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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Kerry in the crosshairs

By Steve Turnham
CNN Political Unit

Targeting Kerry: After back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, critics are taking aim at Sen. John Kerry.
Targeting Kerry: After back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, critics are taking aim at Sen. John Kerry.

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Morning Grind
America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie delivers another broadside against John Kerry today at the RNC winter meeting in Washington. We can summarize it in a single tried and true phrase: "soft on defense."

Some sample shots:

"As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Kerry shared the assessment of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein," Gillespie will say, according to excerpts. "He voted for the use of force in Iraq, then later tried to say it was a vote to 'threaten' the use of force, and then ultimately declared himself an 'anti-war' candidate."

But wait, there's more: "In 1972, when John Kerry first campaigned for Congress, he made a commitment to vote against military appropriations. After he was elected, he went one step further, actively introducing legislation to reduce funding for defense and intelligence."

Gillespie helpfully tracks the Kerry record through the years -- from the no nukes '80s to the budget-cutting '90s. And concludes (at least we think it's a conclusion): "His long Senate record belies his assertion that his approach to national security will make us safer as a nation."

Gillespie's speech was to have included a couple of snipes against Howard Dean, too. They weren't in the bits we saw. Maybe the RNC thought, "Why bother?"

Clinton addresses Senate Dems

Also today, Bill Clinton hits the Hill at Sens. Tom Daschle and Byron Dorgan's invitation talk to Senate Democrats about politics, and believe us, the audience is listening. "Say what you will about former President Clinton," said a senior Democratic aide, "but his political skills are unparalleled and a lot of Democrats want to pick his brain."

"I asked President Clinton to give us his observations about how we might work more closely together, and also as to how we ought to look at our own responsibilities as we see them in creating our agenda this year," says Daschle. "How we articulate them and how we mesh that agenda with our presidential candidate will be the topic for conversation with President Clinton."

"They'll talk about policy and issues and brainstorm on everything from policy solutions to policies they should be working on this year," said Dorgan spokesman Barry Piatt. "It's an open discussion and brainstorming session."

But not open to the press. In fact it's super secret. So much so that the normally helpful Piatt won't even tell us where it is, or when. That said, the meeting starts at 10:30 a.m. and runs an hour and a half. If the president wants to have a long chat with us afterward, we'll be there, stalking the hallways, until they kick us out.

Clyburn endorsement

Endorsement news: Our least favorite topic, because (a) endorsements haven't mattered much, and (b) it's so easy to get them wrong.

Case in point: South Carolina congressman Jim Clyburn's "endorsement" of John Kerry. First we got word from that the coveted South Carolina congressman's endorsement was in the bag for Kerry. Then we heard that Clyburn is still "deliberating," and was quite angry at the news.

And then our Capitol Hill Producer Ted Barrett caught up with Clyburn off the House floor. He said (a) he's decided, and (b) he's not telling.

Maybe today.

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