Clinton foes hit by trial backlash

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The Independent Online
DESPERATE TO boost its image and electoral prospects for 2000 after President Bill Clinton's acquittal, the Republican Party has launched a nationwide effort to "reconnect" with its grassroots through more than 100 town hall-style meetings across the country.

How difficult that reconnection effort will be was illustrated yesterday in Washington, where leaders of three minority constituencies lambasted the Congressional party for giving succour to the Democrats' presentation of the party as "extremist".

The three groups - the Log Cabin Republicans, representing the party's gay and lesbian members, the New Majority Committee, promoting the interests of black and Hispanic Republicans, and Republicans for Choice, which combats the party's hardline anti-abortion stance - attacked the Congressional party for perpetuating Republicans as "mean-spirited, intolerant, and agenda-less".

Citing Republican losses at the mid-term Congressional elections last November and the persistence of President Clinton's high poll ratings throughout the impeachment process, they warned that the party risked fulfilling Democrats' accusations of "extremism" unless it became more inclusive.

Where Republicans had successfully made "liberal" the scold word for the Eighties, they said, Democrats had managed to make "extremist" the scold word for the late Nineties - and make it stick to Republicans. According to Richard Tafel of the Log Cabin Republicans, "the rank and file are so depressed by the state of the party that they might bring back Newt Gingrich". The right-wing populist House Speaker resigned in November after the party's perceived failure at the polls.

In their single-minded pursuit of impeachment, he said, the Republicans had scared the public into thinking it was an "anti-everything party" and laid it open to accusations of hypocrisy. There was Bob Barr, he said - referring to one of the more rabid House prosecutors - who was now introducing "a defence of marriage Act" into Congress, "and he's on his third marriage".

Arguing for more inclusiveness towards minorities, Faye Anderson cited the efforts of more centrist state governors, including George W Bush of Texas, who campaigned in Spanish as well as English, and reinforced the Democrats' view that it was the bigger than expected black turnout in Southern states last November that had helped to remove two apparently safe governors in Alabama and South Carolina. "The party is in trouble," she said, "and needs all the help it can get." Its adverse image among voters through impeachment "has inflicted incredible damage", she added, and borrowed from Bill Clinton the notion that the party should start to "look like America".

For pro-Choice Republicans, Ann Stone said the party's stance on impeachment had sent the message that Republicans "wanted government out of the boardroom but were content to have it in your bedrooms".

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