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THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Republicans' Lost E-Mails Are Satirical Website's Gain

October 28, 2004|Peter Wallsten | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — For months, campaign staffers for President Bush and other Republican operatives have been sending internal memos and other documents, some of them sensitive, to the wrong e-mail address.

That is how the world learned this week of a so-called "caging" list consisting largely of African American voters in Florida, who critics say were likely targets of GOP voter challenges.

The e-mails were sent to georgewbush.org instead of georgewbush.com. The satirical georgewbush.org pokes fun at the president -- and is displaying many of those e-mails.

Posted on the website now is material related to the campaign's battleground state strategy, fretting over Democratic candidate John F. Kerry's gains on the stem cell issue, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's scripts for automated calls to Spanish-speaking voters encouraging early voting -- even discussion by one of presidential daughter Barbara Bush's admirers, who was advised by one correspondent to "stay away from [twin sister] Jenna or things could get ugly."

The website's owner, John Wooden, said he only discovered in the last two weeks that the site had been collecting the errant e-mails. The e-mails can be found by clicking on the link for the "Dead Letter Office."

One GOP official in Washington state openly worried about whether a county party organization had violated federal campaign laws by running an ad for Bush in its newsletter.

"God help us if the Democrats find out," wrote Ardean A. Anvik, a state committee man from Mason County.

On Kerry's apparent success in scoring points over embryonic stem cell research, one Republican wrote to campaign advisor Mary Matalin in early October: "Can't we say something intelligent? Can't Bush announce something progressive like dedicating even more federal funds to stem cells and other, more advanced areas such as cord blood? ... When healthcare is discussed next debate, things like stem cells and healthcare insurance and expensive drugs could bury him."

It was another set of misdirected e-mails that tipped off the British Broadcasting Corp. to a list GOP researchers prepared of more than 1,800 presumably Democratic voters in Jacksonville, Fla.

The publishers of georgewbush.org sent that e-mail -- complete with voter names -- to a BBC reporter about 10 days ago, said Wooden, the Brooklyn-based Web designer who created the site and posted the e-mails.

"I was as surprised as anyone," said Wooden, who bought the domain name a year ago for $1,000 and has since built a site that closely resembles the campaign's official site.

"When I realized what was there, I was excited," he said. "I thought there would be some juicy Watergate-type thing. The caging thing was the only one that was remotely interesting."

There are, however, a few more eyebrow-raising items.

One activist suggests producing an ad focused on Lynne Cheney's remark that Kerry was a "bad man" for invoking her daughter's sexual orientation.

A memo intended for Bush senior strategist Karl Rove before the party's national convention offers a list of invitees -- including conservative journalists, members of Congress and Cabinet officials -- to a "confidential" party sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.

An e-mail written this month labeled "For Internal Use Only" laid out plans for three Ohio events targeting African American pastors who backed Bush.

Informed of the satirical site's e-mail postings, Bush campaign spokesman Reed Dickens was unfazed.

"We're grateful that over 7 million people have found the right address at georgewbush.com," he said. "We hope more people will find the real georgewbush.com."

That won't be possible for millions around the world, though. This week, the Bush campaign changed the settings on its official site to make it inaccessible to international users. Dickens said he was not permitted to provide an explanation.

The change was good news for Wooden.

"Everyone can still see georgewbush.org," said Wooden, "which I think is a far more accurate representation of the motives and priorities of the Bush campaign."

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