Washington Prowler

Bush Travels Well

Campaign stops that pay dividends -- even in Minnesota? Plus: Bob Smith's understandable spite. Also: Bayou blues.

By 10.29.02

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Democrats in Washington were cheered by the decision of Sen. Paul Wellstone's family to essentially disinvite Vice President Dick Cheney from the Tuesday night memorial service in Minnesota. Not because the family's move was necessarily politically motivated (more on that later), but because of how it might effect future politically motivated moves. Late Monday night, it was decided inside the White House that President Bush would make one more trip to Minnesota before election day, most likely on Sunday. This, after fresh polling data showed Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman performing better than expected against anticipated Democratic replacement candidate Walter Mondale.

"We think a visit by Bush puts Coleman where he needs to be on Tuesday," says a White House political operative. "The national party has done everything it can in Minnesota to get him to this point, and he hasn't disappointed."

And Bush's trip to Minnesota has Democrats there nervous. For all their talk about how Bush doesn't have coattails, Democrats have seen GOP candidates spike in the polls, particularly among undecided voters across the country this year. "You look at poll numbers in California after Bush has been there and Bill Simon cuts the lead of Davis," says the operative. "In South Dakota Thune pulls up on Johnson. In Florida, Bush solidifies against McBride. This president may not have coattails, but with his appearances he's making some races more competitive than they might have been."

When word leaked out that the Wellstone family had asked Cheney not to attend, Democrats in Minnesota quickly told reporters it was because the family was angry at the way some Republicans continued to campaign over the weekend after the senator's death. Now Democrats in Minnesota are trying to fan the controversy enough so that the White House will be skittish about sending Bush into the state.

"If we can keep Bush out because they are concerned about appearances, then we win," says a Democratic National Committee staffer. "An aggressive campaign swing by the White House could actually hurt Coleman among undecided voters. At least that's our spin on the situation."

NOT SET IN GRANITE
If Republican Senate candidate John Sununu, Jr. loses to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, he can blame his own lazy approach to campaigning (he's been accused of micromanaging the wording on policy papers, and then turning around and not spending the time with prospective voters), or the anti-Arab whispering campaign his opponent got going on just about the campaign's first day.

Or he can blame outgoing Sen. Bob Smith, who has undertaken one of the most damaging opposition campaigns against his own party in recent memory. And who could blame him? After all, his own Republican Senate colleagues recruited Sununu out of the House to challenge Smith in the GOP primary. That said, Smith has not gone quietly. He has approved at least three separate write-in campaigns undertaken by long-time loyalists in the Granite State. And while this election might not hinge on the write-in votes, Smith's refusal to campaign for the party will certainly hurt Sununu's chances.

Give this to Smith, though, he hasn't sold out. White House presidential adviser Karl Rove has offered Smith everything from a cushy ambassadorship to a high level administration position if he'll agree to lay off Sununu and help the party. He's rebuffed every such offer.

BLUE BAYOU
A Mason-Dixon poll shows Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu with a sizable lead over her three Republican challengers -- Rep. John Cooksey, state Rep. Tony Perkins and state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell -- in the November election. But her numbers don't appear good enough at this writing to save her from a December runoff with the leading Republican vote-getter.

As it stands, Landrieu has the backing of 44 percent of those polled. Terrell is the closest, garnering 20 percent of the vote, followed by Cooksey with 15 and Perkins with 6 percent. The potential wild card is a the Rev. Ray Brown, a Democrat who is challenging Landrieu. He garners only three percent of the vote, with 12 percent undecided.

By Louisiana law, Landrieu could avoid a runoff and win the seat outright next Tuesday if she were to garner 50 percent of the vote. "It's doable for sure," says a Louisiana Democratic operative. "With that size of undecided, she could easily sway enough to pull it out."

Democrats aren't concerned about Brown, a New Orleans minister, peeling off many Democratic votes, the party official said.

Republicans hope to push Landrieu into a runoff with a more moderate Republican challenger, hoping that candidate can pull enough rural votes to upset Landrieu. It was thought that Cooksey might have the best shot at knocking her off, but he's been a disappointment as a campaigner. Terrell, a comparatively late arrival, has been a pleasant surprise. She's built much of her success on the financial backing of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee to emerge as the GOP's frontrunner.

Part of the problem bayou Republicans face is that in a state thought to be rather conservative they've been unable to paint Landrieu as an extremist. She generally supports the Bush White House in major Senate votes. Because the Republicans can't make a case for themselves, voters are left with the sense that they could just as easily live with the status quo.

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