Washington Prowler

The Plot Thickens

Kerry collects tapes. Sharpton absorbs bombshell. Uncle Teddy talks too much.

By 6.21.04

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TAPE JOBS
In an attempt to draw a truce with Jesse Jackson, presumptive so-and-so Sen. John Kerry will speak at Jackson's Rainbow Coalition/PUSH national conference on June 29. Last week, while Al Sharpton was traveling with Kerry on campaign stops, the candidate dropped the Jackson bombshell on Rev. Al.

"He wasn't happy," says an adviser to Sharpton. "Obviously Reverend Sharpton doesn't believe there is a place for Jackson on the Kerry team."

Sharpton has made that clear enough. But Kerry and some of his advisers have been feeling pressure of late to reach out to Jackson, particularly after Jackson and some of Kerry's AFL-CIO buddies spent quality time together two weeks ago rallying local labor in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

"Doing Jackson a favor on behalf of our labor friends is easy enough to do," says a Kerry adviser in Washington. "Maybe it gives us some breathing room in other decisions, like veep."

Not likely. Organized labor continues to press its case to Kerry campaign advisers and veep vetter Jim Johnson, that Rep. Dick Gephardt is by far the most acceptable running mate, at least to them. But signs continue to point away from Gephardt, and increasingly toward Sen. John Edwards or perhaps a surprise. On Wednesday, after someone in Kerry's campaign had leaked news of a meeting between Kerry and Gephardt in Kerry's Capitol hideaway, some tea-leaf readers were guessing that the leak was an indication that the meeting was for Kerry to inform Gephardt that he was out of the running.

"It's the guys who you hear about that you usually can start ruling out. But it's probably still too early for that," says the Kerry adviser. "No one knows what John is thinking right now. No one except maybe Johnson and [campaign manager Mary Beth] Cahill knows where we are in the process. Maybe they know who is really on the shortlist, but I'd be surprised if they have that good an idea. This has been a frustrating process because so many people know so little."

According to an adviser to Edwards, Edwards has been aware that the Kerry campaign has had someone shadowing him over the past month as he travels around the country to fundraisers. Sometimes the Kerry aide has even videotaped Edwards' appearances. "We're assuming that Kerry is doing this too with some of the other folks he is considering," says the adviser.

In fact Kerry's camp has been examining tape of some of the potential veep selections, including Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Sen. Bob Graham, former Sen. Max Cleland and Gephardt.

TALKING TEDDY
The Kerry campaign is looking for a way to ease Sen. Edward Kennedy out of their regular rotation of officially sanctioned surrogates after a series of embarrassing incidents involving the senior Massachusetts senator.

First, Kennedy was caught by Boston reporters mocking Kerry at a private, supposedly closed-to-the-press fundraiser in Boston, where Kennedy was doing a poor imitation of Kerry begging Kennedy for help and support.

Then Kennedy and his Senate staff leaked word that Kennedy was being asked by Boston officials to help bail out the troubled Democratic convention in Boston, where local unions are protesting their lack of financial gain from the convention. "That leak was clearly intended to put Senator Kerry in his place. It didn't have to get out," says a Kerry adviser.

Finally, Kennedy gave an interview to a Boston magazine where he criticized the Pope for giving communion to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet while American Catholic bishops threatened to withhold communion from Kerry.

"Kennedy is just getting a little too comfortable with talking on our behalf," says the Kerry adviser. "It's our fault for giving him so much leeway. Now we're paying the price. There is probably no way that we can take him completely off the surrogate list. It's not like we can really control him, but he's not going to be on our list of reliable surrogates down the road, that's for sure."

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