UPI's Capital Comment for Oct. 31, 2002

By United Press International  |  Oct. 31, 2002 at 12:31 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Blowback -- It was supposed to be a memorial service, bring people from all walks of life together to honor the memory of an unconventional politician. Instead, as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune described Tuesday night's memorial service for Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., it was "A huge and sympathetic crowd of more than 20,000 people, a mass of state and national media, signs and songs and shouts of unrepentant liberalism -- it would have been a spectacular late-campaign rally."

The partisan overtones may work to the Democrat's disadvantage even while The Minnesota Poll for the Star-Tribune published Wednesday had former Vice President Walter Mondale leading Republican Norm Coleman by 47 to 39 percent -- close to where the race stood two weeks ago when Wellstone led Coleman 47 to 41 percent.

The crowd booed Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, as they entered the arena. Lott ended up leaving the service before it concluded while Ventura and his wife walked out of the service as Rick Kahn, described as one of Wellstone's closest friends, gave an overtly partisan eulogy. Kahn called out some of the Republicans in the crowd by name, asking them to cross party lines and help elect a Democrat on election day.

Ventura is so angry by the way the event unfolded that he is now threatening to name an independent to fill Wellstone's unexpired term rather than a Democrat as some expected. "I feel used. I feel violated and duped at the fact that turned into a political rally," he said Wednesday.

Former Minnesota Republican U.S. Rep. Vin Weber called the memorial "A complete, total, absolute sham." Weber said afterward that it was clear to him that, "The DFL clearly intends to exploit Wellstone's memory totally, completely and shamelessly for political gain. To them, Wellstone's death, apparently, was just another campaign event," Weber, an advisor to Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain during his 2000 presidential bid said.

Other national Republicans are offering more temperate reactions. National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Dan Allen said, "I know that emotions were running high Tuesday night but the fact is that it was inappropriate to boo members of the other party at a memorial service that was supposed to be about bringing people together." Among participants in an unscientific Star-Tribune online poll, 46 percent agreed "It wasn't a memorial; it was a political rally," while 15 percent said Wellstone would have approved.

Don't count Connie out -- The Democrats have believed for some time that one of their best chances to pick up a seat in the U.S. House is in the Maryland suburbs outside of Washington. U.S. Rep. Connie Morella, the 16-year liberal GOP incumbent who House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, once described as coming from her own wing of the Republican Party, is locked in a tight race for re-election against Democrat state Sen. Chris Van Hollen in a redrawn district where Democrats have a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration. However a new poll, taken after Morella's campaign bombarded the airwaves with ads critical of Van Hollen's record, shows the Republican has opened up a slight lead.

The poll of likely voters conducted for the Baltimore Sun and The Gazette Newspapers shows Morella with a 44 percent to 42 percent lead over Van Hollen and with a favorable rating of 78 percent. Undecideds are at 14 percent but when leaners are added to the mix, Morella polls at 47 percent to Van Hollen's 43 percent. The numbers are well within the five-point margin of error but represent a shift in the race. Surveys in September had Van Hollen leading by three points.

Big tent -- Things were buzzing under the big white tent that went up over the north lawn of the White House Wednesday. Large enough that it could be seen from several blocks away, it kept the rain off the hosts of 45 national and local radio talk shows who had been invited to broadcast from the White House. The event was billed as an opportunity for Cabinet secretaries and other senior administration officials to talk to and with America about the accomplishments and ambitions of the Bush administration without having to pass through the filter of the Washington press corps. Most of the hosts, such as former Reagan NSC aide Oliver North and Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity, have a decidely conservative slant to their programs, which is probably how they got on the invitation list in the first place.

Playing post office -- The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-partisan government watchdog group, is reacting angrily to reports that a senior executive of the Postal Service was forced to resign amidst allegations she attempted to punish a candidate for the U.S. Senate who had been critical of the alleged mismanaged government mail system through a redirection of USPS resources. Saying the alleged activity represents "a new level of corruption and mismanagement," CCAGW Vice President Leslie Paige said, "Taxpayers and their representatives in Congress should be up in arms." USPS Senior Vice President Deborah Willhite resigned abruptly Friday amid allegations she used the federal mail budget to hurt the re-election chances of Arkansas Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson.

"Since this spring, CCAGW has been calling for a complete and public audit of USPS books to root out the millions of dollars of waste, fraud, and abuse we know exists," Paige said. "This latest scandal confirms that not only do postal officials lose, misspend and abuse the postal budget with impunity, they may also be using their scarce resources to manipulate elections, which is clearly prohibited by the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act. It's time for independent third party to get to the bottom of where all our money is going."

Don't smoke 'em if you got 'em -- -- The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a public health organization, is calling for increased efforts to crack down on cigarette smuggling after a story in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal said current efforts were too lax. The groups say the Journal story provides "powerful evidence that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Japan Tobacco knew that their distributors were shipping cigarettes to Iraq in violation of U.S. law and U,N. sanctions, thereby financially benefiting Saddam Hussein's family." Matthew L. Myers, the campaign's president, wants the White House to "support strengthening U.S. law to combat cigarette smuggling and to include strong anti-smuggling provisions in the proposed international tobacco treaty."

"The U.S. government should aggressively investigate and prosecute any violations of U.S. law and support the efforts of the European Union and other countries to hold U.S. tobacco companies accountable in U.S. courts for their involvement in cigarette smuggling," Myers said.

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