportunity to write up how the GOP is working hard for African-American candidates hoping to court the black vote.

The York Daily Record previews Bush's stop there.  He isn't the first to visit the Harley-Davidson plant. "President Clinton visited Harley in 1999 and President Reagan visited the plant in 1987."

The Chronicle reports on today's House GOP field hearing on immigration in Houston, which is entitled "Criminal Activity and Violence along the Southern Border."  "[I]mmigrant rights advocates say the premise bears too negative a perspective and label the hearing an exclusionary 'traveling road show' designed to confirm xenophobic fears.  Protesters have pledged to pack the civil courthouse room where the hearing will be held, wearing T-shirts bearing pro-immigrant slogans.  Others will rally on the steps outside."

The Democrats
Abortion may resurface as an issue for the Democratic Party today.  At 12:30 pm, NARAL Pro-Choice America holds a conference call with reporters to discuss a new poll on voters' views on the issue.  And Dean is in red state South Dakota today, where he'll appear at a press conference honoring Clarence Wolfguts, the last "Code Talker," and at a reception with the state party chair, both in Rapid City.  It's hard to imagine that he'll exit the state without commenting on the November referendum that would repeal the state's abortion ban.

Former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife, former CIA employee Valerie Plame Wilson, have switched legal counsel in their civil suit against Vice President Dick Cheney, his former top aide Louis "Scooter" Libby and presidential adviser Karl Rove.  NBC's Joel Seidman reports that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington attorneys Melanie Sloan and Anne Weismann will be representing the Wilsons in their civil suit while Joseph Cotchett, a well-known San Francisco-based attorney, will represent the Wilsons as chief trial counsel.  The couple are accusing Cheney et al of conspiring to destroy Valerie Wilson's career at the CIA.  No hearings have been scheduled.

More on the midterms
The Hill notes that a bunch of Republican candidates around the country, including one or two incumbents, are "attempting to co-opt the message of change that Democrats have made a centerpiece of their election efforts and slogans."

House Republicans have reserved $40 million worth of ad time to defend incumbents this fall and to "try to unseat a handful of Democrats, among them Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco...  Reps. Jim Gerlach, Curt Weldon and Mike Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania and Connecticut Reps. Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson are to get roughly $10 million combined in party advertising." Democrats have reserved $50 million.  "Generally, the two advertising blueprints overlap," per the AP.

The New York Times writes how Michael Schiavo has become "a political weapon in this year's midterm elections," as he campaigns against the politicians -- including Joe Lieberman (D) and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) -- who supported keeping the feeding tube in his wife.

In California today, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides will announce a "major" initiative focused on the middle class which, a campaign source says, "will reorder the state's priorities away from special interests and put them back on the side of middle class families."  Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee notes how many Democrats don't seem to be embracing Angelides.

Debate in the Maryland governor's race is centering on Baltimore and what aspects of the city are to the credit or blame of GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D). – Washington Post

In Nevada's gubernatorial race, it will be Jim Gibbons (R) versus Dina Titus (D).  "For both parties, the question now will be whether the two gubernatorial candidates can bring into the fold their opponents' supporters who might have been alienated by the harsh rhetoric of the primary campaigns."  Indeed, Titus' chief primary opponent said he wasn't ready to endorse her. – Las Vega Review-Journal

And as expected, former Harry Reid aide Tessa Hafen won her congressional primary last night, and will take on Rep. Jon Porter (R) in November.  The Review-Journal: "Thanks to Democrats' recent voter registration efforts, registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans in the 3rd District by 1,600, an edge of about 1 percent."

The New York Times writes that Texas Republicans will meet on Thursday to agree on a write-in candidate who will run against Nick Lampson (D) in the race to fill former Rep. Tom DeLay's congressional seat.  "But that slender prospect - no such write-in campaign has succeeded in the state - seemed to suffer a blow when a leading candidate facing party opposition," Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, "disparaged the meeting, saying 'that may have worked in Moscow,' and vowed to keep running even if it meant two Republican write-in candidates."

On GOP Sen. George Allen's predicament, the Washington Post says, "During the past two years, as Allen has flirted with the idea of running for president in 2008, he has introduced symbolic anti-lynching legislation in the Senate and promised to lead the charge for an official apology for slavery.  Political pundits who follow Allen closely said the new comments threaten that well-planned effort."

A year and a half before the caucuses, presidential candidates are flocking to the Iowa state fair.  "Many Iowa Democrats... are waiting for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton... to make her first visit," says USA Today, which already runs its list of caucus winners who went on to win their parties' nominations.

Sen. John McCain (R), for example, made his third stop in Iowa yesterday.  McCain "stuck up for the traditional lead-off roles of Iowa, with its caucuses, and New Hampshire, with its primary, in the nominating process."  Remember that McCain skipped the Iowa caucuses in 2000. – Des Moines Register

But the fair isn't the only thing attracting Democratic candidates to Iowa this week.  Wake-Up Wal-Mart, a two-week long campaign to "pressure" the company to increase employee benefits and wages, is making a pit stop there.  Sen. Evan Bayh supported the cause yesterday with a news conference.  Sen. Joe Biden will hold a news conference there today and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will attend related events tomorrow. – Des Moines Register

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