Gorton Misses Mark with Attack on Goreby Kevin Galvin, Washington bureau
The Seattle Times, September 22, 2000
WASHINGTON - Sen. Slade Gorton has opened an aggressive bid for re-election with an ad critical of his Democrat challenger's record on Social Security taxes and an attempt to draw Vice President Al Gore into the debate over salmon and the Snake River dams.
But the effort seemed to stumble yesterday when Gorton flubbed an attack on Gore during a news conference, erroneously attributing to him a statement about removing the dams and questioning Gore's truthfulness.
The statement on dams came from an environmental group's 15-page memo on Gore's Web site. In the memo, Friends of the Earth's priorities were shown in italics and the Gore campaign's response printed in block type.
Claiming to have found the "smoking gun" on the dams issue, Gorton aides distributed a press release quoting Gore as stating he intended to "announce a decision to remove Snake River dams, which act as a barrier to the restoration of Northwest salmon."
But the quote Gorton and two fellow Republican senators, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Larry Craig of Idaho, said revealed Gore's hidden agenda for dam removal was actually from Friends of the Earth.
Gore's statement - submitted as a response to the group's list of priorities - stuck to the Clinton-Gore administration policy of keeping options open while continuing to study the issue.
Gorton, who has relentlessly tried to pin Gore down on the dam issue, said the memo demonstrated "this is not an individual who can be believable." Asked whether he might be misinterpreting the memo, he insisted "this is an absolute and unequivocal statement."
All three senators suggested the memo justified Gorton's work to attach a rider to an annual spending bill that prohibits funding for studying dam removal for one year - a provision the administration protested strongly.
But a quick check of the Friends of the Earth Web site revealed that the language regarding dam removal came word-for-word from item No. 6 on the group's priorities list.
Mark Helm, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said the senators "obviously took part of our questionnaire and fused it into Gore's answer."
"You don't need to be a rocket scientist to be able to figure out what was going on in that document," Helm said. "It makes those three guys up there look like the Three Stooges."
Gorton campaign spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman did not acknowledge any error, maintaining that Gore was "speaking out of both sides of his mouth" to give environmentalists the impression he would remove dams while refusing to say so publicly.
She questioned why the memo was recently removed from Gore's Web site. "We still don't know what Al Gore believes," she said.
The Gore campaign said the site routinely removes old items.
"Mr. Gore's position has not changed, and his statements have not changed,"said Gore's campaign spokeswoman in Washington state, Tovah Ravitz.
Attack on Cantwell
The day after primary voters in Washington state pitted Gorton against Democrat Maria Cantwell in the U.S. Senate race, Gorton's campaign began airing a new TV spot critical of her votes on taxes.
The spot offered a glimpse of how Gorton hopes to put down Cantwell's well-funded drive to unseat him: reviewing her two-year record in Congress.
"Who can you trust?" the ad asks. "The TV Maria, or the real Maria?"
Specifically, it characterized Cantwell's 1993 vote in favor of the Clinton budget as a "70 percent tax increase on Social Security benefits."
Cantwell, who represented the 1st congressional district from 1992 to 1994, has said she was proud of her budget vote. But she ran an ad during the primary campaign denying charges that it raised Social Security taxes by 70 percent.
Although her campaign says the bill didn't raise tax rates across the board, 13 percent of retirees saw the amount of their benefits that were taxable increase from 50 percent to 85 percent.
The Gorton spot made clear that Republicans are eager to take on Cantwell's record in the House.
"She voted lock, stock and barrel for everything in '93 and '94 that came down the pike from the Democrat-controlled House and the White House," said Brett Bader, a GOP consultant.
Cantwell advisers say it is Gorton who is vulnerable on the issue of Social Security. In 1983, he proposed subjecting half of Social Security income to the federal income tax.
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