Bush camp bids to kick Guardian off Capitol Hill

Polls apart: The Guardian has whipped up US controversy

The Guardian ‘s attempt to muscle in on the American Presidential election with an e-mail and letter-writing campaign from Britain has not gone down well in the US.

Several American papers have questioned how Britons would feel if Americans advised them how to vote in a British election.

The Guardian ‘s bid to influence the American election could even cost the paper its accreditation in Washington.

The Guardian urged its readers to write to undecided voters in Ohio’s Clark County, just outside Dayton, a key constituency where the voting could go either way – for George Bush or John Kerry. In the last election Republican Vice-President Gore won Clark County by 324 votes. The local Board of Elections director said The Guardian paid $25 for a copy of the local voting list. There are 85,000 names on the list. So far more than 7,000 Guardian readers, it’s reported, have signed up to send e-mails or letters to those voters in Clark County listed as independents -and presumably might be persuaded to vote either way on 2 November. Although The Guardian has labelled its campaign a “public service”, house speaker Dennis Hastert is not impressed. His spokesman described the paper’s campaign as partisan and therefore unethical and inappropriate.

He suggested the Standing Committee for Correspondents – the body that determines accreditation in the press galleries in the House and Senate-should look into the matter.

Seats in the press galleries are limited to “bona fide” correspondents of repute – but the committee also takes into consideration the nature of the publication for whom they work.

The Guardian has two correspondents accredited in Washington. A spokesperson for The Guardian said: “We have not received any notification of this from official channels and we do not expect to. Operation Clark County is a legitimate exercise to encourage our readers to have a say in a contest that will affect us all.

Removing the accreditation of our US reporters would seem unlikely.”

The Bush-Cheney campaign committee plans, if it can, to write to every Clark County voter that receives a letter from Britain to ensure they know what sort of newspaper is generating the letters.

Said a spokesman ” We think they should know the Guardian is a newspaper that runs anti-American editorials”.

As for the Guardian’s Capitol Hill accreditation, the chairman of the correspondents’ committee, Jim Drinkard of USA Today agreed the campaign is unusual. However, if The Guardian staff correspondents in Washington are not involved in the letter-writing drive, then there are probably no grounds for withdrawing their Press passes, Drinkard observed.

By Jeffrey Blyth in New York

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