Washington Prowler

Kerry Shifts

Lockhart empowered. Plus: Swift recovery before the American Legion.

By 9.1.04

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THE LOCKHART MONSTER
Tuesday afternoon, the Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign announced that former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart was taking a formal role on the sputtering campaign as a senior adviser.

The Prowler had reported last week that Lockhart was one of a handful of former Clinton advisers looking to jump aboard the listing campaign as advisers. But Kerry himself late Monday night decided that Lockhart's communications skills and relationships with the national press were too critical to keep off to the side.

"Lockhart's elevation is the first sign that Kerry is trying to fix whatever isn't quite right with his campaign," says a Democratic political strategist in New York, who is no longer doing work for the Kerry campaign. "He doesn't solve all the problems, but it's not like there are a lot of people Kerry can bring on. Everyone who is anyone is working on this campaign. There is no bench for Kerry to draw on. I think he needs to toss a few bodies overboard."

Lockhart will no doubt be taking a more visible role in the campaign, perhaps replacing Tad Devine, who has been serving as one of the most visible faces for the campaign on TV, but who is thought by some Kerry advisers to be too grating and aggressive for television audiences. How a pitbull scowler like Lockhart might be an improvement isn't clear.

Lockhart has apparently already shaken up the Kerry communications shop, installing former Clinton adviser Joel Johnson as head of Kerry's rapid response team. Johnson cut his teeth as an operative for Sen. Tom Daschle and from the Clinton years is best remembered for being a point man against the National Rifle Association and gun-owner rights.

SWIFT RECOVERY
On Tuesday morning, John Kerry met again with senior advisers to look over the speech he will make later today in Nashville to the American Legion, and to continue preparing for the coming presidential debates.

According to Kerry insiders, the candidate will attack his Swift Boat Veterans for Truth critics, by claiming it was he who stood up for veterans and the missing in action during his days in the Senate. "This is going to be the big pushback," says a Kerry adviser. "He will take this Swift Boat guys on, and then put the debate to rest. He isn't going to let this spin out of control for days on end. We won't let it."

That some inside the Kerry campaign believe they can still set the debate or at least the discussion from day to day on their terms shows how some Democratic insiders may still underestimate the power of the Swift Boat ads and message, as well as the palpable downshift in the campaign momentum.

"The Republicans have had three good weeks. Let's be realistic and honest about this. Just three good weeks," says the Kerry adviser in Washington. "We've had three good months. Once their convention is over, the American people will be able to size up the candidates and the issues. Our guy will win that comparison."

Kerry intends to renew his campaign, with a new message and tweaked stump speech almost immediately following the conclusion of President Bush's acceptance speech. Kerry will be in Ohio with veep candidate John Edwards and their spouses to begin two-day bus tours in the pivotal state.

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