WASHINGTON - The head of the campaign committee trying to help Democrats retain
control of the Senate said yesterday he fears the Bush administration may launch
a new attack on terrorists in an effort to boost Republican prospects in the midterm
Jim Jordan, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee,
made the comment during a meeting with 50 reporters called to provide assessments
of the party's chances in House and Senate races in November.
One reporter asked Jordan if the current war on terrorism might affect this
year's voting. Jordan quipped, ''You mean when General Rove calls in the airstrikes
in October?'' He was referring to Karl Rove, President Bush's top political strategist.
When Jordan was asked if he truly was concerned about a so-called October Surprise,
he replied, ''Of course. I hope I'm wrong. Certainly none of us want to think
that the administration, for domestic political reasons, would use the war. I
think the temptation will be strong.''
A White House spokesman declined to comment, but the Republican National Committee
denied there was any reason for such concern. ''America knows, and we are proud
to have a president who makes these worries obsolete,'' said party spokesman Jim
Republicans made a similar allegation in August 1998, when Bill Clinton fired
a series of cruise missiles into Afghanistan and at a Sudanese pharmaceutical
factory just after he testified before a grand jury investigating his affair with
Monica Lewinsky. The attack came the same day the former White House intern was
giving her rebuttal testimony.
The term ''October Surprise'' goes back to the allegation that in 1980 the
GOP sabotaged efforts by then-President Jimmy Carter to win the release of the
52 US hostages in Iran, which could have provided the incumbent with a last-minute
boost in his campaign against Ronald Reagan.
Then-vice presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, the father of the current
president, was accused of secretly traveling to Paris to meet with Iranian officials
to ensure the release was blocked, a charge the elder Bush vehemently denied and
investigations failed to prove. The hostages were not released until Jan. 20,
1981 - the day Reagan was sworn in.
The head of the campaign committee trying to help Democrats regain control
of the House refused to express the same concern as Jordan, his Senate counterpart.
''I prefer to think and can't imagine that any president would engage in sending
this country to war for political reasons, so it is by my way of thinking a very
hypothetical question,'' said Howard Wolfson, executive director of the Democratic
Congress Campaign Committee.
Wolfson and Jordan expressed optimism that Democrats would control both chambers
of Congress following the midterm elections. Wolfson said House candidates would
highlight GOP efforts to allow Social Security money to be invested in the stock
market, a position Bush espoused in the 2000 campaign but now looks more risky
financially given the stock market's continuing decline.
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