Saturday, October 16, 2004

6:10 pm, revised slightly at 8:10 pm
With apologies to Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who is Dennis O’Sullivan and what has he done with Congressman Phil Crane?

It still looks like it is Crane’s to lose, which he still could do.

The confusing world of Cong. Phil Crane [A humble man?], Cong. Ray Lahood [star quality and frank?], Democratic Candidate Melissa Bean [level the playing field?] and the Chicago Tribune [free trade is for kids?]/Combine [Daley and ?]
As the Chicago Tribune’s David Mendell and Rudolph Bush reminded us in yesterday’s paper, it was last June that Cong. LaHood , speaking with candor, as the Tribune might put it, told the Hill, a DC daily publication, “The problem is that he [Cong. Crane] just has not really worked [his 8th Cong. District] that well, and he hasn’t paid attention to it.”

Ray LaHood, of course, is the congressman that Senator Fitzgerald likes to refer to as “Ray who?” But the Chicago Tribune, not a big booster of Senator Fitzgerald [who has dared to differ with the Tribune and its Combine business associates and friends on O’Hare Expansion], lauded Cong. LaHood just four days ago when the Tribune endorsed LaHood as one of the “stars in the Illinois Republican Party,” describing the Congressman as “frank,” and noting that LaHood has gained considerable influence in Congress, in part because of the “strong support he has received from [House Speaker] Dennis Hastert.”

Rounding it out, LaHood’s mentor was and still is the former Congressman from LaHood’s downstate 18th District, former Minority Leader Bob Michael-- who many criticized as having gotten too comfortable in his long time role as House Minority Leader, instead of trying to transform the Republican minority in the House into a Republican majority, as former Speaker Newt Gingrich finally did in 1994.

And, just the day before it endorsed LaHood with accolades galore, the Tribune slammed Cong. Crane for using his seat as a “cozy sinecure,” noting that “Republican leaders privately acknowledge that Crane has gotten lazy and is out of touch with his constituents.” Well, apparently, some were not so private in their comments, including the Tribune’s star quality congressman, Ray LaHood [see, above].

After slamming Crane, the Tribune went on to endorse Melissa Bean as an “energetic pragmatic Democrat,” who the Tribune noted was “not quite the ardent free-trader that Crane is,” but she would do, at least for the Tribune. The Tribune lowered its free trade requirements, at least for Bean, to be simply one of “understand[ing] that free trade creates opportunities for U. S firms and that foreign competition ultimately strengthens U. S. markets.”

The Tribune seems to have left out of the “free trade,” equation a few important elements: comparative advantage, the benefits to the consumer of free trade and how trade helps developing countries [trade, not aid], just to name a few. The core benefits of free trade are something that Cong. Crane to his credit has mastered. It is good to know that the Tribune has "admired and supported Crane's strong advocacy of free trade," but we wonder if the Tribune knows what it is getting with a Melissa Bean trade package.

Candidate Bean talks about amending NAFTA and wanting to “level the playing field.” This seems to be the position of the Democratic Party, which has become the party of protectionism. In the U. S. Senate race, it seems to be the position of both Obama and Keyes. Would the Tribune like to level the playing field, too?

Does that mean requiring trading partners with the United States to raise their wage structure, environmental standards and labor standards to that of the United States before we reduce barriers to trade with such countries. If so, what happens to the notion of comparative advantage. If not, what does “level the playing field, as promoted by Bean, other Democrats and a few Republicans [Andy McKenna, Jr., perhaps soon to be the new State GOP chair], mean? As is the case with many recent errant Tribune editorial endorsements, such issues of logic and carrying ideas to their logical conclusion are left for the reader to deal with, or for the student to prove, as the old calculus texts used to say. Welcome to the new ecumenical spirit of the Chicago Tribune, as it embarks on a re-write of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

And, there was that word that the Tribune likes so much—pragmatic. Remember, when Alan Keyes came on the scene in early August, the Tribune took the opportunity to castigate Keyes before he had accepted the Republican Senate nomination and to articulate its vision for the New Republican Party—a vision of pragmatic moderate conservatives, giving Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and GOP state chairman Judy Baar Topinka as examples of same. We have to wonder if the Tribune might have been tempted to bestow the label of pragmatic moderate conservative on Melissa Bean, but pulled back at the last minute, going only with energetic and pragmatic. But, why? In what way is Topinka deserving of that label, and not Bean? Or did the Tribune make another mistake and perhaps that label works for neither.

Of course, the Melissa Bean campaign can read [the Tribune noted Bean had sound views on education reform], so they took Ray LaHood’s pithy comments about Crane and stuck them in a flyer. As David Mendell and Rudolph Bush reported yesterday, Cong. LaHood saw that and cried foul, sending a letter to the Bean Campaign, saying they should stop using his quote, arguing that such use of his words incorrectly implied LaHood’s support for the Bean candidacy [not fair use?].

When Public Affairs interviewed Dennis O’Sullivan, Crane’s campaign manager and Campaign Communication Director, by phone, yesterday and asked about LaHood’s comments of last June as to Cong. Crane’s problems and the use of that statement by the Bean campaign in a mailer, O’Sullivan responded that the mailer is just another attempt by Melissa to “dupe the voters of the 8th Cong. Dist.”

O’Sullivan then launched into a tirade that Bean has attempted to misrepresent her views on taxes. O’Sullivan contended that Bean stated last fall that she would have voted against the Bush tax cuts; she later stated that she couldn’t say which ones she opposed and O’Sullivan contended further that in August, 2004, in a debate before a Schaumburg business association, the Daily Herald’s Eric Krol said to Bean that she had been critical of tax cuts and she responded that she has not been critical of Bush’s tax cuts. We will come back to this topic of Bean, Crane and Tax Cuts in a future blog entry. But, clearly, the “soft on tax cuts,” and “flip flopping,” issues are emerging as Crane campaign themes for his TV ads and mailers in the last 16 days of the Campaign.

