The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

Sunday, March 5, 2000

McCain blasts Bush ad blitz 'that knows no depths'

by Mark Sherman, Ken Herman, Staff

Facing millions of dollars in negative advertising before a potentially decisive round of primaries, John McCain assailed George W. Bush on Saturday for running a campaign "that knows no depths."

McCain and Bush campaigned through New York and New England on a tense final weekend before Tuesday's primaries. McCain is hoping for a strong showing in the five New England states and New York to help offset Bush's expected strength in California, Georgia, Missouri and Ohio. Bush leads in polls in those states.

As he sought to blend his reaction to the ads with his call for campaign finance reform, the Arizona senator used strong language throughout the day to describe television and radio advertising from the Bush campaign and an independent group that is backed by a wealthy Texas businessman with ties to Bush.

The newest radio ad from Bush criticizes McCain on education.

Using McCain's rambling answer about his record on education in Thursday's Republican debate, the ad asks, "If John McCain has never made education a priority as senator, why would he as president?"

Told of the new ad as he headed from a Portland hotel to his chartered airplane, McCain shook his head and said, "They know no depths, do they? They know no depths."

McCain has come under attack in recent days in radio and television ads that question his commitment to breast cancer research and his record on the environment.

The environmental ad, which also praises Bush, is the most controversial because it is not paid for by the Bush campaign but by a new group called Republicans for Clean Air.

Most environmental groups have been harshly critical of Bush's stewardship of the environment during more than five years as governor of Texas.

Sam Wyly, a wealthy Texas businessman with ties to Bush, said Friday he is spending $ 2.5 million to air the ad in California, New York and Ohio, all of which hold primaries Tuesday. Wyly is not identified in the ad.

Wyly and his brother Charles gave more than $ 200,000 to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns in 1994 and 1998. Charles Wyly also is a Pioneer, a designation given to Bush supporters who raised at least $ 100,000 for his presidential campaign.

"Are we going to allow two cronies of George W. Bush to hijack this election?" McCain said at a rally in Boston's Copley Square.

"Tell them to keep their dirty money in the state of Texas, my friends. Don't spread it all over New England and America."

Later, talking to reporters, McCain said the situation shows the " incestuousness of the Bush campaign."

And he said that the ad also presents a case study in the need to regulate such independent ads. "What do the Wyly brothers have to do with the New York pri- mary?" he said.

Bush, who campaigned Saturday in New York and Connecticut, continued to deny any prior knowledge of the ad.

"There was no coordination, none whatsoever. It was an independent expenditure," Bush said in Rochester.

He noted that the Sierra Club has slammed his environmental record in an another independent ad.

"They polluted my record. They're running independent ads, too. In politics, people can have the right to freedom of speech," Bush said.

Despite McCain's vehemence on the subject, McCain adviser Mike Murphy conceded there was little the campaign could do about the ad. "Raise hell is all we can do," Murphy said.

McCain said he is hoping "for a giant backlash against this scurrilous behavior."

Another ad that has raised the ire of McCain and his top aides is a radio ad that points out McCain's opposition to breast cancer research projects on Long Island.

McCain voted against the cancer research projects, and many others, as part of a larger spending bill that McCain said contained wasteful spending and did not include enough money for salary increases for military personnel.

The senator's staff issued a release documenting many votes in favor of cancer research.

The issue took on a personal aspect because McCain's sister, Sandy McCain Morgan, was diagnosed two years ago with breast cancer.

McCain has refused to discuss his sister's illness. But when reporters asked whether he still considers Bush a friend, McCain sat silently for several seconds before replying with a tight-lipped "Yes."