Campaign eliminates holidays

November 29, 1999|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- In the past, folks seeking a breathing spell from presidential politics in the year before an election could count on a reprieve during the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Political operatives figured voters were too wrapped up in wrapping up Christmas presents and going to holiday parties to be interested in what one candidate had to say about another.

No more. Because the year 2000 schedule of presidential primaries and caucuses through which delegates to next summer's national party conventions are chosen has been shoved forward to start in January, the candidates and their campaign operatives now feel compelled to go all-out through December, holidays or not.

And it is not only the unprecedented early date of the Iowa precinct caucuses, now slated for Jan. 24.

New Hampshire

Only eight days later, on Feb. 1, the critical New Hampshire primaries for both major parties will be held. And a week after that, primaries in Delaware. Then will come South Carolina's Republican primary on Feb. 19, Michigan and Arizona three days later, followed by Virginia and Washington state in another week

And then pure bedlam on March 7.

On that date, the Super Tuesday of the 2000 election will see primaries in no less than 11 states, including California and New York, which separately or together will elect enough delegates to put a candidate in a commanding position for his party's nomination, if not clinch it for him.

The other nine states -- Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Georgia, Ohio and Missouri -- probably will get short shrift from the candidates, but not completely ignored.

After more than a year of campaigning for some of the White House hopefuls, the competition will turn into a sprint in January. Their strategists have determined that they can't "waste" the year-end holidays as usually has been done in the past, with candidates taking a last chance to store up their energies for the election-year push.

No doubt they will steal a few days of family time -- and pose for Those politically appealing photos carving the Christmas bird -- before Plunging into the January crush. But there will be no serious lull in December this time around.

Not only will the candidates themselves be working Iowa, New Hampshire and a few of the other early-voting states in the coming month.

They have already begun unprecedented early television advertising in such states, fearful that if they don't, the other guy will steal a march on them.

TV ads

All the leading candidates have started running television commercials in one or more of these early-voting states, with indications that the Christmas spirit isn't likely to interfere with a descent into negativism before the first of the new year.

Of particular interest is what is going on with the self-financed Steve Forbes, who four years ago ran early television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire -- hammering not only the Republican frontrunner and eventual GOP nominee, Sen. Bob Dole, but candidates of lesser strength like Lamar Alexander who could have drawn votes from Mr. Forbes.

The Forbes campaign earned a very black eye in the news media for its tactics then, and this time around his opponents have been warning of more of the same to come.

The warnings paid off for them through most of the fall, with the Forbes campaign first announcing it would run television heavily in Iowa(but then holding off, apparently intimidated out of fear of another round of bad publicity.

Even so, a group called the Republican Leadership Council, said to be close to the Bush camp, has been running an ad that warns that Steve Forbes "just might start" his low-road ads of 1996 again and counsels that if he doesn't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

The Bush campaign disavows any connection with the ad, but the Forbes camp has countered with a commercial asking why "Bush's liberal supporters (are) running this negative ad attacking Forbes."

And so it goes. So much for the advent of the holiday season.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

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