Thursday, April 15, 1999

Bauer noisemaker, not winner


Newport native's run at presidency champions far right

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Can you feel it? The buzz. The hype. The excitement pulsating through the community, signaling the most anticipated arrival in Newport since the penguins landed at the aquarium. Gary Bauer is coming. Coming back home to Newport next week to announce that he is running for president.

        OK, maybe the penguins were bigger. But there's 16 of those cute fellows and only one of Mr. Bauer, who is scheduled to make his announcement Wednesday at his alma mater, Newport High.

        He is not scheduled to flop around on a pile of fake snow and swim for his dinner in a see-through tank at the aquarium. But Mr. Bauer is a politician, so let's not give him any publicity grabbing ideas.

        Then again, Mr. Bauer could use some hype. He hasn't exactly scorched the GOP campaign trail since announcing his presidential exploratory committee back in January.

        Polls show him in the single-digit realm of no-chance contenders such as conservative commentator Alan Keyes; U.S. Rep. John Kasich, R- Ohio; and U.S. Sen. Robert Smith, R-N.H., who are trailing front-runners Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole, wife of the last Republican who tried to win the White House. And now Dan Quayle is in the race.

        To say Mr. Bauer is a “long shot” or “dark horse” doesn't do justice to long-shot dark horses.

        Though he served in a couple of posts in Ronald Reagan's administration and is considered one of the leading spokesman on socially conservative causes such as opposition to abortion, no special rights for gays, and tight-fisted government spending, Mr. Bauer is a virtual unknown outside the Washington Beltway.

        That hasn't stopped him. In fact, it's probably inspired him to take on people and issues that fit with his agenda and make good fodder for the press releases his campaign team feeds daily to newsroom fax machines.

        To wit:

        • Mouth of the South Ted Turner does a Sinead O'Connor and bashes the pope in a speech a few months back, and Mr. Bauer demands — and gets — an apology from Jane Fonda's husband.

        • George W. Bush doesn't come out strong enough against abortion and Mr. Bauer piles on, making the former president's son a bit uncomfortable with the far-right crowd in the Republican Party.

        • General Motors closes a Michigan Buick plant but opens one in China, and Mr. Bauer jets out to Flint to meet union leaders and members. He fires off a terse letter to GM CEO John Smith, telling the automaker it's “disturbing” that American workers were laid off “in favor of collaboration with a regime that constitutes a growing threat to our security and our values.”

        China, by the way, has emerged as the new Evil Empire for conservatives, now that Russia's biggest threat is a comatose Boris Yeltsin.

        • Even Jack Kevorkian, sentenced this week to the big house for helping one of his patients commit suicide, has drawn Mr. Bauer's ire.

        “Jack Kevorkian, time and again, consistently and proudly violated the sanctity of human life,” Mr. Bauer preached in one of his many press releases.

        But Mr. Bauer isn't just sitting back in his Virginia campaign headquarters authorizing press releases and pontificating on the day's events.

        He has hit the campaign trail hard in Iowa and New Hampshire, the places that matter in the early nominating sweepstakes.

        This weekend he makes yet another trip to Iowa, making seemingly mundane yet politically necessary stops at places such as the District V Christian School Banquet in Pella, the Polk County Convention Complex in Des Moines, the Adel Legion Hall in — where else? — Adel, and the Sports Restaurant in Oelwein.

        Iowa voters want grass roots; Mr. Bauer is giving them grass roots.

        He has done well raising money.

        While Mr. Bush leads the GOP pack with about $7 million, Mr. Bauer has raised a respectable $3 million. With a vast mailing list and contributor database from his days heading the Family Research Council — a Washington think tank and clearinghouse for socially conservative ideas and causes — some pundits think Mr. Bauer may be able to hit $20 million, generally cited as the amount a candidate needs to make a serious run at the White House.

        Mr. Bauer even beat Vice President Al Gore, the likely Democratic nominee, in getting on the World Wide Web. And Mr. Gore invented the thing, or so he stated — make that misstated — in a recent interview.

        Still, even with the agenda, the campaign trips, the press operation, the Web site and some money, Mr. Bauer isn't going to win this race. He probably won't make it through the first few big rounds of caucuses and primaries next spring.

        But the Bauer candidacy isn't as much campaign as it is crusade.

        What he and others — among them Pat Buchanan and to a certain extent Mr. Quayle and Steve Forbes — will do is keep a far-right agenda at the table. They will constantly remind the Bush and Dole camps that there are plenty of Christian fundamentalists and others in the Republican Party who want opposition to abortion and other far-right conservative planks in the GOP platform.

        “None of the religious-right candidates has a serious shot at the nomination,” Cox Newspapers national correspondent Tom Teepen recently wrote, “but with so many whooping it up, they serve their goal just by keeping the likes of (Mr.) Bush and (Mrs.) Dole from lapsing fully into moderation.”

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at crowleys@cinci.infi.net

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for the Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort.

CROWLEY ARCHIVE