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GOP Raps Kerry, Surrogates

After weeks of watching President Bush battered over the war in Iraq, the Republican National Committee, along with House and Senate Republicans, are preparing a two-week counter-offensive against Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and key supporters.

The two-pronged strategy will rely heavily on House and Senate Members taking to the floor to highlight statements made by Kerry surrogates that — in the view of the GOP — paint the Democratic nominee as out of step with the American public.

The campaign kicks off today, as a response to the start of the Campaign for America’s Future “Take Back America” conference that runs from today through Thursday in Washington, D.C. Among the speakers at the conference are billionaire currency trader George Soros and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D).

In an RNC briefing paper being circulated to Capitol Hill Republicans, Soros is described as the “Lord of the Democrats.”

The memo highlights Soros’ pledge to donate more than $15 million to soft-money organizations working to defeat Bush in 2004.

It also details some of Soros’ issue positions, including his support for legalizing some drugs — it calls him the “Daddy Warbucks” of the movement — as well as for other hot-button social issues such as assisted suicide, gun control and abortion.

Members are being encouraged to use floor speeches, one-minutes, and special orders to advance this theme.

One Republican official said that Member involvement was crucial because Members “set the tone for the day. They provide message bookends for the cycle.”

The Bush campaign has long used Members to bracket visits by Kerry to battleground states, thus ensuring that the Republican message is heard. Kerry has worked to refine his own Congressional surrogate operation, though it remains somewhat less advanced than that of the Bush campaign.

The second piece of the Republican effort is a “longer-term strategy pointing out that the first line of attack [for Kerry and his surrogates] is to blame America first,” one informed Republican strategist said.

In the coming week, the source said, lawmakers will be provided with a document that includes statements to back up this theme.

The four-page memo, obtained in advance by Roll Call, presents a timeline of quotes, starting in June 2002 and running through last month. It includes quotes by Kerry, his campaign operatives and other leading national Democrats including former Vice President Al Gore and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D).

For instance, the document includes allegations made late last month by International Association of Firefighters President Harold Schaitberger that the announcement of an increased terror threat was “politically convenient.”

In addition, it samples liberally from Gore’s recent speech to in which he called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking Bush administration officials.

The renewed GOP effort to take the fight to Kerry comes as numerous polls suggest that the ongoing war in Iraq is harming President Bush’s approval ratings.

Kerry has yet to fully take advantage of this declining support, however. Most national surveys show that the two men continue to run neck and neck.

Seeking to better define himself, Kerry is currently making a number of high-profile policy speeches and has launched an $18 million advertising buy that focuses on his positive plans to make the country safer.

Kerry’s deputy campaign manager, Steve Elmendorf, dismissed the latest Republican message gambit as ineffective.

“The problem is that they have nothing positive to say,” said Elmendorf. “The president is losing and Republicans are in danger of losing Congress, so they are going to do what they know best which is attack, attack, attack.”

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