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Rove Touts GOP As Tough on Terrorism

January 18, 2002 GMT

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Americans should vote for Republicans in 2002 as the best party to prosecute the war on terrorism, White House political adviser Karl Rove told the Republican National Committee on Friday.

``We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and hereby protecting America,″ Rove told party leaders at the RNC’s winter meetings in President Bush’s home state.

The message drew a sharp rebuke from Democrats who were meeting in Washington.


``If the Bush White House is politicizing the war that would be nothing short of despicable,″ said DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

``Democratic leaders have stood with the president in this war on terrorism, and it’s outrageous for Karl Rove to politicize this issue, and it’s an affront to the integrity of the united states military,″ McAuliffe said.

In addition to hearing from Rove, the RNC on Friday elected former Montana governor and Enron Corp. lobbyist Marc Racicot as party chairman, brushing off concerns about his ties to the failed energy giant.

Racicot’s election was expected. Rove’s comments were not, and sparked a wave of criticism from Democrats.

House Democratic whip Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal., said she was upset by the comments.

``I find it hard to believe there would be any implication that there’s any politics as far as the approach to the war is concerned,″ she said. ``I would be saddened if this were the case that they were trying to exploit terrorism as a political issue.″

In predicting close races this year, Rove also said the GOP can gain ground by supporting the homeland security efforts, education and the economy.

Bush tapped Racicot to head the RNC last month as part of a move to strengthen the party as it heads into this year’s elections, when control of Congress and dozens of statehouses is at stake.

The previous party chairman, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, resigned in December after resounding Republican losses in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia.

Racicot, a partner in Bracewell & Patterson, a Texas law firm with an office in Washington, lobbied for now-bankrupt energy giant Enron last year. He will continue to draw an undisclosed salary from the law firm, but said he will end all lobbying work while in the GOP’s top job and will forgo his salary from the RNC.


Racicot said he decided to stay with the law firm to honor a two-year deal. Asked if he’ll leave once it expires, he said, ``We’ll have to see what happens 11 months from now.″

Racicot pledged to continue aggressive fund raising while ``adhering to the highest ethical standards and upholding the trust of the American people.″

``I believe if we inspire our donors to give, reach into new communities for new voters, recruit quality candidates for office and invigorate our Republican base, we will succeed,″ he said.

The RNC said announced this week it had raised a record $82 million in political donations in 2001, Bush’s first year in Washington, nearly doubling the Democratic National Committee’s own record of $46.5 million last year.

Republicans say publicly that Racicot’s ties to Enron and the company’s large campaign donations to Bush and other politicians should not hurt the party in the upcoming elections. Several federal and state investigations are looking into the company’s financial collapse.

But some at the meetings have suggested privately that Racicot’s selection gives Democrats an easy target.

Even so, Racicot was elected unanimously.

He acknowledged the questions that have been raised but noted his pledge to stop any lobbying.

``Where I come from, people aren’t quite as suspicious of each other. You tend to believe that regardless of what it is that you do, you’ll act with ethical behavior,″ he said.

Maryland Republican state party Chairman Michael Steele said he had no problem with Racicot’s ties to Enron.

``It’s been disclosed and we know it’s there,″ Steele said. ``They’ve worked out the appropriate formulas so that he can assume the position.″

Republicans this week have rebuffed suggestions that the party will try to avoid discussing Enron on the campaign trail, noting the company gave heavily to Republicans and Democrats alike.

``We want to talk about Enron,″ RNC spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said Thursday. ``We want to talk about the investigation. We want the American people to know what happened. We want to know what happened. There’s not a desire not to talk about it.″

DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe said he thinks Republicans are ``shellshocked″ by Enron.

Racicot pledged continuing efforts to pull minorities into the party. The RNC announced new initiatives to attract Hispanic voters this week, including voter registration drives for newly naturalized citizens and intensive Spanish-language lessons for party leaders in key states.

``There is no greater priority than for us to expand the party,″ Racicot said.


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