Posted: March 5, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth blindsided John F. Kerry in the election for president. Now something calling itself Swift Boat Republicans for Truth has blindsided Terry A. Strine in the election for Republican state chairman.

Both Swift Boat groups put in an appearance Friday, when about 250 Delaware Republicans met at the Dover Sheraton Inn & Conference Center for their state committee dinner.

The speaker for the event was Robert G. Elder, a Wilmington banker who was a member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the military men who were assigned like Kerry to river craft during the Vietnam War and attacked him during the election as unfit to be the commander-in-chief because of his later anti-war activities.

Earlier in the day, a number of Republicans got e-mail from a mysterious "Bobby Rogers" on behalf of the Swift Boat Republicans, who were not identified. In a similar vein to the Swift Boat Veterans, the e-mail contained a three-page attack piece calling Strine unfit to be the party's state chairman.

Strine, who got the post two years ago when no one else wanted it, is running for re-election April 23 at the state party convention. He is being challenged by Jeffrey E. Cragg, the New Castle County Republican co-chairman, who said he had nothing to do with the Swift Boat e-mail.

The Swift Boat Republicans clearly had thought out what they were doing. Not only did they time their attack piece to coincide with Elder's appearance, but they knew to send it by e-mail so it would avoid the fate of another anti-Strine flier that someone anonymously tried to distribute last month at the party's Lincoln Day dinner. Strine's allies removed it before nearly anyone saw it.

Maybe the Delaware Republicans ought to learn from the Delaware Democrats. The Democrats figured out years ago they could cut out the infighting if they stopped meeting. They hold a state convention only once every four years to elect officers. By contrast, the Republicans seem to be in a running battle, which began last year when they elected a national committeeman and committeewoman and now is continuing into this new election for state chairman.

The Swift Boat Republicans treated Strine with the same mercilessness that the Swift Boat Veterans showed to Kerry. In a takeoff of the Republicans' "Grand Old Party" nickname, they headlined their e-flier, "Strine's GOP: Greed, Opportunism and Personal Gain."

They laid out a series of familiar charges, saying Strine really lives in Pennsylvania and fibbed about being a lifelong Republican, while his family and business interests contributed to Democrats in the last election.

The e-flier also showed a photograph of Ronald Reagan with a pseudo-quotation: "Mr. Strine, 'tear down that wall' of lies."

Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the national committeewoman, came to Strine's defense in an emotion-laden speech at the dinner.

"There are people who are out to destroy our party," she said. "This is a piece of trash. I'm telling you, it is a piece of trash. . . . For anybody to use the Swift Boat term for their own personal agenda is disgusting."

Rakestraw labeled the use of Reagan's picture "totally, totally wrong," and challenged the anonymity of the attack. "Is 'Bobby Rogers' in this room?" she asked. "I don't believe there is a Bobby Rogers."

Rakestraw gave way to Elder, whose speech was an account of what the Swift Boat Veterans did to deliver a body blow to Kerry. They began with $400,000 -- not much money by modern political standards -- and one political spot that aired in three states.

From essentially nothing, the Swift Boat Veterans lit a political firestorm as their spot was played over and over again for free on news programs, and they followed up by bird-dogging Kerry's schedule and saturating the local media with interviews wherever he went. They really hit paydirt in getting their message out when Kerry's campaign responded by running a political spot that included part of theirs.

Obviously the Swift Boat Republicans took a lesson from the Swift Boat Veterans. From nothing more complicated than a single e-mail, the Swift Boat Republicans set a political brushfire themselves.

The Swift Boat Republicans became the center of attention with Rakestraw's speech and got themselves free news coverage -- like this story here.