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Kaloogian rides Move America Forward into the public eye

Howard Kaloogian is one of those rare politicians who may have spent more
time in the public eye since leaving office than he did while he was in it.

Since being termed out of his San Diego-area Assembly seat in 2000,
Kaloogian has had a hand in some of the more visible conservative media
efforts in recent years. The organization he founded, Move America Forward,
has made headlines with campaigns that took on liberal icons such as Cindy
Sheehan and Michael Moore.

Republican political consultant Mark Bogetich, who counts himself as a
philosophical supporter of many of Move America Forward’s activities, said
that Kaloogian has found his political voice in a way he never seemed able
to while in the Assembly.

“It was fairly widely documented that while he was there that he was the
invisible man,” Bogetich said. “He has found a very interesting way to
participate in the political process.”

Now polls show him in a statistical tie with two other Republicans in the
race to replace Randy “Duke” Cunningham in San Diego’s 50th Congressional
District. Kaloogian has held his own against a more nationally experienced
candidate, former Congressman Brian Bilbray, and a better funded one,
millionaire businessman Eric Roach. The trio has left behind nearly
one-dozen other Republicans, including a sitting state senator. One of the
three likely will face Democrat Francine Busby in a June 6 runoff.

Kaloogian has been in a similar position before. In 2004, he came in third
out of 11 candidates in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. But that
race essentially was about who got to lose a general election to Barbara
Boxer. Whichever Republican emerges in the 50th likely will be favored to
top Busby.

He credits some of this success to the name recognition he built up while
serving in the Assembly from 1994 to 2000. His district was almost
completely contiguous with Cunningham’s 50th; Kaloogian handily won all
three of his Assembly races with between 59 percent and 61 percent of the
vote. This is important, he said, given that most of the candidates hold
similar positions on issues important to district voters, such as curtailing
illegal immigration and runaway government spending.

Much of Kaloogian’s “invisible-man” status while in the Assembly probably
came from his willingness to cross the party establishment. He said that he
is completely confident that the party will get behind him if he is the top
Republican vote getter. But he was critical of President George W. Bush long
before it was acceptable for Republicans to break with their once-popular
leader, taking him to task in January 2004 over his immigration-amnesty
proposal.

“If the president makes a mistake, it is up to those of us who support him
to tell him he’s wrong,” Kaloogian said.

Of course, Move America Forward has been one of Bush’s biggest
supporters–even while lacking any formal connection to the administration or
the Republican Party. The group grew out of Kaloogian’s early efforts to
spark the successful movement to recall former Governor Gray Davis. This led
to Kaloogian joining forces with radio host Melanie Morgan, who now chairs
the group. Media consultant Sal Russo is the group’s chief strategist and
largely guides media campaigns that have sought to drum up support for the
Iraq war.

Move America Forward’s biggest headlines have come from its efforts against
Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sheehan’s protest at Bush’s Texas ranch. Their
ads also have urged support for U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and have
advocated that the United States evict the United Nations from their New
York headquarters. Another ad claimed the group had documents linking Saddam
Hussein with Al Qaeda–but the documents currently are not available on the
group’s Web site.

Such positions have led to it being widely mocked by Democrats. Sheehan
called them “Move America Backward,” while others term the group “Move
America Forward to the Middle Ages.”

The group’s ads also have attacked former Democratic presidential candidate
John Kerry. The group has been criticized for running such advocacy ads
while maintaining a 501c3 nonprofit tax status. However, several political
watchdogs noted that the group adheres to the letter of the law. For
instance, the group does not give to candidates or directly call for people
to vote for anyone.

“They’re not saying vote for or against Kerry,” said Bob Stern, president of
the Center for Governmental Studies. “I think they are probably within the
law.”

The group also plays up its charitable activities, such as sending coffee
and cookies to U.S. troops and teddy bears to young terrorism survivors in
Belsan, Russia.

“The coffee and cookies is probably the largest project we work on,” said
Robert Dixon, executive director of Move America Forward. “People tend to
look past that.”

According to the group’s 2004 federal tax returns, it spent about $40,000 on
such activities–and nearly $400,000 on commercials and other “education
media” efforts. Dixon said these ratios have been changing. Move America
Forward’s Web site claims it, “Collected and sent $2.8 million worth of
pharmaceutical supplies to Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Kaloogian said that he also has distanced himself from the organization he
created in order to avoid any conflict of interest with his candidacy. While
he said last summer that he would run for Cunningham’s seat, he did not
formally file until December, long after the he went on Move America
Forward’s June 2005 “Truth Tour” of Iraq. He said he had relinquished any
day-to-day role with the group as of last August.

Nevertheless, Kaloogian admits his role with Move America Forward is also a
factor in his recent success.

“People can look at my opponents and say ‘Where have you been? What have you
done?'” Kaloogian said. “I think it does help.”


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