Was New Hampshire beginning of the end for Bush/Cheney?

The re-election prospects of President George W. Bush may be more precarious than many observers are willing to admit.

A starting indicator is the recent New Hampshire primaries. The turnout in the Democratic primary was a new record—219,787 voters, topping the old record of 170,000 in 1992.

What is more significant than the strong Democratic surge to endorse a candidate believed capable of defeating the incumbent president, is the rebellion on the Republican side of things.

National Public Radio reported that a recent poll taken in New Hampshire on the presidency showed 46 percent of voters in favor of George Bush and 53 percent in favor of John Kerry.

One in seven Republicans voting in that primary voted for someone other than Bush. New Hampshire law bars anyone except Democrats and independents from voting in the Democratic primary.

That meant Republicans who wanted to express opposition to Bush had to do so in their own primary, and plenty of them did so. A goodly number wrote in the names of Democratic contenders.

A number of towns across New Hampshire saw anti-Bush votes exceeding 20 percent in the GOP primary.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who won the Democratic primary, was second to Bush in the Republican contest with 3,009 votes. Kerry’s name was written in on nearly 5 percent of all Republican ballots.

In total, 8,279 primary voters cast their ballots for Democrats on their GOP ballots.

Democrats are scoring big by pointing out that 3 million jobs have been lost during the Bush administration.

Against this backdrop, speculation is mounting that Vice President Dick Cheney may be dropped from the ticket next fall.

High-level party insiders are beginning to see the ex-CEO of Halliburton as a drag on Bush’s prospects to regain the White House in a very close contest.

Cheney increasingly is seen, not as the voice of reason, experience and moderation that voters thought they were getting, but as a cold-eyed extremist continually pushing for radical policies.

Additionally, Cheney is viewed as exercising undue influence over the president to push that agenda. That Machiavellian appearance has been enhanced by a new book by former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who described the vice president as creating a “kind of praetorian guard around the president” to block contrary views.

Add to that the growing political liability of Cheney’s association with Halliburton, the big oil and construction company that he formerly headed and which has gobbled up billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Cheney’s trust account is still due $400,000 in outstanding Halliburton stock, and he “receives deferred compensation—$162,392 in 2002, according to government disclosures—while he is vice president.”

National Public Radio reported that Halliburton may have overbilled for food served to troops serving in Kuwait, perhaps by as much as $16 million.

Halliburton is also embroiled in a scandal for allegedly overcharging for Kuwaiti gasoline used in Iraq. The Chicago Tribune also reported: “Late last month, Halliburton fired one employee for involvement in a $6 million kickback scheme with its supplier in Kuwait. It also paid the Army $6.3 million ‘to cover potential over billing charges by a subcontractor.’

“But the company has steadfastly denied wrongdoing.” As far back as two months ago, reports were surfacing that a quiet “dump Cheney” movement was launched by associates of the younger Bush’s father, including James Baker and Brent Scowcroft.

One of the most potentially explosive issues linked to Cheney involves Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Bush administration is fighting efforts by the Washington law firm Judicial Watch, a watchdog group, and the Sierra Club, to pry loose documents telling who was on the Cheney energy task force and what they discussed.

The current flash point is the fact that Cheney and Scalia dined together and spent four days duck hunting in Louisiana while the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the Judicial Watch case.

The Bush administration has asked the high court to reverse a lower court decision requiring the White House to identify task force participants.

Scalia denies the social outing compromises his ability to fairly and impartially judge the merits of the case. Cheney’s office declines comment.

“It gives the appearance of a tainted process where decisions are not made on the merits, where you have judges fraternizing with people before the court,” said Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity.

David Bookbinder, legal director of the Sierra Club, added: “It certainly raises questions about the appearance of impropriety, which is the standard that judges are held to.”

Two House Democrats, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., have sent a letter to Chief Justice William Rehnquist claiming Scalia’s outing with Cheney was a conflict of interest and calling on Rehnquist to create a procedure for reviewing possible ethical conflicts on the part of justices.

In their letter, Waxman and Conyers said: “We make this request because it appears that Justice Scalia is following a different standard than the lower courts in deciding recusal questions. We do not believe that one standard should apply to judges who are friends of the Clintons and another standard should apply to judges who are friends of Mr. Cheney.”

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the task force case in April.

Cheney has been participating in a round of press interviews in an apparent bid to soften his image and also trekking to Switzerland and Italy on a trip to attempt repair of damaged relations with U.S. allies. He also had a short audience with the Pope and gave him a crystal dove.

Oddly though, in an interview on National Public Radio, Cheney insisted major stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction may yet turn up in Iraq; held that two trailer trucks in the desert were proof of weapons programs and also insisted there is “overwhelming evidence” of an established link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

“I think he knows he’s in trouble,” said a prominent Republican. “I don’t think there’s any other way to explain why he would sit for a puerile interview for the [Washington Post’s] Style section. You know he despises that sort of thing.”

Add in CIA Director George Tenet’s speech at Georgetown University where he said intelligence on WMDs in Iraq was mixed, and then add in the absolutist statements made by both Cheney and Bush on the presence of WMDs, and the whole case for war fails.

The trouble began in New Hampshire and is spreading to every primary state where the Democrats’ message is taking hold. That’s why Bush is going to each primary after the vote for damage control. Most critics are noting that he did not do an adequate job of damage control on Meet the Press, either. Sources: The Miami Herald-Richard Salant; The Nation-John Nichols; The Los Angeles Times-David Savage; Asia Times-Jim Lobe, and National Public Radio.

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