|In the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, Shaw has reached across the aisle to Democratic members of the Florida delegation for help with the dinner and hopes to receive help from Reps. Allen Boyd, Kendrick Meek and Robert Wexler.|
The dinner was the idea of Oprah Winfrey’s executive chef, Florida native Art Smith, and it will be held at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in conjunction with Florida House, a home state embassy of sorts for Floridians in Washington. Smith will cater the dinner, at which the Shaws are expecting 200 to 300 guests.
Mercenary firm is in president’s corner
If you had $21 million riding on it, you’d root for the president, too.
Blackwater USA, one of the government’s top private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, leads its “Blackwater Tactical Weekly” e-mail newsletter this week with an all-caps, all-bold exultation: “Bush Wins, Four More Years!! Hooyah!!”
Sent by Blackwater President Gary Jackson, the e-mail goes on to cite a “source unknown” who praises the United States’ ability to hold an election during the war on terror.
North Carolina-based Blackwater is a major player in the burgeoning private military contracting industry. It won a $21 million contract with the Pentagon in the earlier stages of the war in Iraq to provide security to Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer and other high-level officials. Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution, who has studied extensively Blackwater and similar companies, said that it has “multiple” other contracts for other work, and that it has grown 600 percent in the past 18 months.
Four Blackwater employees were murdered in Fallujah this spring and their bodies mutilated. Immediately after, the firm retained the Alexander Strategy Group to handle its government affairs work, as the Senate debated stricter rules for private contractors. The rules were never approved.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has been critical of such contracts, said, “Like Halliburton, who received billions in contracts and whose stock prices spiked after Bush’s re-election, Blackwater, four of whose employees were brutally murdered in Fallujah, looks forward to four more years of war-time contracts. These private military contracts raise critical questions about both cost effectiveness and mission effectiveness.”
Chris Bertelli, a partner with Alexander Strategy and a Blackwater spokesman, responded that Schakowsky is “so desperate to attack the Bush administration that she is smearing civilians who are putting their lives on the line in Iraq so that others may know the freedom we take for granted here at home.”
More campaign collectibles
As the 2004 election recedes into memory, political collectors have begun to pinpoint the most sought-after artifacts from the campaign. “This was certainly a memorable political race, and it’s got a lot going for it” for collectors, said Richard Friz, author of the recently published book Collecting Political Memorabilia.
Hardly any of the candidates spent money on buttons in the early primary states, so “most of the best buttons were generated at the conventions,” he said, especially delegates’ badges.
Among the most valuable, he said, would be a multicolored pin worn by the California Republican delegation, an Alaska GOP pin that shows the tail of the state as an elephant’s trunk, and a Massachusetts Democratic delegation pin that depicts John Kerry as a minuteman. Security badges from both conventions could also turn out to be quite valuable, he said.
Among those candidates who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination, the future value of their campaign items depends on how visible they remain, said Friz, a New Hampshire resident who also publishes the “Political Bandwagon” newsletter for collectors. “If [Howard] Dean runs again or stays in the limelight, then some of the Dean things from primaries and caucuses will be highly sought after,” he said.
Other items aspiring collectors may want to watch for are unusual novelty items, like the seed packets handed out by Dennis Kucinich’s campaign in Iowa or “W” ketchup, produced in reaction to Teresa Heinz Kerry’s condiment fortune.
Election speculation continues
Looks like even some of Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) top advisers are getting reeled in by the rampant speculation among Democratic activists on the Web who think that Republicans may have rigged the election.
Reporters have been besieged by e-mailed pleading from liberals and Democrats who want an investigation of electronic voting machines in Florida and Ohio, for which there is no auditable paper record of votes cast through them.
Speculation burned even hotter last week when The Associated Press reported that an electronic voting system error gave President Bush nearly 4,000 extra votes in suburban Columbus.
Bob Shrum, a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign, gave some credence to conspiracy theorizing.
“I think there are a lot of weird things going on,” Shrum told reporters Monday, echoing an assertion made by several Democratic cyberactivists. “Some weird things. Why are the exit polls more accurate in states with paper ballots than in states with [electronic] machines?”
Of course, Shrum may be quick to latch onto technological explanations for Kerry’s performance rather than alternative theories, namely that his campaign staff wasn’t up to snuff.
Louisiana, land of scholars
The 109th Congress will have 24 House members and seven senators with advanced degrees, but no state will be able to match Louisiana’s record of having two GOP newcomers who were Rhodes scholars join its congressional delegation.
Sen.-elect David Vitter, who won a runoff to succeed retiring Democrat John Breaux, is a graduate of Harvard who was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in 1985 before getting his law degree from Tulane in 1988, while Rep.-elect Bobby Jindal graduated from Brown in 1991 and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford in 1994.
A Kerry-Miller rumble?
Senate observers are wondering whether that body’s fabled tradition of senatorial courtesy will survive the first day of next week’s lame-duck session.
That’s when Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is likely to encounter Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), who was one of Kerry’s fiercest critics during the 2004 campaign.
Kerry isn’t likely to extend a warm greeting to Miller, whose fiery denunciation of the Democratic presidential nominee at the Republican National Convention was couched in highly personal terms.
“For more than 20 years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure,” he angrily told the GOP delegates.
“We may witness the tallest cold shoulder the Senate has ever seen,” said one Senate insider.
Alexander Bolton and Patrick O’Connor contributed to this page.