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How A Murderer And Rapist Became The Bush Campaign's Most Valuable Player

November 11, 1990|By ROGER SIMON | ROGER SIMON,Roger Simon is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Sun. This excerpt is from his new book, "Road Show," published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright 1990 by Roger Simon. Reprinted with permission.

Later, Cliff found out that while in prison in Massachusetts, Horton had been cited for 11 disciplinary violations, including possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Yet during that period, Massachusetts prison officials had given Horton evaluations of "excellent" and said "he projects a quiet sense of responsibility."

Dukakis eventually would call Horton's furlough a "terriblmistake." But he would never apologize to the Barneses. The Dukakis campaign said there was no need for Dukakis to apologize for something that was not his fault. The Barneses never forgave Dukakis for that.

Cliff and Angi did not return to their home (though they had to continue the mortgage payments on it). They rented a house for a while and got five large guard dogs before buying a new home. Cliff checks all the doors and windows each day. Angi doesn't like to go out after dark anymore and doesn't like to be anywhere alone. She is withdrawn. Cliff is angry. They don't mind admitting that their sex life suffered.

Cliff, Angi and Horton were all tested for AIDS. All testenegative, but the Barneses worry that it might show up later. They worry about that because Horton was using drugs in prison. "How many clean needles can you get in prison?" Cliff asks.

Cliff doesn't sleep well and Angi wants to sleep all the timeWhen she does, she keeps a knife on the nightstand. Sometimes she keeps one by the bathtub.

WHEN ROGER AILES HEARD THE story of Willie Horton, he immediately saw its potential as an ad campaign for George Bush. "The only question," Ailes said, "is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it."

THE FURLOUGH OF WILLIE HORTON was a supremely rational decision. Prisons are expensive ($15,000 to keep a person in prison for a year; up to $75,000 for each new cell built) and crowded. Over the decades, many governors of Massachusetts had commuted the sentences of men sentenced to life without (( parole.

Some of these men were old. Some were sick. Some were of nfurther harm (the governors hoped) to the community. So a furlough was a way of helping a man adjust to the outside world, a world he might eventually enter even though sentenced to life without parole.

Besides, furloughs were a way of maintaining discipline. A mawith no chance of getting out of prison had no reason to behave himself while in prison. He was a danger to the guards and other inmates. But the possibility of a weekend pass was an incentive for good behavior.

Nationally, first-degree murderers serve only eight years oaverage before they are paroled or have their sentences commuted. So Massachusetts was hardly out of step with the rest of the nation. Under Michael Dukakis, Massachusetts had one of the lowest crime and incarceration rates of any industrialized state in the country. Furloughs were cost-effective and progressive. They were sensible. Michael Dukakis understood that kind of thing. His life revolved around that kind of thing. Government was based on sense. And furloughs made sense. As do a lot of things. Until they go wrong.

LEE ATWATER ALWAYS INSISTED HE first learned about the furlough issue from the Democrats. It was one of the few things he ever gave the Democrats credit for. Al Gore had raised the furlough issue on April 12, 1988, in New York during a primary debate, though he did not name Willie Horton.

The Republicans already were looking for dirt, however. Atwatehad already formed what he called his "Nerd Patrol."

"The only group that I was very interested in having report to mdirectly," Atwater said after the election, "was opposition research." Opposition research was headed by Jim Pinkerton, 30, who had worked in the 1980 Reagan campaign, at the White House and at the Republican National Committee. "He had about 35 excellent nerds who were in the research division," Atwater said. "They came back with enough data to fill up this room."

The Nerd Patrol researched the Democratic candidates, evercontroversial thing they had ever said, every controversial position they had ever taken or policy they had carried out. Dukakis, as the likely nominee, soon became their chief target. In the end, the 35 excellent nerds produced 125,000 quotes from 436 different sources and put them all on a computer disk for instant recall.

But Jim Pinkerton, too, claimed he first heard about the furlougissue from the Democratic debate in New York. A light went off in his head. And he called one of his best Massachusetts sources, Andy Card, a former Republican legislator now working at the White House. Pinkerton asked Card about furloughs. Card filled him in on Willie Horton.

So Pinkerton told Atwater about Willie Horton and a light went ofin Atwater's head, too. "It's the single biggest negative Dukakis has got," Atwater said.

And that's the way the Bush campaign insisted it happened: ThDemocrats raised furloughs first. So go blame Al Gore for injecting Willie Horton into the campaign. Don't blame us.

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