HILL OF BEANS: Between You & I

BOSTON -- With Republican pollsters estimating that George W. Bush needs two-thirds of John McCain's votes to win in the fall, McCain was still saying last week that "under no circumstances" would he join Bush on the Republican ticket. McCain did, however, agree to plans that his guidance counselors at the National Republican Congressional Committee have been drawing up for him over the past two to three weeks. Ever since their exit polls showed Republicans getting crucified in exactly the non-Southern suburbs that McCain mopped up in February and early March, NRCC head Tom Davis has been trying to get McCain to campaign there. Starting next month, McCain is going to be barnstorming in 30 targeted congressional districts. Great news -- almost enough to make up for the news that Bush had pulled only 67 percent of the vote running unopposed in the Illinois Republican primary.Even native Illinoisan Mary Matalin, whose agonized honking throughout the McCain boom made her look even more like the Lady-in-the-Airport-Bar-at-10-o'clock-in-the-Morning than she usually does, was thrilled. "He's a class act," Matalin said. "And he came back and he said he was going to do what he can do quite well, which is go campaign for people in the Northeast where he had a lot of support." But not exactly. McCain is slated to campaign primarily in California. The only district northeast of Pennsylvania where Davis has him slated to campaign is the highly atypical Connecticut 5th, where Mark Nielsen hopes to knock off moderate Democrat Jim Maloney, who didn't even manage a majority last time.Bush looks simply unsellable in the Northeast, and the candidates who cling to him will be unsellable, too. A clue as to why came when Dubya tried to explain why he and McCain hadn't spoken at all in the past month. "There'll be an appropriate time," Bush said, "for John and I to talk." John and I? Even if Bush hadn't made clear in the course of his prep-school reminiscences that he loathes New England, it would still be obvious to Northeasterners that Bush stands in mortal opposition to at least one thing they care about -- grammar.That's too bad, because events on the ground up here in Massachusetts have left me desperately wishing for him to win. The Bay State's anti-smoking fanatics-against whom Dubya, God bless him, stands firm-are making up for lost time. The selectmen in my hometown of Marblehead have just banned smoking in all restaurants and bars -- a particular shame, since hanging around in Maddie's Sail Loft, smoking all afternoon and watching the Red Sox is the entire point of living here. I forget whether they call this the Kill-a-Dozen-Businesses-Within-a-Year Act or the Encourage-Town-Residents-to-Drink-and-Drive Act. But it's authoritarian however you slice it.Bar patrons, however, will probably grumble for a couple of weeks, smoke outside in the pouring rain like the spineless, self-loathing vassals they are, and then vote to allow Al Gore to continue to persecute them. On Wednesday, Gore attended a $10,000-a-plate fundraiser at the home of Cincinnati tort-lawyer Stanley Chesley. If you wonder who the hell in Cincinnati would pay 10,000 large to break bread with the least scintillating political conversationalist since Dick Lugar, recall that Chesley made hundreds of millions out of the tobacco settlement. In other words Gore spent last week publicly urging voters to "put aside partisanship" and "stand up to big tobacco," while privately promising the most partisan group of con-artists in American politics that there were 10-figure fortunes to be made by standing up to Joe Blow and his diffident working-class drinking companions in Maddie's.

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