Israel Lobby Denies Dem Candidates Speaking Time

Nine is fine if you're putting together a baseball lineup but not for the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The powerful pro-Israel lobbying group has invited the nine Democratic presidential candidates to stop by during their three-day meeting beginning Sunday, but none will get a prime speaking slot.

"If we invited them all to speak, we wouldn't have time for our program which examines the importance of U.S and Israel's relationship," Rebecca Needler, a spokeswoman for AIPAC, said Friday.

The organization also makes it a practice not to invite candidates to speak when there is a sitting president running for re-election, Needler said.

Still, the organization is expected to hear from former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, president of American Values; Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Republican Conference; and Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, R-Ill., a member of the House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

The Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate also will address the group, as will Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush addressed the group, which met in May 2000 after the field of candidates had been narrowed to two.