A national co-chairman of Patrick J. Buchanan’s Republican presidential campaign attended a controversial banquet in January honoring an abortion doctor’s killer and other antiabortion extremists jailed for acts of violence against women’s clinics.
This was the second time in this GOP nominating campaign that an important Buchanan supporter has been linked to the extremes of American society. Earlier this month, Larry Pratt stepped down as one of the campaign’s four co-chairmen after charges that he had spoken at meetings heavily attended by white supremacists.
The controversies so far have not stopped Buchanan’s surge in the GOP campaign. Polls indicate he has a good chance of winning the primary today in Arizona, where he campaigned Monday, and is in serious contention in a potentially crucial race Saturday in South Carolina.
While Buchanan continued to face questions about the associations of his prominent supporters, his rival for the nomination, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, sought to breathe some fire into his own flagging fortunes with an old-fashioned campaign-team reshuffle.
“I don’t like coming in second,” said Dole. He demoted longtime advisor Bill Lacy and named a new chief strategist, Don Sipple, a former advisor to California Gov. Pete Wilson.
The event attended by Buchanan campaign co-chairman Michael Farris was the “White Rose Banquet,” held in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 21 to honor antiabortion activists who have gone to jail for acts of violence in the antiabortion crusade. One of those given special tribute was Paul Hill, sentenced to death for the 1994 shotgun killing of a physician and his escort in Pensacola, Fla. The event was so controversial even within the movement that many antiabortion activists, including Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, refused to attend.
Farris, who lost a race in 1993 for lieutenant governor of Virginia, was the only mainstream politician among the crowd of about 100 people attending the banquet. Questioned by The Times about the event, Farris said he went to the dinner thinking it was another right-to-life function and left early after realizing that the message of the evening was to endorse the use of violence to end abortion.
“I was absolutely clueless,” said Farris. “I thought it was just a pro-life banquet. I was there to see my fourth-grade Sunday-school teacher and a couple of other women in their 60s and 70s. These are people who I’ve known since I was 8 years old.”
Despite Farris’ protestations, one of the friends he joined at the dinner was a key participant, who during the affair read aloud a prison letter written by a person convicted of arson in the firebombing of an abortion clinic. Farris’ presence at the dinner was acknowledged from the podium by the event’s organizer, Michael Bray, a Bowie, Md., lay minister who spent nearly four years in prison on charges stemming from the bombing of 10 abortion clinics.
The program for the dinner declared that “the just sanction for the capital crime of abortion, as with any other murder, is death.”
Monday night, a Buchanan spokesman said the candidate’s campaign manager and sister, Angela “Bay” Buchanan, met with Farris in Washington earlier in the day and was assured by him that he had been unaware of the meeting’s topic. Farris told her that “he himself would never advocate death for anyone, no matter what their sins may be,” said Buchanan Press Secretary Greg Mueller. Mueller added that no action is planned against Farris.
In another development, officials of Ross Perot’s Reform Party denied that they were engaged in any organized effort to support Buchanan’s bid for the GOP nomination. The Times reported Monday that Buchanan volunteers had obtained copies of the Reform Party membership list and were soliciting Perot supporters to re-register as Republicans and vote in California’s March 26 primary.
“Buchanan is running as a Republican and, as such, has no ties to the Reform Party,” said Beverly Pape, the group’s San Mateo County coordinator.
Dole, in announcing the rearrangement of his campaign team--which included both a new strategist and new pollsters--said the changes would bring “fresh ideas” and focus to a campaign increasingly at war with itself and under challenge from conservatives and moderates alike.
And the new message?
“Flavor of the month,” the ever-droll candidate said while campaigning in Georgia, which votes a week from today. Dole no longer hides his worries about a nomination that once seemed in easy grasp.
Asked if the staff changes reflected displeasure with campaign advertising, Dole agreed. “Well, I guess so, because the people don’t understand what I’ve taken for about three months,” he said, referring to the negative ads directed at him. “When they see mine they go, ‘Uh oh, here’s Bob Dole,’ after they’ve watched three months of Steve Forbes.”
Dole said it was critical for his campaign to begin winning primary elections or risk running short of money. So far, Dole has spent nearly $28 million on his campaign, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Candidates who accept federal matching funds, as Dole does, cannot spend more than $37 million on the primaries.
“Sooner or later, we’ve got to get out of these states where [Forbes] spent a ton of money,” he said. “The last one I think will be South Carolina. If he starts spending more [after South Carolina on Sunday], I don’t know what to do, because sooner or later we’ll be out of money.”
Forbes, who campaigned in Arizona, is spending his own money and is not limited by federal matching-fund regulations, meaning he can dig as deep into his family fortune as he likes. His aides have indicated he will decide how much more to spend after reviewing tonight’s results.
The business scion continued to jibe Dole over the senator’s decision to skip a televised debate in Tempe, Ariz., last Thursday. He offered to “buy Dole a ticket to return to Arizona and debate me.”
Buchanan also focused his energy on Arizona, with a seven-city tour that took him to the famous towns of Boot Hill and Tombstone. He also released a new commercial promising to “declare a timeout on new immigration” to the U.S.
Again, Buchanan found himself beset by protesters. In Tucson, two dozen police in riot gear clustered at the edge of a hotel courtyard where Buchanan spoke. They monitored demonstrators shouting, “Nazi, Nazi,” and carrying signs calling Buchanan a racist.
GOP leaders have openly voiced their alarm about Buchanan’s fiery mixture of anticorporate jeremiad and staunch conservative states-rights views. Sunday, at a press conference where former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater endorsed Dole, the two men joked that they had become liberals in comparison to Buchanan.
Before a Monday morning speech at a supporter’s home in Casa Grande, Buchanan jabbed back, though taking care not to attack Goldwater--whom he named in a triumvirate of his three personal heroes, along with Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.
“Bob Dole said [they’ve] sort of become like liberals. Can you imagine that? Bob’s coming out of the closet at his age.”
Buchanan also reacted with anger to recent remarks by Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who likened his supporters to neo-Nazi “skinheads.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say about our people,” Buchanan said. “You’ve seen these folks at church yesterday; they’re good people. Those folks at the gun show are as good Americans as anybody else, and they ought not to be slandered and called names simply because they believe that they ought to have a vote and representation in Washington.”
Deeper in the GOP pack, Lamar Alexander, the former governor of Tennessee, campaigned in Georgia, where aides believe his organization is strong. Forbes blitzed the airwaves in Arizona with an advertising campaign that brings his spending there to $4 million--more than all the other candidates combined.
“I think the Georgia primary is very important,” Alexander said at a rally in Marietta, Ga.
Alexander’s Georgia coordinator raised the stakes by saying his candidate must finish a strong second in South Carolina on Saturday and come within 5% of winning in Georgia. “If he doesn’t, his campaign is probably over,” said Bill Byrne, Cobb County Commissioner and Georgia coordinator for the Alexander campaign.
Meanwhile, in Washington, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch said he was dismayed by the lack of substance in the campaign debate so far and said his Fox TV network would offer one hour of free air time to each major candidate the night before the general election in November.
Risen reported from Washington and Fulwood from Atlanta. Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Stephen Braun in Tombstone, Louis Sahagun in Phoenix, Edwin Chen in Marietta, Jube Shiver in Washington and John Balzar in Los Angeles.
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