Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON — They reconnoiter behind the scenes. They put local assets to work to soften the opposition. Then they swoop in with overpowering force, hoping to capture the hearts and minds of the local population.
In the Bush administration, winning wars and winning tax cuts require similar strategies.
On Monday, President Bush targeted Omaha, Neb., for a personal visit and campaign-style speech, looking to pressure fence-sitting Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, to support a tax cut bigger than the $350 billion package the Senate is debating this week.
It was the latest in a recent spate of Air Force One visits to states where senators are resisting Bush's program. But the president's personal interventions came only after persistent coordination between the White House and top employers in those states aimed at bending key senators to their wills, according to senators, congressional aides and business lobbyists.
"We've done ads, we've done mailings," said John J. Castellani, president of The Business Roundtable, an influential group of top executives, many of them major employers in crucial states. "We've had visits in the states. We've had meetings, written op-eds. The only thing we haven't done is a prayer breakfast."
Working through its political office and its office of business liaison, the White House has contacted local business leaders either directly or through national business groups to get them to lobby their senators on behalf of Bush's tax cuts. Among senators who said they'd been lobbied this way are Nelson, Max Baucus, D-Mont., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio. Other targets include Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.
The White House also has sent Cabinet members to give high-profile speeches in key states, particularly Treasury Secretary John Snow and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, selling the administration's message that tax cuts mean jobs. Bush then swings in and uses the kind of media coverage only he can muster to make a direct pitch to voters.
At his first stop Monday, in Bernalillo, N.M., he said: "When you raise your voices, the people in Washington tend to listen."
Later, in Omaha, he called for public pressure on Congress.
"I ask you to continue working with members of the Nebraska delegation," Bush told a crowd of about 3,000 people at a container factory. "Let them know your feelings on this very important issue."
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