As President Bush was winging his way across the waters off the coast of San Diego for his appearance Thursday on national TV, staffers at the Democratic National Committee were scrambling to find out exactly how much the evening's performance would cost the American taxpayer. "Republicans were always running all these numbers showing how much Clinton and Gore spent for their political gains," said a DNC staffer. "We're trying to do it with Bush and Cheney."
Unfortunately, the opposition researchers were out of luck. In fact, Bush is actually saving taxpayers money by spending the night on the USS Abraham Lincoln, where security expenses are much cheaper than they would have been at a land-based hotel. Moreover, Bush's flight out to the Lincoln on the four-seat S3 Viking aircraft is a flight the Navy usually makes to carriers that are coming in to shore, and Bush did not require use of the Marine helicopter that he usually takes.
"He just got lucky," said the DNC staffer. "We'll be able to get him lots of times in the coming months."
Probably not. Anyone who saw Bush on the deck of the aircraft carrier after landing Thursday afternoon had to realize this was no Mike Dukakis-in-a-tank moment. Almost certainly images from this trip will be replayed time and again during the 2004 campaign, to the benefit of Republicans.
"There isn't a Republican candidate who wouldn't kill to be standing next to him on that aircraft carrier," says a Republican political consultant. "It's a beautiful thing."
THE LAND-BASED LINCOLN
The White House has targeted Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln as a critical vote for any Bush tax cut in the Senate. While the White House and Republicans in that chamber will also lobby Louisiana's two senators, Mary Landrieu and John Breaux, the first termer from Arkansas is seen as critical.
The reason for Lincoln's importance is that she's up for re-election in 2004 and is expected to face former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, whose brother Tim lost the state's other Senate seat in 2002. Asa Hutchinson, who currently works as a Homeland Security undersecretary, filed papers last week that would allow him to run in the Republican primary. He is now waiting to hear from the White House on whether it would view his candidacy in a positive way. Hutchinson's name recognition alone would make him a formidable candidate against a senator who is not viewed affectionately by the voters.
"If Hutchinson wants to do this, he has a good shot, particularly if Lincoln keeps voting to the left of the state," says an RNC staffer.
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