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Jewish World Review Aug. 23, 1999/ 11 Elul, 5759

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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Should Dubyah start buying soap ... for all that mud? -- IN NEAR-SALIVATING ANTICIPATION, a recent Washington Post article raises the question, "Is the Republican presidential race about to turn ugly?"

Yes, say Bush advisers after hearing that Steve Forbes has begun testing possible lines of attack against Bush in a poll of Iowa voters. They charge that Forbes is preparing negative and erroneous ads against Bush.

The Forbes camp shot back that Bush was making the charge to create a diversion from the substantive issues of the campaign. They will not, they say, be deterred from factually challenging Bush on the record.

Forbes' respectable second-place showing in the Iowa straw poll has unquestionably whetted his appetite for narrowing the GOP contest to a two-man race. So where does he go from here?

It's still too early to conclude that other candidates, such as Dole and Bauer, will not be players for a while, but the Bush and Forbes money give them an ever-increasing advantage as the months roll on.

Regardless of whether the Forbes votes are indicative of grass-roots support, he can make himself a perpetual thorn in W's side. The decisions he now makes as to how to proceed may set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

Bush has been criticized by GOP conservatives for failing to articulate specific policy proposals. His alleged failure to do so fuels their suspicions that he doesn't want us to know where he stands until he's secured a surer lock on the nomination.

Apart from whether this criticism is fair, sooner or later Bush will have to be more specific on the issues and other questions.

Forbes may have a great deal to say about whether it will be sooner or later.

Among the GOP front-runners, no one has more clearly articulated the conservative message than Forbes has. Forbes spokesman Greg Mueller said, "We are clear and away the issues candidate. We've got the best candidate who's got the deepest and broadest reach."

Indeed, the campaign appears to be shaping up into a cat and mouse game between Bush and Forbes with Bush wanting to avoid specifics as long as possible, hoping to conserve his formidable war-chest. Forbes, on the other hand, believes that by flushing out Bush he will either damage him enough with the conservative base to make this a real contest or nudge Bush farther to the right.

Even if Forbes is not ultimately deemed electable enough to mount a credible challenge to Bush, his hammering home of the message can only be good for the cause.

But based on the 1996 campaign, Bush aides fear that Forbes may go farther than that.

"We had certainly hoped we could take Steve Forbes at his word that he would not engage in the trash ball politics of ugly attack ads that he did in 1996," said Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker. "He said he won't, but this is the same procedure he went through in 1996 before he launched a series of attack ads on Bob Dole."

Forbes denies negative campaigning and insists that highlighting Bush's record and positions on the issues is what campaigns are all about. And he's correct, so long as he fairly characterizes Bush's record and positions.

It's true that part of Bush's popularity is attributable to his presumed electability by the Republican masses and others who want to remove the Clinton stench from American politics. Such starvation for victory has afforded him the short-term luxury of not being as specific as his critics are demanding.

But Bush needs to appreciate the depth of the legitimate frustration among the conservative wing of the party. And he needs to address it. They are outraged at perceived betrayals and broken promises of the Republican Congress, and even more so at the double-speaking, word-parsing chicanery of Bill Clinton.

In other times, a clear front-runner may be able to coast longer in the comfort of generalities. Following seven years of Clinton linguistics however, the public, and especially the right, has no more tolerance for indirection in communication.

Gov. Bush would be well advised to publicly unveil his specific conservative positions soon. By doing so, he may avert more third party defections and squelch the momentum of conservative challengers Forbes and Bauer.

Bush must not make the mistake that other Republican politicians have made of believing that the real strength of the party is in the center. The GOP remains markedly conservative and the sooner Bush convinces the base of his conservative bona fides the better for his campaign and the country.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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