Experts, Clerics Split On How Much Damage Gramm Has Sustained
The charge that Texas Sen. Phil Gramm invested in two risque movies in 1974 will not help his struggling presidential campaign, but it may not do serious damage either, analysts and conservative religious leaders said Thursday.
Those leaders - some of whom Gramm personally telephoned Wednesday to explain his version of events - questioned the veracity of the allegations made by Gramm’s former brother-in-law, George Caton.
Some of those interviewed Thursday said that whatever occurred, the political statute of limitations was up on a 21-year-old investment with a relative.
“This is a non-issue,” said the Rev. Donald Wildmon, president of the conservative, Mississippi-based American Family Association.
Others predicted rough sledding for Gramm.
“This will drive off the purists,” said John Green, a political scientist at Akron University who has studied the religious right movement. “He was already having trouble winning votes from the religious right.”
Direct mail fund-raising specialist Richard Viguerie said Gramm “is trying to get traction with the religious right. This makes it more difficult to get traction. His wheels are spinning. This doesn’t blow him out of the box.”
The New Republic, a Washington-based weekly political and arts journal, quotes Caton as saying Gramm invested $15,000 in two movies he knew would be R- or X-rated: “Beauty Queens,” which was never made, and “White House Madness,” which was described by one reviewer as an “off-beat, X-rated satire.”
The senator said he invested half that much in “Beauty Queens,” but thought it would be an R-rated send-up of beauty pageants.
Gramm, who is running far behind Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas in presidential polls, predicted Thursday the controversy would have no negative effect on his appeal to conservative voters.
“None whatsoever,” he told reporters outside his Capitol Hill office.
Fax machines across Washington hummed Wednesday evening as Republicans and Democrats sought out details in the magazine story after it was released. On Thursday, copies of the news coverage, especially by the New York tabloids, were making the rounds, as were ribald jokes.
Gramm, for his part, quickly tried to counter the story. Aides faxed copies of his statement on the events to several hundred campaign operatives and supporters around the country, including state and county coordinators and fund raisers.
Gramm also placed telephone calls to key conservative and religious right leaders such as Wildmon, the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition in Anaheim, Calif.; Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly; Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed; and Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council.
“We moved aggressively to put the facts out there,” said Gramm campaign spokesman Gary Koops. “When the facts are placed next to that story, it’s not a story.”
David Gold, a conservative talk radio host on KLIF-AM in Dallas, said he received an unsolicited copy of “The New Republic” story by fax Wednesday in time for his 3 p.m. show.
Callers Wednesday and Thursday either doubted the story or dismissed the incident as something long ago, Gold said. “I don’t think it has any life in it.”