Bickering Republicans turn to Michigan

Bush-McCain: Negative campaign and name-calling rob voters of debate over key social issues.

February 22, 2000

THE RESULTS are in -- and it's not encouraging for the presidential election this fall. Negative campaign tactics have been declared the winner, by a wide margin.

Instead of a debate on issues voters care about, the campaign apparatus of Texas Gov. George W. Bush has been sullying the conservative credentials of upstart Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Not surprisingly, those tactics worked in Saturday's Republican primary in South Carolina.

It also, not surprisingly, provoked Mr. McCain to strike back while touring Michigan, accusing his opponent of twisting the truth "like President Clinton" and going negative through surrogates.

Michigan and Arizona voters go to the polls today.

They could find it tough to separate the kernels of truth from all the chaff being tossed around.

The Texas governor is focused almost exlusively on tarnishing Mr. McCain's reformer image and his reputation as a conservative. He has yet to give voters more than a few reasons why they should cast their votes for George W. Bush.

Mr. McCain, too, has gotten caught up in denigrating his opponent, neglecting the kind of issues discussion that won him impressive support in New Hampshire.

Where, for instance, is the discussion of needed changes in America's health-care system? How about the long-overdue reforms of the Social Security and Medicare systems? And what about a detailed debate on ways to take some of the corrupting influences out of the financing of political campaigns?

Not during this primary season.

Mr. Bush, in particular, has disappointed. His pandering to the religious conservatives in South Carolina, his attempts to paint Mr. McCain as a liberal, and his lame efforts to describe himself as the reform candidate do not bode well for the general election. Superficial sound bites don't substitute for in-depth discussions of the issues that worry people.

After today's elections, the two Republicans -- plus Democrats Bill Bradley and Vice President Al Gore -- start the run-up to the March 7 primaries in 13 states, including California, New York, Ohio and Maryland.

Substance, not name-calling, could prove most effective in wooing voters that day.

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