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Environmentalist attack on Leavitt backfired

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Webb: Can you imagine New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton uttering the word "Enlibra?" Well, it happened last Tuesday, and we might as well get used to it. Along with Gov. Mike Leavitt, Enlibra has gone national.

While only a first step, the reasoned, almost friendly, EPA confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was a big win for Leavitt. But it was an enormous defeat for the extremist Utah environmental groups who tried to demonize Leavitt in the days before the hearing.

The personal attacks by the radical groups clearly backfired. Jason Groenewold, Larry Young and the rest of the sadistic little band of character assassins hopefully slunk out of Washington with their tails between their legs. They utterly failed in their wild-eyed attempts to turn this confirmation into a very personal bash-Leavitt feeding frenzy.

One Washington source said the personal attacks were ignored by the senators because Leavitt is well-known and well-liked in Washington, particularly by the numerous former governors who now serve in the Senate.

They know Leavitt is a reasonable, moderate, capable governor with an excellent environmental record. So when the Utah environmentalists tried to have their 15 minutes in the national spotlight at Leavitt's expense, their inflammatory charges just didn't stick.

Leavitt's nomination must still be voted on by the committee and then go before the full Senate. It may be delayed by holds placed mostly by Democratic senators who are running for president and who want a forum to blast the Bush administration.

But clearly the Utah environmentalists' orchestrated attempts to discredit Leavitt were a miserable failure. Instead, Leavitt got more personal compliments than personal complaints. The Utah environmentalists can crawl back into their caves and lick their wounds.

U.S. senators are smart enough to know that governors answer to the people, not to rabid environmentalists who want to drain Lake Powell and lock up 10 million acres in wilderness. Enlibra is all about balance and these guys are all about one-sided extremism.

The EPA post is viewed widely as a no-win, dead-end job. Leavitt isn't given much chance by anyone to enhance his political career as EPA administrator. If he is confirmed, he faces an enormous challenge, caught between the political demands of an administration up for re-election and an environmental community dedicated to his failure. He may even be out of a job in a year if Bush loses his re-election bid. But here's betting that Leavitt surprises a few people. No one knows the challenges or odds better than Leavitt. He loves to enter an arena where expectations are low. That provides the best opportunity to shine.

The Republican gubernatorial field seems pretty much set, with six solid candidates. More people could yet get into the race, including Lt. Gov. Olene Walker. But even at six it's a crowded field, with some real heavyweights in the mix.

While there is no shortage of good candidates for the 2004 election, there is always a shortage of good campaign managers. Winning campaigns require capable campaign managers. Candidates themselves are lousy campaign managers. They can't do both jobs.

Understanding that, the six gubernatorial candidates seem to have done quite well for themselves, with each candidate bringing on a sound, smart, experienced campaign manager.

Here's a quick look: Jim Hansen will have Don Leonard run his campaign. An attorney, businessman and former congressional staffer, Leonard is a veteran political operative who has Hansen's complete confidence — perhaps even enough to keep Hansen focused and on message.

Jon Huntsman has signed on Brad Probst, a former State Senate candidate, sales and marketing executive with long involvement in politics. He has demonstrated a knack for grass-roots campaigning and runs a crisp operation.

Gary Herbert's campaign will be run by Ben Waldron, a successful businessman and GOP fund-raiser and contributor. Herbert is still a dark horse, but Waldron brings solid management experience to the campaign.

Marty Stephens has the very-capable Allyson Bell, a long-time fund-raiser for Leavitt and superb grass-roots organizer. She is a veteran of many campaigns and will do the nuts-and-bolts better than most anyone.

Nolan Karras has had Spencer Stokes organizing his campaign on a volunteer basis. Stokes has extensive experience as a former state party executive director, lobbyist and campaign/government relations consultant. He has mastered all facets of major campaigns.

Fred Lampropoulos brought on Dave Hansen several months ago. Hansen is perhaps the most experienced of all the campaign managers with a wide array of state and national campaigns under his belt. Besides that, Hansen has a great sense of humor.

On the Democratic side, Scott Matheson Jr. has plenty of time to select a manager. He does not face the intense schedule the Republicans must negotiate, including neighborhood caucus fights, the convention battle or a likely primary election. While having yet to appoint a full-time campaign manager, Matheson is, no doubt, assisted ably by his wife, Robyn, a very accomplished campaign strategist and organizer in her own right.

All in all, it's a very impressive array of campaign intelligence and experience that will make this race even more intriguing. Many of the campaigns will also have media consultants and a variety of other specialists.

Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: lavarrwebb@msn.com. Democrat Ted Wilson, former Salt Lake mayor and recently retired director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, is a political consultant. E-mail: tednews@hotmail.com. This week's column was written solely by Webb because Wilson is on vacation.