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Protecting candidates gets more expensive

March 14, 2007|Carol Eisenberg | Newsday

WASHINGTON — Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said Tuesday that he expected to spend $85.2 million next year for bodyguards and bomb-sniffing dogs to protect the 2008 presidential candidates.

That's on top of this year's $21.4 million, bringing the total for this election cycle to $106.6 million -- up from about $73 million spent in 2004.

The increase is a consequence of a wide-open race in which, for the first time since 1952, neither the president nor the vice president -- both with full security details -- is a candidate.

"With President Bush completing his final term, and with Vice President Cheney indicating that he will not be a candidate for president in 2008, the service will face an unprecedented situation," according to the department's budget justification. "Consequently there will be a greater number of individuals receiving protection."

And it's not just the candidates who the Secret Service is concerned about.

Sullivan said he planned to begin hiring and training an additional 103 agents to be ready to guard Bush as soon as he steps down Jan. 20, 2009.

An agency spokesman declined to say how the size of that detail compared with those of other former presidents.

"In a post-9/11 world -- and with the activity levels of former presidents being what they are -- we have to plan accordingly," spokesman Eric Zahren said.

The Secret Service has been protecting major-party candidates since New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in June 1968. Four years later, Alabama Gov. George Wallace was shot five times while campaigning in Laurel, Md. He was left paralyzed.

Despite the unusually quick start of the campaign season, only New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has received Secret Service protection, which she gets as a former first lady, not as a candidate, Zahren said.

"No candidate has been designated for protection so far," he said. "I don't know if anyone has asked."

Although media reports have indicated that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has received unspecified threats from white supremacist groups, his campaign declined to confirm those or to comment on whether he had sought federal protection.

Historically, Sullivan said, protection is usually given to major-party candidates beginning in late January or early February of the election year, but that is not an inviolable rule. For instance, the Rev. Jesse Jackson got bodyguards earlier because of death threats during his two campaigns in the 1980s.

Homeland Security spokesman William Knocke declined to say whether any candidate had sought Secret Service protection.

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