Washington Prowler

Boss Kerry

Seeding the states with Clinton-Gore goons. Plus: Democrats discover Reagan. Also: Al Gore’s latest crazy act.

By 6.8.04

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STATE YOUR BUSINESS
Over the weekend, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry hired his campaign's state political and campaign directors, who will be critical to his having the remotest hope of winning election in the fall. Kerry brought on board twelve seasoned political veterans, most of them with close ties to the Clinton and Gore campaigns of 1996 and 2000.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Kerry's decision to bypass the recommendations of supposed close allies and go with some surprising picks. For example, both Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had submitted a list of names of trusted political bagmen to the Kerry campaign for their state political jobs. In both cases, Kerry went with comparative outsiders: Tony Podesta, brother of former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, for Pennsylvania, and Moses Mercado, a former key adviser to Rep. Dick Gephardt in the House.

"No slight to the recommendations," says a Kerry adviser in Washington. "The boss just wanted to go with someone he trusted on his own. The people he picked came highly recommended or were known to him before the campaign."

Perhaps most surprising were the number of Clinton loyalists brought into the campaign. With the exception of Donnie Fowler, who served as Al Gore's national field director in 2000, and who will work Michigan for Kerry, virtually all of the swing-state political directors -- Wisconsin, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oregon -- are Clinton hands.

"Who else can we draw on?" asks the Kerry adviser. "These are the folks with the campaign background. It isn't like we have been able to develop a Kerry farm team over the past couple of years. These folks will do just fine by us. They want to win."

No one in the Kerry campaign is reading anything more into the state director hirings than that. "It probably has little to do with veep politics, if that's what you're thinking," says the adviser.

OPTIMIST CLODS
On a conference call on Sunday morning with political staff and senior Democrats involved in Kerry's message team, Kerry senior advisers told all surrogates that when asked to speak about President Ronald Reagan, to make sure their soundbites used the words "optimist" and "optimistic" often.

"This is the new Kerry theme and message, that he's an optimist," says a Kerry campaign staffer in New York, who was on the call. "There is little that Kerry can grasp of Reagan's legacy or aura. The optimistic message is one of the few, but even that would be a stretch."

Still, sure enough everyone from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to Rep. Steny Hoyer was out there pushing the optimist line for their presidential candidate, as was Kerry himself, when he told a high school graduating class on Sunday, "Yesterday, we lost one of our greatest optimists. President Reagan's belief in America was infectious."

AL POLITICS IS LOCO
Al Gore was going further around the bend over the weekend. For an article in Sunday's Miami Herald, he was asked about his relationship with Miami-Dade Mayor and Democratic Senate hopeful Alex Penelas.

Penelas served as a key political ally to Gore in 2000, but not before annoying Clinton-Gore backers during the Elian Gonzalez debacle, when he defiantly criticized Janet Reno for her handling of the Cuban boy's case. But all was forgiven by Gore, mostly because Penelas is Cuban-American with close ties to that community in south Florida.

In fact, Gore and his campaign finance people went out of their way in September 2000 to raise enough money for Penelas to ensure that he wasn't caught up in a primary or general election battle for his mayoral seat. By clearing the deck for Penelas, it allowed him to work almost full-time for Gore.

Problem is, Penelas apparently didn't do a very good job. Gore lost the bulk of the Cuban vote to George W. Bush. So when Gore was recently asked about his Cuban-American amigo in Miami his only comment, through a spokesman, was, "Alex Penelas was the single most treacherous and dishonest person I dealt with" during the contested 2000 presidential campaign."

Gore, according to former campaign advisers, was extremely annoyed at Penelas's lack of effort on his behalf during the general election, but grew even more irate when Penelas failed to muster any support for Gore during the recount battle.

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