Today will be perhaps John Kerry's biggest day thus far as the Democrats' presumptive nominee for president.
Apparently refreshed from his week in the snow, Kerry returns to Washington for a spate of meetings and rallies that should have him front and center in the news cycle both today and tomorrow.
Kerry and his senior staff are expected to meet with Democratic National Committee members Thursday morning to lay out their plans for the coming months of campaigning and to indicate how they expect the DNC to help.
"We've been talking off and on, but this will be the first in a series of meetings where Kerry really does take control of the party leading into the convention," says a DNC fundraiser. "He and [DNC Chairman Terry] McAuliffe will have to present a united front, but Kerry's people are going to have a much larger say.
Expected at the DNC meeting is American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees boss Gerald McEntee, who will be shadowing Kerry for much of the day. McEntee, whose union will endorse Kerry later in the day, has been demanding a front and center role in the Kerry campaign, and had held up AFSCME's endorsement until he and his union got satisfaction on their demands. McEntee is expected to have a hand in Kerry campaign policy development and will be key to organizing grassroots coordination for labor.
Kerry is also expected to formally receive the endorsement of former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean. The Kerry campaign has that rally occurring on the campus of George Washington University, to ensure a young and loud crowd.
"It's perfect to draw some of the Deaniacs into our campaign," says a Kerry advance staffer. "We have the posters and everything ready to go. The Deaniacs are going to become the Kerryacs, now."
Finally, Kerry will gather with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, President Jimmy Carter and almost all of his 2004 primary rivals at a Democratic unity dinner at the National Building Museum. Kerry and Clinton are expected to meet privately before the event.
The site of the dinner, which should feature almost constant attacks on President Bush, came as a disappointment to former President Clinton. According to a DNC event planner, Clinton's staff in New York had asked that Clinton be given a suite at the hotel where the fundraiser was to be held, this despite the fact that Clinton owns a home less than four miles from the building museum. "It's apparently a standard request for them," says the DNC planner. "But it's not in a hotel. I guess he's got to go home."
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