San Diego Union Tribune

August 13, 2007

Tough crowd

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a new spokesman – Fernando Cuevas, who, if his job description calls for daggerlike claws, is certainly earning his paycheck.

Cuevas recently went after Rep. Brian Bilbray, the Carlsbad Republican who is featured in two recent news releases from Cuevas' desk. The first focuses on the recent House passage of a farm bill that increases subsides for biofuels and provides federal help for farmers. The second is about a House-passed bill that implements 9/11 Commission recommendations to beef up security at ports, for rail and transit, and for cargo on passenger planes. Bilbray voted against both measures.

Putting context aside, Cuevas appeals to voters in Bilbray's north San Diego district by tugging at two very emotional issues – terrorism and family values.



The headline on one release reads: “Rep. Brian Bilbray Refuses to Enact the 9/11 Commission's Recommendations.” The release goes on to say that politics is more important to the Bilbray than “defending America from future terrorist attacks.”

The headline on the second release: “Rep. Brian Bilbray Votes Against Family Farmers.”

For a moment, we will put aside the obvious question of how a family farmer differs from your garden-variety farmer. We suspect the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee painstakingly chose the word “family” to convey a very subliminal message: “Local Lawmaker Not Family Friendly.” Or better yet: “Bilbray Vote Takes Food From Mouths of Small Farm Children.”

Now, for the context missing in Cuevas' releases: Opponents of the farm bill worry that it will discourage foreign investment and that it may violate some treaties. Foes of the 9/11 legislation say the bill does not strengthen congressional oversight – one of the commission's chief recommendations.

Lest you think Cuevas is picking on Bilbray, be assured that his recent news releases are among hundreds that the committee sent to reporters covering Republican incumbents in districts where Democrats hope to pick up seats next year. We suspect that Cuevas and friends are hoping to massage voters' perceptions about Bilbray in preparation for his 2008 election campaign.



Our humble Duncan Hunter, the Alpine congressman who is giving up his House seat in hopes he can sit in the Oval Office, scored higher than any other presidential hopeful in a recent survey of Iowa voters.

The respondents to the poll of registered-but-undecided voters were Democrats, Republicans and independents, all of whom were asked to grade 11 White House contenders on their answers to a question about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

As a mere aside, we feel it is important to mention that the survey involved six voters.

Six. Now there's a representative sampling of America.

With that bit of perspective in mind, we turn to the question put to the candidates by an Iowa television station: “What do you think will happen when U.S. troops are withdrawn from Iraq, and what is your strategy to deal with what happens?”

Hunter's reply was what we've come to expect from this former Armed Services Committee chairman, who was in the Army himself and now has a Marine Corps son in Afghanistan. It is heavy on defending what U.S. troops are now doing in Iraq and short on the “troop withdrawal” aspect. It breaks down the U.S. mission into three nice sound bites: 1) create a free government; 2) create a military force capable of protecting that government; and 3) when all that is accomplished, U.S. troops leave.

U.S. forces are currently in the second phase of this three-step process, Hunter said.

“Not only is this phase critical to the continued development of the Iraqi military, but it will also determine when U.S. combat forces can begin rotating out from the battlefield and be replaced by Iraqi forces,” he said.

Hunter's reply was well-received, apparently: The six panelists gave him a grade of 2.66 out of a possible 3. For comparative purposes, we give you the scores of Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., 2.5; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., 2.33; and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., 2.16.

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.

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