Wayne Newton croons for GOP rent-a-mob
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 100 17:49:03 -0800
Subject: Wayne Newton croons for GOP rent-a-mob
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This article has raised quite a fuss since it appeared in yesterday's Wall
St. Journal. Next time we organize a direct action, we must remember to
insist on suites at the Hilton and $30-a-day food allowances. And let's
make sure it's in a tropical setting.
Politics & Economy: Protest in Miami-Dade Is a Well-Organized GOP Effort
--- Bush Campaign Pays Tab For Capitol Hill Aides Flown In for Rallies
MIAMI -- When outraged Republicans raised a ruckus outside the Miami-Dade
County elections office last week, some protesters at the door weren't
local citizens. They were Capitol Hill aides on all-expenses paid trips,
courtesy of the Bush campaign.
Right up front on television images of the event last Wednesday were
Thomas Pyle, an aide to GOP Rep. Tom DeLay, and Michael Murphy, who works
for a DeLay fund-raising committee. Doug Heye from California Rep. Richard
Pombo's office also was in the fray.
Shortly after the door-kicking, window-banging protest, the Miami-Dade
canvassing board made a sharp U-turn, suspending a recount that was expected
to help Vice President Al Gore chip away at Texas Gov. George W. Bush's
lead. Mr. Gore's inability to secure these votes was a key to Mr. Bush's
certification as the Florida winner last night. Miami-Dade canvassing-board
members, while denying that the crowd cowed them, decided they couldn't
complete the count by yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline without using a room that
the protesters complained limited public access.
Their work in Miami done, the Republicans headed to Broward County, where
they joined a platoon that included about 20 other congressional staffers,
who had watched the Miami-Dade commotion on CNN and wildly cheered their
compatriots' televised antics. The protests grew in Fort Lauderdale, with
hundreds of placard-wielding Republicans protesting the recount for several
Yesterday, some of these same staffers were involved in a confrontation
with Democrats, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, in West Palm Beach.
Tensions heightened momentarily as Democratic volunteers squeezed through
the mob of GOP protesters to gather their campaign signs, but cooler heads
prevailed. Behind the rowdy rallies in South Florida this past weekend
was a well-organized effort by Republican operatives to entice supporters
to South Florida. The protests drew angry denunciations from top Democrats,
with several congressmen requesting a Justice Department inquiry. Vice-
presidential candidate Joe Lieberman said the "orchestrated demonstrations
. . . were clearly designed to intimidate and to prevent a simple count of
votes from going forward."
Bush operatives deny trying to intimidate. But they readily acknowledge
that shortly after Election Day they began recruiting Republicans
nationwide to come to the three predominantly Democratic South Florida
counties then considering manual recounts. The biggest contingent appears
to have hailed from within the marbled walls of the Capitol complex in
Washington. "Because we were heavily outnumbered in these counties, we
called people from around the country," says Terry Holt, a communications
director with the Republican National Committee. Democrats "may not need
volunteers," he quips. "They've got judges" on local election canvassing
Democrats have organizers down here, too, and they were the first to hit
the streets. The Rev. Jesse Jackson flew to West Palm Beach shortly after
the election to lead a protest against the confusing "butterfly ballot,"
prompting conservative commentator Mary Matalin to dub attendees
"rent-a-rioters." Democrats say they haven't flown staffers or operatives
down to Florida to protest, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.
This has allowed Republicans to quickly gain the upper-hand, protest-wise.
In Washington, several GOP aides say the office of Mr. DeLay, the House
Republican whip, took charge of the effort on Capitol Hill, passing on an
offer many staffers couldn't refuse: free air fare, accommodations and food
in the Sunshine State -- all paid for by the Bush campaign. Aides who
accepted took advantage of liberal congressional workplace rules that allow
them to jump from government jobs to political tasks at a moment's notice
by declaring themselves on vacation or temporary leave.
"Once word leaked out, everybody wanted in," says one GOP operative
involved in the effort. Participants estimate that more than 200 staffers
signed on, some spending more than a week in South Florida. Many stayed in
Hiltons by the beach and received $30 a day for food, as well as an
invitation to an exclusive Thanksgiving Day party in Fort Lauderdale.
"They needed help down there," says GOP Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri. "A
lot of people in Washington wanted to be a part of that." He adds that
the collaboration has fostered a new sense of unity between congressional
Republicans and Mr. Bush, who often ignored Washington Republicans during
the campaign to bolster his outsider image. "The unfairness of [the
Democrats' recount] effort has really brought Republicans together," the
The camaraderie was on full display at the glitzy Thanksgiving night
party featuring free food and libations at the Hyatt on Pier 66 in Fort
Lauderdale -- "a festive family mood," says one protester. Entertainer
Wayne Newton crooned the song "Danke Schoen," until a group of frenzied
female fans rushed the stage. The night's highlight was a conference call
from Mr. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney, which included joking
references by both running mates to the incident in Miami, two staffers in
attendance say. But that was a rare break from the action. Often working
16- or 20-hour days, the congressional worker bees initially monitored
recounts, attended news conferences and did other gofer tasks. Kyle Downey,
26 years old, an aide to Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, assisted GOP lawyers in
Broward County one day and escorted former presidential candidate Bob Dole
around South Florida the next. "This is history," says Mr. Downey,
explaining his decision to come. "I don't see how I could ever come across
something like this ever in my lifetime."
Staffers who joined the effort say there has been an air of mystery to
the operation. "To tell you the truth, nobody knows who is calling the
shots," says one aide. Many nights, often very late, a memo is slipped
underneath the hotel-room doors outlining coming events. On Friday night,
one aide received notice that he and his colleagues were welcome to stay
in South Florida until "further notice."
Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker declines to estimate how much the operation
will cost or exactly how many people have been enticed to Florida. Others
say about 750 people have rotated in and out. This weekend, few were still
involved in the somber recount-monitoring of the early days. "All we are
doing is rallying and protesting," says one GOP aide. "We are blowing the
Bush supporters sometimes outnumbered Gore backers by 10 to one outside
the Broward County Courthouse in the Democrat-leaning community. A block
to the north, a recreational vehicle festooned with Bush-Cheney signs served
as operation central, having recently been transferred from similar duty
Not all out-of-state demonstrators came from Washington. Several New York
Republicans paid for their own plane tickets, while the Bush-Cheney campaign
footed the hotel bill. "They told me to send an invoice for our bills, and
I told them we need the check by Sunday night, in case he loses," jokes
one of them.
Rick Nelson, a vascular surgeon from Oklahoma City, recalls arriving in
Miami and being told by a GOP official that he and several other volunteers
were going to become protesters. "Okay, we've never done this before," Mr.
Nelson recalls the operative saying. "Anybody know how to put together a
-- Evan Perez contributed to this article.
Credit: Staff Reporters of The Wall Street Journal
© 2000 Peter Langston