DEAF DONKEY EARS
Perhaps even Sen. John Kerry is beginning to sense the total lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy. Kerry seemed alarmed by the complete absence of applause, or other audience interaction, he was receiving from a small crowd in Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday.
Kerry was there to accept the endorsement of a national union of emergency first responders, and to hold a "conversation" with local residents about his plans for protecting the nation from bio-terror attacks.
On several occasions, Kerry paused, seemingly expecting applause for his lines. For example, at one point he said, "I will do what I think is best for the country," then waited for applause that only developed after one of his advance staffers began leading a weak round of applause.
His lukewarm reception was so bad that Kerry lost his cool, telling his audience, "I know you don't want to be here anymore."
"That line actually generated more real cheers," says a bemused Florida Democratic Party official. "If this is the kind of response our campaign is getting elsewhere, we're dead. This was awful. He was awful."
Among the criticisms: beyond arranging for an audience, organizers did little if any preparation to warm the crowd up, to have it ready to cheer on a presidential candidate. "You have to give them something before the main attraction shows up," says the state party official. "These guys did not serve Kerry well. He walked into a dead room, and his own act didn't help."
A CLINTON CONVENTION
Former president Bill Clinton will end up spending more time with his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, at the Democratic convention in Boston than he has perhaps in years.
The couple are the hottest attraction for the convention in July. "Frankly, if Senator Kerry or his wife want to stop by, that's great," says a lobbyist for a Fortune 500 firm holding an event at a trendy nightclub during the convention. "But we are making a point of pressing for President Clinton to attend. His presence -- or word that he may be here -- will make our event a success."
Six weeks before the Democrats converge on Boston, it appears Kerry is already being overshadowed by Clinton, and the ex-president isn't even trying yet.
Besides being the star of the convention, Clinton will also be making some coin off of his convention appearances. The Democratic National Committee has purchased at cost more than 3,000 copies of the ex-prez's memoir due out in several weeks. Some of those books will be sold at a book-signing party and fundraiser to be held before Clinton makes his primetime convention speech on the first night of the nominating get-together in Beantown.
In the three days following his speech, Clinton and his senator wife are slated to appear at at least four major party functions, at which they, not the Kerrys, are the star attractions.
"This isn't the way it was with the Reagans back in 1988," recalls a Republican National Committee fundraiser. "I don't recall them ever going out of their way to overshadow Vice President Bush. Perhaps they were more comfortable in their own skin. But I if were John Kerry, I'd be pretty pissed off about all this."
And in little ways, it's showing. While Bill Clinton has his primetime speech, Hillary has been given no indication she will be taking the podium, though her supporters believe she will get what she wants out of the Boston affair.
"There is little doubt she is going to have a big role at the convention," says a former staffer of the junior New York senator. "It's just a matter of setting the agenda for the week. How do you not give the most prominent female political leader in the country a highly visible role at her party's convention?"
According to Kerry campaign sources, the role of Hillary Clinton has been raised several times with them by DNC contacts. "She's going to have a role, but we're not just going to hand her control of the convention. She's not the nominee. Kerry is the nominee and the sooner she and others understand that, the easier it will be to have a smooth and successful nominating convention," says a Kerry source.
Democrats in the House were cheering and gloating over their Republican colleagues on Wednesday morning with the results of the special election held in South Dakota for the seat formerly held by Rep. Bill Janklow. But even Democratic political consultants say their people shouldn't gloat too much.
Democrat Stephanie Herseth won election to the House by fewer than 2,700 votes, defeating Republican Larry Diedrich and a libertarian candidate.
Herseth had to wait until after 2 in the morning for her victory to be confirmed. She becomes South Dakota's first congresswoman.
Democrats had pushed hard the Herseth, funneling her money and campaigning for her. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle invested heavily in her candidacy, sometimes tying his political future to hers during campaign stops.
Meanwhile, in a state largely thought to be ripe for Republican picking, the Bush White House did little for Diedrich. Some Republicans in the state, as well as on Capitol Hill, had asked the White House political operation for a visit by President Bush in the weeks leading up to election day. Those requests were turned down.
"It's a special election for the House," says a political consultant doing work for the White House. "If we had only a one-seat margin or something, then sure, maybe the President shows up. But this wasn't the time to expend heavy political capital."
"Rep.-elect Herseth is going to have a nice visit here in Washington," says a Republican House member. "We look forward to meeting her and working with her. But we fully expect Diedrich to win in November. That's the election that really counts."
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