Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Democratic party chairman outlines battle plan for November election"

Guardian (UK):
The Democratic party will portray Republican presidential nominee John McCain as "wishy washy" on key issues but claimed they will not raise his advanced age during the general election campaign, party chairman Howard Dean said today.
In a briefing with reporters, Dean outlined the party's attack strategy, formulated with the help of a team of pollsters aligned with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the contenders for the Democratic nomination.

Dean said McCain's age, 71, is a "significant concern" to voters, who are wary of his physical fitness to occupy the Oval Office and who deem his views "old fashioned."

Nevertheless, he said, "I doubt we will bring it up in November."

"There's a somewhat higher ethical bar on our side of the aisle," he said.

Instead, Dean, former governor of Vermont and himself a presidential candidate in 2004, indicated the Democrats will attack McCain as "wishy washy," changing his positions on taxes, immigration and other issues in order to win Republican primary votes.

"We're absolutely going to target it," he said. "It's one of the biggest weaknesses he's got."

A similar line of attack helped sink 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, whom the Republicans attacked as a "flip-flopper."

Dean said that voters use the term "wishy washy" in a series of polls in 17 swing states.

"They [the voters] volunteered the words 'wishy washy'," he said. "That was their brand. I think it's an enormous problem because it goes at his fitness to be chief executive."

As examples, Dean noted that McCain opposed President Bush's tax cuts for wealthy individuals in Bush's first term, but now favours making them permanent. McCain has said that allowing the tax cuts to expire would be tantamount to raising taxes, which he opposes.

Also, Dean and other Democrats at the briefing noted that McCain has toughened his tone on illegal immigration, now pushing a "border security first" in place of the comprehensive plan he proposed in the Senate, which would have created a path to legal status for illegal immigrants.

Dean said that while voters polled by the Democrats respect McCain's military service, which he has used to cast himself as the strongest candidate on national security, it won't significantly aid him, in part because the Vietnam war happened so long ago.

"They viewed that as 40 years ago," Dean said.

The McCain campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also today, Dean downplayed "hand wringing" among Democrats who fear the protracted nomination fight between Clinton and Obama will hurt the eventual nominee's chances in November.

He said the party benefits from the extended campaign, for instance by gathering data on Democratic voters as Obama and Clinton battle for them.

In November, he said, the party will know where likely Democratic voters live and will have a better sense of how to draw them out to the polls.

A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee said "Americans are going to elect Senator McCain as president because he has the judgment, character, and positive vision to strengthen our nation's economy and win the war on terror.

"Howard Dean's delusions aside, John McCain is widely respected for being straightforward and honest with the American people, and he has a lifelong and distinguished record of service that has warranted the admiration of voters from all walks of life," Amber Wilkerson, the spokeswoman, said in a statement.

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