Sunday, November 18, 2007

He wants last laugh against Clinton bid

Businessman from Texas targets candidate through Web site humor

DALLAS — When Hillary Clinton complains about the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, she's talking about people like Texas businessman Richard H. Collins.

Collins, a community newspaper publisher and online education entrepreneur from Dallas, has raised millions of dollars over the past three decades for Republicans such as conservative icon Jesse Helms to establishment favorite Kay Bailey Hutchison.

The charismatic heir to a family real estate and insurance fortune is a longtime donor to the Media Research Center, a Virginia-based group that documents what it sees as liberal bias in the news media. He counts GOP uberstrategist Karl Rove among his friends.

"The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is alive and well and flourishing in Red State America," boasts Collins, "and I'm glad to be a part of it."

Such Texas-sized bravado may serve Collins well in his latest political venture: a Web site designed to defeat the person that many on the right consider the most dangerous liberal in America, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.

The site, called, describes the New York senator as "a confirmed left-wing radical" and "experienced political chameleon" who is attempting "a massive makeover campaign" to appear "mainstream."

That's the kind of blow-torch rhetoric conservative groups have used in recent elections to make Massachusetts rapist Willie Horton a household name and to sully 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's Vietnam War record. But Collins' group is offering more than the same old smash-mouth politics.

At a time when more young people get their political news from satirists such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert than from network anchors, Collins is betting that humor will be a potent weapon against the Democratic presidential front-runner.

"While there is a place for negative advertising, we've heard so much of it that we're almost immune to name-calling," Collins said. "But we're always eager to hear a new joke. Humor can be an effective political tool."

In an election that Collins expects to be tough and close, he's hoping to turn the tide against Hillary Clinton one joke at a time. There are limits, though.

"No profanity," he said. "Chelsea is off-limits. No gay-bashing. And Bill's womanizing is OK, but we don't name names unless they're public knowledge."

Collins, a fourth-generation Texas political activist, is the great-grandson of a state senator, the nephew of a congressman, and the son of the first woman ever elected to the Dallas City Council. To launch his project, he's anted up $400,000 in seed money, but he hopes to raise up to $4 million in outside donations.

The Dallas businessman has company on the anti-Hillary bandwagon.

Citizens United, run by the creator of the 1988 "Willie Horton" ads against Democrat Michael Dukakis, is preparing a documentary on Clinton. The Hillary Clinton Accountability Project has taken the Clintons to court on behalf of an estranged Clinton fundraiser. On the Web, spews anti-Clinton vitriol, and more than 563,000 people have joined Facebook's "Stop Hillary Clinton" group.

Amid hundreds of incoming verbal missiles from critics on the right and left, the Clinton campaign has launched its own "Fact Hub," to present her side of the story.

Democratic activists are convinced that the anti-Hillary zealots will create more sympathy than antipathy for the target of their venom.

"She doesn't fit the stereotype of the unreasonable, radical woman that these Swift Boat types have created," said former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, a Clinton friend for 35 years. "The reality is that their spending money has become a plus for her campaign."

Undaunted by Democratic darts, Collins and his merry band of Hillary hunters is convinced that their made-in-Texas site will avoid a sympathy backlash simply by being funny.

"Everybody loves a good villain," said Collins associate Kameron Bell, a baby-faced, 25-year-old Texas A&M graduate with short blond hair and a wicked sense of humor.

But Bell knows she has to be careful as she tries to transform the former first lady into a modern-day Lady Macbeth.

"It's easy to be mean," Bell said. "It's hard to be funny. It's even harder to be funny and clever."

StopHerNow tries to be funny by using stylized, Jetsons-like cartoons to make its political points.

Its centerpiece is "The Hillary Show," featuring Clinton as an acerbic talk show host with screaming sidekick Howard Dean. The "Target Room" includes current political foes including former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

"Nice hair, pretty boy," the faux Hillary declares.

For Thanksgiving, has added an interactive video game dubbed "Whack a Turkey." Players score points each time a Pilgrim-suited Hillary wields a mallet to bonk celebrity turkeys on the head. Guest turkeys include Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Edwards, Republican hopefuls Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, President Bush and — for twice the points — Bill Clinton himself.

Collins acknowledges that some Republicans remain skeptical of his approach.

A few, he says, don't understand the satirical humor. Some feel that Republicans need a positive vision for 2008 and not just negative campaigning.

And still others fret that attempts to ridicule Clinton will further energize fired-up Democrats.

The defiant Dallasite doesn't buy any of it.

"Hillary has used the woman-as-victim routine throughout her career," he said. "She claims she's a woman. We say she's the front-runner, no different than anyone else."

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