By the way, “Public Affairs,” would prefer to speak with candidate Crane more than his campaign manager. We have had Cong. Crane on our show twice previously, but we have been unable to get close to him for an interview during this campaign season. When Tami Stough was still handling his television appearances in July, she told me that the Congressman did not have one day between then and Nov. 2 open to tape a show.

When we were allowed to attend a fund raiser for Crane in Barrington earlier this summer, Speaker Hastert graciously gave us a short, videotaped interview, but we were told Cong. Crane, on whose behalf the Speaker was there, had no time to do so. Yes, nothing like establishing credibility with the press. Cong. Crane appears to be under wraps, especially with respect to any press person who might be known for asking a tough, challenging question, or two.

We might add, to her credit, that Candidate Melissa Bean, appeared on our show in August, 2004, showing no fear of subjecting herself to questions on a broad range of substantive issues, for which we applaud her. We don’t endorse candidates but we do endorse the proposition that all candidates, including 35 year incumbents like Cong. Crane, ought to be able and willing to do what Melissa Bean did.

I asked O’Sullivan to return to the topic at hand, i.e., LaHood’s comment in June of this year that, “The problem is that he [Cong. Crane] just has not really worked [his 8th Cong. District] that well, and he hasn’t paid attention to it.” O’Sullivan, who is on leave from his role as Crane’s District Office Manager to focus on the campaign, said, “Cong. Crane is a “humble man and he doesn’t talk enough about the money he got for his district, and he needs to do a better job of telling the voters about that.” O’Sullivan also said that Crane had a conversation with LaHood, after LaHood’s June comments about Crane. Apparently, the conversation was congressman to congressman, or maybe even man to man, if not mano a mano.

Crane Campaign Czar O’Sullivan said LaHood now realizes that Crane is in good shape and working hard. O’Sullivan seemed to imply that LaHood has repudiated his comments, but O’Sullivan would not respond to my direct question to that effect.

When I asked O’Sullivan about the Tribune’s comments that, “Crane had used his seat as a cozy sinecure,” O’Sullivan said that Cong, Crane had “been voted in based on his accomplishments.” As to the Tribune’s criticism of Cong. Crane for taking more than $109,000 in trips around the world in the last four years, financed by lobbyists and other private interests, O’Sullivan argued that Crane, as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Trade subcommittee, met with groups abroad to bring jobs, trade and money back to Illinois and to the 8th Congressional District. Of course, if such trips were related to Crane’s role as Subcommittee Chairman, wouldn’t they be paid for by House funds?

As to the so-called Republican Chicago Tribune endorsing Democrat Bean over long time Republican icon Phil Crane, O’Sullivan said he believed that the Tribune has endorsed Democrats before over Cong. Crane, but he couldn’t name any. O’Sullivan acknowledged to me that the Tribune had endorsed Cong. Crane over Bean in 2002.

I asked O’Sullivan about the recent poll [Oct. 6-7] done by the Democratic Washington, DC polling firm of Bennett, Petts and Blumenthal for the Bean Campaign, which indicated that Bean had closed the Crane 14 point June lead to a statistical tie.

O’Sullivan said the poll was meaningless because it was a “push poll.” He claims that the Crane Campaign was informed by people who were called by the polling firm that, when called, the pollsters first asked such questions, as, “Did you know that Crane “was too old for Congress,” and “was not working for the district.”

Brian Herman, Bean Communications Director, in a telephone conversation I had with him on Friday, denied that the Bennett, Petts poll was a push poll.

Herman said the pollsters asked only three questions: Rating of Crane’s job performance, rating of whether Crane was viewed in a positive or negative light and if the election were held today, would the person vote for Republican Crane or Democrat Bean for Congress. Herman said the pollsters used no push questions or statements before it asked the three above-referenced questions. However, although Herman did send me a Bennett, Petts summary of the poll results, he did not send me the scripted questions which the pollsters used.

As to what O’Sullivan thought of the news that Barack Obama was redeploying his troops from a planned weekend in Wisconsin to campaign for John Kerry and Senate Candidate Feingold to campaign, instead, for Bean, O’Sullivan retreated to the same phrasing he had given to the Chicago Tribune's Mendell and Bush, this was simply a case of "a liberal Democrat [Obama] helping another liberal Democrat [Bean]." O’Sullivan added that suburban voters will not take well to a liberal Democrat trying to influence voters out in the suburbs.

With Barack Obama and Melissa Bean obviously endorsing each other, is Cong. Crane endorsing U. S. Senate Candidate Alan Keyes? O’Sullivan said that Cong. Crane thought Obama- Keyes was a lively debate [IRN, WBBM-AM 780 Radio, Oct. 12, 2004], and that Keyes did a good job in the debate. Yes, that is nice, but is Cong. Crane endorsing Republican Senate Candidate Alan Keyes? O’Sullivan ducked and dodged again, saying that Crane is interested in hearing more from the candidates during the debates.

O'Sullivan said that Keyes will do a good job of pointing out the liberal record of Barack Obama. Well then, how about President Bush? Is Crane endorsing President Bush? O’Sullivan responded enthusiastically—Absolutely. But, O’Sullivan declined again to respond as to whether Crane was endorsing Keyes or not endorsing him. Finally, O’Sullivan was off the line, leaving anyone within earshot the clear impression that O'Sullivan would prefer a root canal to talking about Cong. Crane's endorsement or non-endorsement of Ambassador Alan Keyes. How diplomatic.
Jeff Berkowitz, host and producer of Public Affairs, can be reached at