Celebs to tour heartland, hope to edge out Gephardt

WASHINGTON — To Rob Reiner, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s new revelations about the Bush administration’s focus on ousting Saddam Hussein pre-9/11 are a political shot in the arm.

Reiner was talking up Democrat of choice Howard Dean to reporters Monday, the day before he and Martin Sheen were to embark on a political swing through the nation’s heartland. The celebs’ tour is intended to help the former Vermont governor edge out Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) who is trailing Dean by just 3 percentage points heading into Monday’s Iowa caucus.

Only seconds into the conference call with reporters, Reiner seized on charges O’Neill made about Bush and his inner circle in a new book previewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday night.

“Now it’s crystal clear that there was no reason to go to war except getting rid of a bad guy. We never had an honest debate. We had a president who flat-out lied to us, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being lied to,” Reiner remarked.

Reiner may not have done the campaign any favors when he defended Dean’s assertion that Saddam Hussein’s capture had not made the U.S. any safer. Dean’s comment touched off a series of negative articles.

“(Dean) was right. Unless (Hussein) had weapons to deliver, and now we know he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, so clearly there was no threat, no links to Al Qaeda,” Reiner insisted.

Reiner also slammed the media for running a series of negative stories about Dean in the last few weeks. In the same conversation, he railed against the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to relax media ownership rules last year — a factor, he argued, that has contributed to fewer opinions and voices in the mainstream media.

Reiner and Sheen are just two of a half-dozen showbiz transplants stumping for their Democratic candidate of choice for president this week. Carole King will try to make the earth move under the feet of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), while Joan Jett will tour college campuses in the state explaining why she loves rock ‘n’ roll and Dean.

Danny Glover will turn out for Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), first to get D.C. voters to the polls for the city’s nonbinding caucus today. Despite experiencing a political epiphany and endorsing Gen. Wesley Clark last week, Madonna is sitting Monday out; Clark has decided to skip the Iowa caucus.

While all the campaigns are calling in the big guns for the last push this week, Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter predicted that Iowa voters would not be impressed by the likes of Reiner and Sheen.

“Instead of having fun with the Hollywood elite, voters in Iowa would much rather find out how much Dean is going to increase their taxes,” she charged.

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