What the Can­di­dates Stand For, Aside From Rais­ing Money

The Washington Post Sunday - - The Sunday Fix -

TThe Odds Are With McCon­nell in ’ 08

he 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign seems th­ese days to be mostly about rais­ing money. But when all is said and done, the can­di­dates’ poli­cies and ideas are sup­posed to mat­ter as much as any­thing else. Al­though the high­est stakes are in Iraq, other big chal­lenges are loom­ing. One is de­vel­op­ing new en­ergy sources, a realm catch­ing on with Democrats. But other prob­lems aren’t on any­one’s list, such as the com­ing crises in So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care, both big is­sues in the last few elec­tions.

De­spite the rap that some can­di­dates are all hat and no cat­tle, most are start­ing to line up be­hind a few big causes. Based on their speeches and pol­icy pa­pers, here’s a look at the is­sues pri­mary.

At Churchill Downs in Louisville, this horse would prob­a­bly go off at around 3- 1.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell is a po­lit­i­cal thor­ough­bred, on a course that suits him. Pres­i­dent Bush won Ken­tucky in 2004 by a large mar­gin. The Army’s 101st Air­borne Di­vi­sion, now serv­ing in Iraq, is based at Fort Camp­bell. As McCon­nell quipped last week, “ Ken­tucky’s not Berke­ley.”

But the four- term Repub­li­can has emerged as a top Demo­cratic tar­get for 2008, the next cy­cle’s Rick San­to­rum — the for­mer No. 3 Se­nate Repub­li­can, once re­garded as a GOP ris­ing star, who was soundly de­feated in Novem­ber.

A new in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion called the Blue­grass Free­dom Fund was reg­is­tered last week by Craig Varoga, un­til re­cently the cam­paign man­ager for for­mer Iowa gov­er­nor Tom Vil­sack’s pres­i­den­tial bid. Varoga also worked for Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Harry Reid about 16 years ago. He ac­knowl­edged that some in­ter­ested donors are fund­ing the group “ as an op­por­tu­nity” to raise is­sues in Ken­tucky, with McCon­nell on the bal­lot in 2008 and a hotly con­tested gov­er­nor’s race later this year.

The Reid con­nec­tion sug­gests pay­back for 2004, when Bill Frist ( R-Tenn.), then Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader, per­son­ally cam­paigned against Tom Daschle ( D- S. D.), the Se­nate mi­nor­ity leader, and Daschle lost his re­elec­tion bid. Reid spokesman Jim Man­ley said, “ We have ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with this.”

Mean­while, in a more im­me­di­ate threat, the lib­eral group Amer­i­cans United for Change is cur­rently air­ing an anti- McCon­nell ad on broad­cast and cable sta­tions in Lex­ing­ton and Louisville and on cable statewide. The spot ac­cuses McCon­nell of ig­nor­ing U. S. ca­su­al­ties in Iraq as he de­fends Pres­i­dent Bush’s war poli­cies in the Se­nate. “ Ken­tucky sees it,” the ad says. “ Why won’t he?”

McCon­nell seemed unim­pressed. “ I would doubt that an an­ti­war ef­fort would get much res­o­nance in a pro- mil­i­tary state like mine,” he said.

Re­fus­ing to Be Sec­ond- Class Can­di­dates

Sin­gle- digit pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates of the world, unite! Top ad­vis­ers to Sen. Chris Dodd ( Conn.), Sen. Joe Bi­den ( Del.) and New Mex­ico Gov. Bill Richard­son are re­fus­ing to at­tend an April 11 fo­rum spon­sored by Har­vard Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics be­cause, they say, or­ga­niz­ers grouped the can­di­dates by per­ceived chance to win the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion.

A March 19 panel dis­cus­sion fea­tured se­nior op­er­a­tives for the Demo­cratic “ first tier”: Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton ( N. Y.), Sen. Barack Obama ( Ill.) and for­mer sen­a­tor John Ed­wards ( N. C.). Dodd, Bi­den and Richard­son ad­vis­ers said they were seg­re­gated into a later fo­rum for can­di­dates run­ning be­hind the front pack in state and na­tional polling.

“ We won’t par­tic­i­pate in some­thing that per­pet­u­ates the idea of dif­fer­ent ‘ tiers’ of can­di­dates based on hype and money,” said Richard­son cam­paign man­ager Dave Con­tarino. An­other strate­gist, who would not speak on the record, noted that if the same rules had ap­plied dur­ing the 2004 nom­i­na­tion fight, Ed­wards — the run­ner- up to Sen. John Kerry ( D- Mass.) for the nom­i­na­tion — would not have made the cut.

“ Given the large num­ber of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, we be­lieved that break­ing the ses­sions into sev­eral events would be pro­duc­tive for both cam­paigns and ob­servers,” said Har­vard’s Esten Perez. “ We are dis­ap­pointed that sev­eral Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns in­vited to an April 11 event have de­clined to par­tic­i­pate.

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