Thursday, February 26, 2004

Campaigning Dirty?

Once again, from the usually insightful

It's Texas, 1994, and Karl Rove is running George W. Bush's campaign against Gov. Ann Richards. Bush appears to be in for an uphill fight against a popular incumbent, but then the whispers and the rumors start. Maybe there's a lesbian working for Richards. Maybe she's using state funds to visit her lover. Maybe Richards herself is gay.

"There was a lot of whispering going on in the backwater," says Bill Cryer, a former newsman who worked as Richards' press secretary. "I don't think anybody ever really thought Ann Richards was gay, but somebody was trying to plant the seed."

Bush says nothing about the rumors, but he doesn't have to. The stories are everywhere, and one day a Bush surrogate -- a state senator serving as Bush's East Texas campaign chairman, a guy who just happens to have worked with Rove -- says just enough about the rumors to get the word into the press. Richards' appointments of "avowed homosexuals," he tells a reporter, might be a liability in her campaign for reelection.

Just like that, the allegation is on the record, the rumors become newspaper stories, and Bush becomes governor of Texas.

Six years later, it's South Carolina, and Bush is running for the Republican presidential nomination against Arizona Sen. John McCain. The rumors start again, and this time McCain is the target. Maybe he's mentally unstable; maybe he has "sired" an illegitimate black child; maybe his wife has a drug problem. "A day in the McCain campaign looked like a day at NORAD watching missiles coming across the screen," says Trey Walker, who served as McCain's national field director. "We had a thousand missiles coming in every day."

After McCain meets with a group of gay Republicans, somebody sends anonymous letters about the meeting to South Carolina legislators who had endorsed him. Somebody distributes a flier calling McCain the "fag candidate."

Bush wins South Carolina, then the Republican nomination, then the presidency.

Neither Bush nor Rove nor the Republican Party will talk about what happened in Texas or South Carolina, or how they plan to use the gay marriage issue as a political tool in 2004. The White House did not respond to requests for interviews for this story, nor did the Republican National Committee or a top official in Bush-Cheney '04. But if the Republicans are silent, Democrats say their past speaks volumes.

"Just look at what Bush did to McCain in South Carolina, and that was somebody who was in his own party, who was also, by the way, a Vietnam veteran and American hero," says George Shelton, a campaign strategist and former director of communications for the Democratic Governors' Association. Facing a Democrat, he said, "I don't think they're going to feel that they need to be any nicer."