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Political buzz from Washington

Issue: "Clergy Sexual Abuse," March 30, 2002

Over the past two decades, Joe Shattan has been a top aide to U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Education Secretary Bill Bennett, Vice President Dan Quayle, and Sen. Phil Gramm. So it came as no surprise that Mike Gerson, President Bush's chief speechwriter, would hire a wordsmith of Shattan's caliber to replace outgoing economic speechwriter David Frum. What was surprising was how quickly the Shattan choice became controversial. Shattan started on March 18. The next day Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank wrote that Shattan was a member of "a sleeper cell" operating inside the White House, part of a "vast, neoconservative conspiracy" run by Weekly Standard publisher Bill Kristol trying to push Bush into war with Iraq. MSNBC's Chris Matthews picked up the storyline, citing a list of mostly Jewish, pro-Israel conservative intellectuals who used to work for Kristol that now work in key White House positions. But insiders say Shattan got the job in spite of his Kristol connection, not because of it. Milbank also noted that last October, Shattan wrote a column for National Review Online, "Bush's Blunder," criticizing the president's decision to endorse a Palestinian state immediately after the 9/11 attacks. "Thanks entirely to the president and his team, the jihadist David appears to have wrested yet another major victory from the superpower Goliath," wrote Shattan, "and the campaign to defeat the Islamist challenge has gotten off to a singularly inauspicious start." Milbank says the column caused Shattan to be turned down for a job at the Energy Department, but was ignored by the White House. White House aides knew about Shattan's writings and his credentials and hired him for both. As a former member of the State Department Policy Planning Staff and author of Architects of Victory: Six Figures of the Cold War, allies say Shattan's strength is a keen grasp of foreign and economic policy. That's what the Bush team was looking for, and that's what they've now got.

Republican leaders desperately need to hold the U.S. Senate seat from Tennessee that Fred Thompson is giving up. They're breathing a sigh of relief that the popular Tipper Gore didn't run. But now they have new troubles. Democratic Rep. Bob Clement has scooped up Vice President Gore's endorsement, forced Rep. Harold Ford out of the race, and avoided an expensive, divisive primary. Republicans will have no such advantage. The White House is quietly backing former presidential candidate Lamar Alexander, a moderate, who polls strongly in the state. But Alexander faces an Aug. 1 primary challenge from conservative Rep. Ed Bryant. Alexander leads Bryant, 60 percent to 20 percent with 20 percent undecided, according to a poll taken this month. But while nine out of 10 voters statewide know who Alexander is, fewer than five in 10 (47 percent) know who Bryant is. Bryant has a good story to tell: A former military intelligence specialist in the U.S. Army and a Manager on the House Judiciary Committee that impeached President Clinton, Bryant has a 98 percent lifetime rating with the American Conservative Union. Alexander has the support of current GOP Gov. Don Sundquist. That may not help. For the past several years, Sundquist has tried to impose on the state an income tax bitterly opposed by grassroots conservatives.

Iowa Rep. Greg Ganske hopes to take down liberal Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin in November. Harkin is vulnerable, barely winning his last race with 51.8 percent of the vote. But first Ganske has to win his primary June 4. That may not be so easy. Ganske has boatloads of money. But as a pro-choice moderate, well-organized Iowa conservatives would like to rough him up and drive him to the right. Ganske is trying to reach out. He attended but didn't speak at a big fundraiser for the Iowa Right To Life Committee on March 16, attracting more than 700 activists. But when he was introduced by WHO radio host Jan Mickelson, Ganske received only a weak smattering of applause. A surprisingly strong roar of applause and cheers went up for Ganske's challenger, conservative Bill Salier, a U.S. Marine who served in Somalia. "I'm going to do to Greg Ganske what Bill Simon did to Dick Riordan [in California]," Salier told WORLD. That remains to be seen, but even top GOP strategists privately acknowledge Ganske's campaign is weak and has not yet energized voters.

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In California's race for governor, a new poll finds Republican business leader Bill Simon leading incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, 48 percent to 41 percent. Simon is doing particularly well with women voters. Simon leads Davis among women 46 percent to 43 percent, notes Simon chief strategist Sal Russo in a memo obtained by WORLD. "Among men Davis is especially weak. Simon receives support from a majority of men (51 percent) while only 39 percent of men support the troubled incumbent governor."

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