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Contrary to a report in Newsweek, Democrats in battleground states who talked to Human Events have no intention of comparing religious conservatives to the Taliban in the coming election season.
Such a strategy might mobilize the Democratic Party’s left-wing base in a few very liberal states where the Democrats are likely to win anyway. But in other states, where close races could decide which party controls the next Congress, the strategy would backfire, the interviews with Human Events suggest.
Nevertheless, Newsweek says leading Democratic strategists see it differently. In the magazine’s Dec. 31 issue, correspondent Howard Fineman explains their thinking:
“Our enemy in Afghanistan is religious extremism and intolerance. It’s therefore more important than ever to honor the ideals of tolerance – religious, sexual, racial, reproductive – at home. The GOP is out of the mainstream, some Democrats will argue next year, because it’s too dependent upon an intolerant ‘religious right.’ This is an incendiary battle plan – essentially comparing the GOP right with the Taliban – designed to draw an outraged response from the President.”
“Howard Fineman may be on the radar screen in Washington, D.C., but not here,” said Sarah Leonard, press secretary for the Iowa Democratic Party.
Iowa, a swing state that Al Gore took by only 4,100 votes, likely will witness a close contest this year between incumbent Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin and Republican challenger Rep. Greg Ganske.
The strategy outlined by Fineman “hasn’t been discussed by any campaign here that I know,” said Leonard. “Democratic candidates get votes from all over the spectrum in Iowa.”
“I can’t imagine that would be a strategy that would work,” Ganske – considered a moderate-to-liberal Republican – told Human Events. “I don’t think the average American is going to like it. To start comparing fellow Americans to the Taliban; I think that could build a big backlash.”
New Hampshire was once solidly Republican, but has been trending leftward in recent years and now has a Democratic governor, Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for the U.S. Senate. Incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Smith, one of the staunchest pro-lifers and social conservatives in Congress, would be an obvious target for anyone looking to attack a candidate for allegiance to the religious right. He faces a primary challenge from Rep. John Sununu, son of the former White House chief of staff.
But Colin Van Ostern, communications director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said Newsweek’s Taliban idea “is not anything that we’ve discussed. I read the same article.”
In fact, said Van Ostern, Democratic candidates in New Hampshire reach out to social conservatives – or at least some do.
“The ones that win,” he explained. “The Republicans hold a registration advantage in the state.”
Smith campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said he doubted that Democrats would try the strategy against his man.
“I can’t believe that will happen in a state where Pat Buchanan won the Republican primary,” he said.
The response was the same in left-leaning Oregon, where incumbent Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, a member of the socially conservative Mormon church, faces a potentially tough challenge from Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury.
“Making a comparison of the religious right to the Taliban is not constructive,” said Neel Pender, executive director of the Oregon Democratic Party. “Here, it’s all about the economy … . I think that the religious right is not as big here as in other states.”
Lashannon Spencer, political director for the Arkansas Democratic Party said, “I really don’t know. As far as the candidates having it as an issue that they’re running on, the answer is no.”
Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson, who has been closely tied to Christian conservatives for his entire career, likely will have a hard battle against state Democratic Atty. Gen. Mark Pryor, son of former Democratic Sen. David Pryor.
“I can’t believe that would be a very successful strategy,” said Jeremy Hutchinson, son of the senator and an adviser to his campaign. “This is still the Bible Belt.”
Conservative Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., represents a state with a dramatic mix of socially liberal and socially conservative elements.
“I haven’t heard that yet,” said Allard campaign manager Dick Wadhams of the anti-religious right strategy.
Wadhams doubted that Allard’s opponent, former Democratic U.S. Atty. Tom Strickland, would employ that strategy himself, but said “his extremist allies such as NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) or the Environmental Defense Fund” might. “I would welcome that kind of rhetoric,” said Wadhams.
“No, we’re not going to do that,” said Chris Watney, press secretary for Strickland’s campaign. “Demonizing people is not constructive. Our campaign will focus on the positive.”
Danni Newsum, communications director for the Colorado Democratic Party, said “not that I’ve heard” when asked if the strategy would be employed there.
Christine Iverson, communications director for Republican Rep. John Thune – who is taking on Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson in a closely watched race – said, “We haven’t seen any indication of that yet. However, I can say that would not work in South Dakota. We’re church-going people.”
Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly, a leader of many grass-roots activists in Missouri and Illinois, said, “I haven’t seen any evidence of it yet. Illinois doesn’t have much of a religious right. Missouri is probably part of the Bible Belt. The (Republican) Senate candidate (in Missouri) is Jim Talent. He’s never been particularly connected to the religious right. I don’t think it will work for them.”
Rep. Talent will take on Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan.
Nancy Streck, vice chairwoman of the Iowa Christian Coalition, said of the whole strategy, “I can’t believe people would fall for that. I think that’s really a stretch.”
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