Senate Republicans Turn Up the Heat on Edwards

Posted July 16, 2004 at 6:27pm

Senate Republicans will ratchet up their criticism of Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) in the coming weeks, seeking to label the presumptive vice presidential nominee as an out-of-touch liberal “elitist.”

The GOP’s focus on Edwards is part of a broader strategy to challenge the Democratic presidential ticket’s “family values” before the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and Edwards “redefine American ‘values’ to accommodate their agenda,” warns a new Republican strategy memo.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) is urging his GOP colleagues to contrast Republican priorities with the Kerry-Edwards legislative agenda in an effort to persuade voters that President Bush deserves a second term.

“Our response has to remind the public that Kerry-Edwards ‘values’ are not mainstream, but elitist,” Santorum declared in the July 13 memo, which includes talking points Republicans are expected to use in the next six weeks. The Pennsylvania Republican directed his colleagues to link the two Democrats to the “Hollywood/entertainment elite” and asserted that “Hollywood’s values are not America’s values.”

The Senate Republican strategy coincides with a new television ad by President Bush’s campaign that criticizes Kerry for failing to fight for family values in the Senate. The ad disparages Kerry for opposing legislation requiring parents to be told if their teenager seeks an abortion, and for permitting schools to dispense the “morning after” pill, which precludes pregnancies within a short time of unprotected sex, without parental consent.

“When it comes to issues that affect our families, are John Kerry’s priorities the same as yours?” a narrator asks in the new commercial.

But Republicans appear to be concerned about Kerry’s selection of Edwards as his running mate, and they recognize that adding a Southerner to the ticket helps boost Democratic prospects in that region and in the Midwest.

“While John Kerry is clearly branded as a Massachusetts liberal, it is now critical to brand John Edwards as liberal as Kerry,” Santorum states in the memo.

In an effort to neutralize Edwards’ appeal with undecided voters, Republicans are expected to highlight Edwards’ voting record as well as his career as a wealthy trial lawyer when they return home to their states next week.

But a Kerry-Edwards campaign spokeswoman dismissed as baseless the GOP’s strategy to undermine the Democratic Senators.

“First of all, this is unsurprising that the Republicans’ M.O. throughout this campaign has been negative, negative, negative, attack, attack, attack,” said Allison Dobson, a spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign. “With no plan, no record, they don’t have much to do but attack. But fortunately, John Edwards has a record. It is an unimpeachable one — of defending middle-class families and standing up for the values that Americans hold dear.”

To distinguish the differences between Kerry-Edwards and the incumbent ticket of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Santorum suggested that the GOP pursue a legislative agenda in the fall that is focused on faith-based legislation, judges, medical liability, welfare reform, parental notification for teenage abortions and a second vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In addition, there is preliminary talk of a push to woo Jewish voters — who have traditionally voted staunchly Democratic — with arguments that Bush is a stronger ally for Israel than Kerry is.

“The European elite will say that the reason we are hated is for our Middle Eastern policies — [supporting] Israel,” said a Republican leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. “So when [Kerry] says we need to restore credibility he means with France and Germany. The box he is in is that he’ll need to soften on Israel.”

The Republican leadership is also considering asking Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to provide dates when Kerry and Edwards would be able to return to the Senate to vote on these issues. They would inform the media of the request.

“Daschle needs to be approached, and it needs to be leaked,” Santorum wrote. “We are asking Daschle to tell us when in August Kerry and Edwards can make it back to vote.

“Keep it dangling, keep it in the press, keep trying to schedule,” added Santorum, who underlined this sentence for emphasis.

Todd Webster, a spokesman for Daschle, criticized the Republican leadership for focusing on the presidential campaign instead of its stewardship of the chamber.

“Having failed to pass virtually any legislation this year, the Washington Republicans should spend less time worrying about campaign schedules and more time working to get the Senate back on schedule,” Webster said. “The middle-class families being squeezed between stagnant wages and skyrocketing costs would surely appreciate it.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are still threatening to use a parliamentary maneuver to try to force votes on several health care bills that they have identified as priorities.