Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 2002/ 25 Teves, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Winter wishes and big summer dreams | LOS ANGELES It's an ill wind that blows nobody good, so the Republicans are absolutely giddy over the hurricane that blew through their ranks this month.

You could ask some of the Republicans even in California, who need all the help they can get.

The president lost California to Al Gore by more than a million votes, and with nearly everything going sour in Sacramento, the White House blew a chance to take out Gray Davis in November with heavy-handed attempts to get the man George W. wanted to oppose him safely through the Republican gubernatorial primary. When that didn't work, they abandoned William Simon, the Republican nominee the White House didn't want. But for Republican bumbling, Mr. Simon might have unseated the governor, anyway.

Some of the Republicans here, like some of the Republicans inside the Washington Beltway, think the cover they need is a disguise to make them look more like Democrats: "Vote Republican, we're not as bad as you think."

They cite the example of what happened to Pete Wilson, the former governor who led the campaign for Proposition 187, which tightened state laws discouraging illegal immigration. Prop 187 won by a comfortable margin (provided, not so ironically, by the votes of Hispanic immigrants who became citizens by going by the rules). Soon after that, the state Republican establishment joined in pushing Proposition 209, which ended racial quotas in college admissions. Prop 209, propelled to success by the hard work of a black man who was its tireless champion, became law by a similarly wide margin.

But the Democrats, who play politics as if it were a game they invented, so successfully demonized Pete Wilson that the Republican politicians, who play politics as if it were football played by girls' rules, took a pledge never again to mention their success with Props 187 and 209.

Some Republicans here think the White House success at taking out Trent Lott and installing its own man as leader of the Republicans in the Senate has given them another chance to deliver California for George W. Though the Trent Lott fiasco didn't have anything to do with Hispanics - who have never been segregated from whites and who were not even on the nation's radar screen when Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 - they're counting on Hispanic enthusiasm to pump new life into Republican fortunes.

"Bush is popular among [Hispanics] and Republicans are not," Harry Pachon, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and director of the Tomas Rivera Institute, told the Los Angeles Times. "That's what our surveys show."

George W.'s popularity, of whatever size it may be, is, in the view of some Hispanic pols, based mostly on the man he is perceived to be - a churchgoing family man who speaks plainly, and occasionally in Spanish. "He even sometimes has difficulty with English, just like a lot of us," says one Hispanic businessman, returning a Christmas present at a men's store in a Costa Mesa shopping mall.

Nevertheless, neither Trent Lott nor Bill Frist seems to be on the minds of many Californians, and the episode that has consumed Washington for a fortnight is, like nearly everything else that happens east of San Bernardino, something strange and distant in a solar system far, far away. (Mr. Frist's name does not yet trip lightly off California tongues: I've heard him referred to twice in a week as "Senator First.")

The pols, of course, know all the details of the story, and what was (and is) at stake. "We lost a guy we could have kicked around for a while," Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times. "Lott would have wound up in every Democratic speech as long as he was in a leadership position. We would have never let him off the hook. There's nothing like a good foil in politics."

There's rarely a scarcity of effective Republican foils, and the way the Republicans made Mr. Lott in particular - and Southerners in general - the villains of a media frenzy offers scant reassurance to Mr. Frist. He's vulnerable, too. A doctor was once the beau ideal of every mother with a marriageable daughter, but medicine has become just another industry, traded on the stock exchange. Mr. Frist not only made his millions in highly profitable hospitals, but he once even saved Strom Thurmond's life. He sat next to Mr. Thurmond on the Senate floor for a year, with his resuscitator at the ready to preserve his party's slender majority. He's a Tennessean after all, who could be as easily scarred as one of his heart-transplant patients, at the mercy of the Democratic smear machine with only Republicans to protect his back.

Only yesterday, California was a Republican redoubt, as reliable to a presidential candidate as Alabama or Florida, and though it has become solidly Democratic since the Reagan era, its sheer size makes it an irresistible Republican target. George W. and his White House have large plans here in '04. Or at least big dreams and summer wishes. It's that time of the year.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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