GOP Mailer May Be Double-Edged Sword

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The fund-raising mailer offering a picture of President Bush taken Sept. 11 may bring financial success for the Republican Party, but the cost to the GOP in political capital remains to be seen, a political analyst said.

Democrats have sharply criticized the offer of a "limited-edition, collectors quality, three-photograph series" for those who donate $150. The offer accompanies an invitation to a $2,500-a-plate fund-raising dinner in June.

The photograph that created the uproar showed the president speaking on the phone with Vice President Dick Cheney from Air Force One en route to Andrews Air Force Base on the day of the terrorist attacks. The other two pictures in the series are from Bush's inauguration and of the president delivering a State of the Union speech.

"Specially commissioned, individually numbered and matted, this limited-edition series is yours free for serving as Honorary Co-Chairman of The 2002 President's Dinner with your gift of $150 or more, our way of saying thank you for your personal commitment to President Bush, to maintaining and increasing our Republican majority in the House of Representatives and to regaining our majority in the U.S. Senate in the 2002 elections," the letter reads.

The controversy over the photo will motivate Republican faithful to donate the $150 and get the pictures, said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"The activists and partisans are the only people who would open their wallets and write a check for $150, anyway," he said. "This has been the perfect formula for [Republicans] to increase their take."

Yet Sabato said he considered the offer a mistake. The letter opens the door for Democrats to accuse the GOP of politicizing Sept. 11 and gives them a chance to dull the hefty lead Republicans enjoy on the issue of the war on terrorism, said Sabato, who called the offer "crass and stupid."

Republicans are not the first to use a public tragedy to enhance fund raising, Sabato said. He recalled that Democrats used the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in mail efforts to extol then-President Clinton and accuse Republican anti-government rhetoric of inspiring acts of domestic terrorism.

Advocacy groups, including the gun-control lobby, have used tragic events in educational and fund-raising campaigns, Sabato said.

The Republican National Committee has not disclosed how many letters were sent, nor what lists were used. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration was unconcerned about the use of the photos and had known of Republican plans to use them.

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