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Bush Aides Deployed to Help GOP

Critics say White House has gone too far in using many of its top officials to stump for candidates.

November 02, 2002|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- When Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham campaigned recently for Republican candidates in Michigan, no one was surprised. Before joining the Bush administration, he represented that state in the U.S. Senate. But this weekend, Abraham will be stumping in Florida instead.

Why there? The Sunshine State is full of "snowbirds" from Michigan -- retirees fed up with the rugged winters of the Great Lakes region.

Abraham's 11th-hour deployment is just one example of how the White House has left little to chance in Campaign '02, with control of a closely divided Congress at stake.

Led by President Bush, the administration has pulled out all the stops in an attempt to win critical House and Senate seats.

During the last year, First Lady Laura Bush and Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, also have been pressed into campaign duty, along with most Cabinet officers.

And in a twist, some senior West Wing staff members have entered the fray, attending fund-raisers and other political events to promote GOP candidates from one end of the country to the other.

In the Clinton years, an occasional senior White House aide was asked to speak at political gatherings in Washington, but there was no systematic effort to have such aides travel the country, according to Joe Lockhart, who served as Clinton's press secretary in his second term.

"It's fair to say that no White House has ever been so totally mobilized for a midterm election," said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia political analyst. "Every single asset ... has been targeted and deployed to maximum effect."

Some of the White House aides have been pressed into campaign duty because they possess what White House communication director Dan Bartlett called "star power." These include Mary Matalin, Vice President Cheney's counselor, and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. Another frequent campaigner has been Karen P. Hughes, who quit as Bush's counselor last summer but remains a presidential confidant and frequent West Wing visitor.

Even Bush's parents have gotten into the act. Former President Bush and his wife, Barbara, have made frequent appearances for the reelection campaign of their son, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. They also have promoted many other GOP candidates throughout the country.

In more than 130 appearances this year, President Bush has raised in excess of $140 million -- long ago surpassing the $35 million President Clinton raised for Democrats in the first midterm election campaign of his presidency. Cheney has raised at least $22 million more.

The two are scheduled to campaign right up to election day. In a final burst, Bush's schedule has him visiting 15 states and 17 cities between Thursday and Tuesday.

Although critics acknowledge that presidents, as titular heads of their party, are expected to campaign, some say the Bush administration has gone too far.

"What this president and this White House have done is taken this role of chief party politician and big money fund-raiser to inappropriate extremes," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan group that promotes campaign finance reform.

But Bartlett dismissed such concerns.

"Precedent-wise, I don't believe it's unusual," he said. "Administration officials in the past have participated in the election process. It's not only appropriate but expected."

Hughes, Matalin and Card declined to comment about their campaigning, as did Karl Rove, the chief White House political strategist.

Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said that whenever White House personnel or other administration officials engage in political activities, their expenses are paid by campaign funds, based on an established formula.

Hughes, now paid as a consultant by the Republican National Committee, has campaigned for candidates not only in her home state of Texas but in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and Hawaii. She also participated, along with Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, in a "Women for Talent" event in Missouri to promote James M. Talent, who is running for the Senate against Democratic incumbent Jean Carnahan.

Card has campaigned in Michigan, New Hampshire, Maine, his home state of Massachusetts and South Carolina, where he remains known because he attended college there. Card also has spoken at fund-raisers in Washington.

Among White House staffers, Matalin has been perhaps the most peripatetic, appearing at more than a dozen events.

Probably no Republican has benefited more from the administration's efforts than Jeb Bush, who is in a tight race with Democrat Bill McBride.

Records show that the president has attended four political events in Florida and is scheduled to appear with his brother again today in Tampa. Cheney has appeared at five campaign events in the state and Cabinet secretaries stumped for the governor at least eight times. The elder Bushes have appeared on Jeb's behalf more than half a dozen times.

The former president also has campaigned for candidates in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Maine, Michigan and Texas.

Until now, Laura Bush had made about half a dozen campaign appearances, most recently Wednesday night for Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), a top Democratic target in Tuesday's vote.

In these final days, Mrs. Bush too will barnstorm the country for Republicans. On Friday night, she spoke at a dinner in North Carolina for Senate candidate Elizabeth Hanford Dole. On Saturday, Mrs. Bush will be in New Hampshire, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.

Mrs. Cheney will have appeared at a dozen or more campaign events by election day, according to her office.

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