Washington Prowler

Daschle Desperation

The vulnerable minority leader turns to his David Broder. Plus: Stringing Kerry along.

By 4.19.04

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CALLING DAVE KRANZ
With poll numbers showing that Sen. Tom Daschle is in the fight of his political career, his campaign apparently turned to an old friend for help. And a longtime and respected political reporter for the in-state-influential Sioux Falls Argus Leader finds himself in the center of growing and embarrassing scandal.

For months, the Senate halls have been awash in rumors that Democrats were looking to dump Daschle as their leader, replaced, most likely by either Sen. Chris Dodd or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Those rumors were strong enough to resonate all the way back to South Dakota, where voters -- and, more importantly, campaign donors -- were expressing doubts about supporting a sitting senator who would be losing influence instead of gaining it.

Such talk is probably one of the reasons Daschle can't seem to gain a simple majority of support among likely voters in just every poll being taken in the state. In fact, after spending more than $5 million in media buys and campaigning, Daschle saw his five percent lead (48-43 percent) over Republican John Thune remain unchanged.

"It was discouraging," says a Democratic leadership staffer in the Senate. "Those numbers didn't move an inch, and for the first time in a while, even his most loyal supporters up here were thinking Daschle wasn't going to make it."

According to a Washington-based Daschle staffer, fundraising at home was becoming an issue: "We're not pulling in what we should be at this stage of the race. It's troubling."

So on Easter Sunday the Argus Leader and its longtime political reporter, Dave Kranz, the David Broder of the upper Midwest, ran a piece that opened, in part, with:

"There have been recent inferences that Daschle may not win back his Senate leadership position if he is re-elected. If that idea gets traction, it could have an effect, but three national political analysts who pay close attention to Washington politics don't see any evidence of it." Kranz quotes pollster Stu Rothenberg, journalist Michael Barone, and academic Larry Sabato to that effect.

This article was then used by the Daschle campaign in a fundraising appeal to longtime in-state donors, to show that all the rumors they might have been hearing were untrue.

The only problem is, there have been plenty of Daschle rumors going around for months, mostly fueled by pro-Hillary Clinton Senators and by Daschle's own indecision about running for re-election.

Kranz is known to have carried his share of water for the Democrats in his career. Enough that several South Dakota bloggers have pursued Kranz's connections and ties to the Democratic Party and to Daschle. And apparently they found it.

In a 1976 memo dug up in the papers of former Sen. Jim Abourezk, Kranz is identified as a then-young reporter with deep affection for Democratic Party activities, and also with ties to an Abourezk staffer, Tom Daschle, and Daschle's then-brother-in-law.

Now, Kranz's connections to the Daschle political machine, and the Argus Leader's seeming lack of interest in pursuing them, are fueling anti-Daschle sentiments across the state.

THE THREE PUPPETEERS
Never let it be said the Sen. John Kerry doesn't appreciate a good pollster. He's paying three of them to tell him what to think.

Over the past month, according to a Kerry campaign staffer, the Kerry camp has been polling and focus-grouping the hell out of the country to determine how best to mold their malleable candidate.

In fact, both of Kerry's big policy announcements of the last few weeks: his fiscal plan and what passes for an Iraq policy, were shaped by the focus groups and polling performed by Mark Mellman and Kerry's longtime personal pollster, Tom Kiley.

Now Kerry's folks have brought in yet another pollster to keep things humming along: Diane Feldman, who performed similar polling for Sen. Bill Bradley's 2000 presidential run.

"This past month has really been about finding out what Americans want to hear from Senator Kerry," the Kerry insider says, with little to no irony. "By the end of the month they should start to see image ads and position ads that do just that."

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