Nevada political consultant Sig Rogich has a suggestion for how George Bush should handle John Kerry: Willie Horton him.

In 1988, Rogich was a presidential campaign advisor to George Bush the Elder, who benefited from a television commercial that linked Bush the Elder’s opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, to paroled African-American inmate Willie Horton who raped and murdered a woman in Maryland. The commercial helped cut Dukakis’s one-time 17-point lead over Bush.

John Kerry was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts at the time of the murder. When the Associated Press last week surveyed GOP political consultants on how to stop Kerry, Rogich referred to the Massachusetts parole program and other issues used against Dukakis and said, “All those same issues might have some significance this election cycle.”

Rogich also said, “I don’t think the campaign has done the best job of defining John Kerry yet. I think the best is yet to come.”

But former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada says he doesn’t think the 1988 charges can be effectively recycled for 2004 use.

“I mean, John Kerry was a lieutenant governor. I don’t think they can lay Willie Horton at his doorstep. I just don’t think they can get any traction on that.”

Bryan said the Bush campaign might have more luck at portraying Kerry as part of a general Massachusetts liberal clique— Kennedy, Kerry, Dukakis.

Bryan, a Kerry supporter, also said he disagrees with Rogich that Republicans have done a poor job of defining Kerry.

“I think they’ve done a very effective job defining Kerry and it’s dangerous because it’s beginning to resonate—this is what Kerry says, and this is what he does.”

Bryan says the GOP television spots describing Kerry saying one thing and then doing another need to be combated by pointing out Bush’s record of doing the same thing—opposing the Sept. 11 commission or opposing budgets for homeland security programs, then changing his stance in the face of criticism.

Most of all, Bryan said, he thinks Kerry and his campaign need to get aggressive fast. He says they especially need to go after Bush for demonizing his critics, from John McCain to Richard Clark. Bryan says the way Bush and his administration attacked and then dumped General Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, for disagreeing with Bush on Iraq, and the way legless Vietnam veteran Max Cleland, the former Georgia senator, was attacked in the 2002 campaign should become the subject of television spots.

“They’re using it on the talk show circuit, but they haven’t cut a TV spot on it,” Bryan said.

Bryan also said the Kerry campaign is limiting its criticism to the demonizing of veterans like McCain, Kerry and Cleland and not expanding its criticism to Bush’s trashing of all critics of administration policies. Asked if that would be fair campaign comment, Bryan reacted sharply.

“You bet it’s fair game because Bush did that. He says he wants to bring us together and create a less confrontational America. Look what they’ve done to their critics. They go out to destroy the guy, like Richard Clark. There’s nothing gentler or moderate about it, or trying to unite us. You criticise them, they question your patriotism, say you’re an aider and abetter with al Qaida…They’ve got to show that Bush’s M/O is to demonize his opponent…the way he did to John McCain, who’s an American icon.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...