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Inside Politics
Robert Novak is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Robert Novak: Kerry's disrupter

WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- The well-dressed disrupter at the recent premiere of "Stolen Honor," a documentary film attacking John Kerry's role as a Vietnam War protester, has been identified as a Kerry campaign and Democratic National Committee staffer who had served time for manslaughter in a fatal shooting.

Wayne F. Smith interrupted the question-and-answer session following the Sept. 9 showing in Washington, delivering a long speech assailing the film and defending Sen. Kerry. He did not identify himself, but he recently had joined the Kerry campaign's veterans outreach operation. The campaign told this column Thursday night that Smith worked for the DNC. Although Smith had an extension and a voicemail box at the campaign Thursday afternoon, it was removed by Friday morning.

Old media accounts and "Stolen Valor," a 1998 book by Vietnam veteran B.G. Burkett, show that Smith, a Vietnam War medic, was sentenced to hard labor for being AWOL before his 1972 drug-related manslaughter conviction. Smith later obtained a college education and became executive director of the Justice Project, which attempts to use DNA evidence to exonerate unjustly convicted felons.

Disaster politics

The Bush administration's latest $7.1 billion disaster relief package goes beyond the Gulf states hit by the latest hurricanes and includes states that may determine the presidential election.

The requested federal help would go to three non-coastal states untouched by Hurricane Jeanne: Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. All are battlegrounds, closely contested by George W. Bush and John Kerry.

A footnote: Republican operatives are grumbling about Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, who has taken the Senate floor repeatedly over the last year and a half to deliver long, mournful eulogies of Ohioans fallen in battle. The complaint is that DeWine's funereal posture is not helping President Bush carry the key state.

Kerry and vets aid

The proposed annual increased health payments for veterans that Sen. John Kerry complained the Senate Republican leadership prevented him from voting for are not contained in the Democratic presidential nominee's own budget plan.

The proposal would have meant an extra $300 billion over 10 years, and Kerry elected not to include it. The 30 percent increase for next year and continued yearly boosts in veterans health care were favored by a 49 to 48 vote, short of the 60 senators needed because the proposal violated budget rules.

Kerry returned to the Senate from the campaign trail June 22 for the purpose of voting on the veterans proposal. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist delayed the vote until June 23, when Kerry was absent.

Endangered long termer

Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois, senior Republican in the House of Representatives who could be a victim of the Republican meltdown in his state, has been added to the National Republican Congressional Committee's (NRCC) most endangered list.

Crane, elected to Congress in 1969, represents a once safely Republican district in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago -- an area moving toward the Democrats. The second-ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee was once considered a national leader of the conservative movement and sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1980.

A footnote: Conservative Rep. Rick Renzi, who won a first term from Arizona in 2002 with 49.2 percent of the vote, has been removed from the seriously endangered list by the NRCC. Still heading the list is freshman Rep. Max Burns, who in 2002 won a Georgia district that had been gerrymandered for the Democrats. Burns won when the Democratic nominee's arrest record came to light.

Lobbyist favorite

Washington's top lobbyists turned out in exceptional numbers Monday for a $1,000-a-ticket fund raiser on behalf of a congressman with no opponent this year: Rep. Bill Thomas of California, the powerful, domineering chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The demand for tickets was so great that Thomas reserved the entire second floor of the Republicans-only Capitol Hill Club. Thomas will distribute the money raised to other GOP candidates, further enhancing his influence in the House.

As Thomas began his remarks Monday to more than 50 contributors, he pointed ominously to a table behind him containing a handle of badges for people who had reserved a ticket but did not show up.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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