Washington Prowler

Double Your Trouble

Why is John Kerry so nervous about Edwards and Clinton?

By 2.29.04

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Through intermediaries, Sen. John Kerry has been reaching out to the two people who pose the biggest threat to his winning the Democratic presidential nominee: Sen. John Edwards and former President Bill Clinton. "Neither of them seem interested in talking," says a Kerry campaign adviser in Washington.

According to several Kerry campaign sources, senior campaign advisers such as uber-adviser Bob Shrum have reached out to Edwards seeking guidance on what the North Carolinian intends to do after Super Tuesday. Most polls have Edwards lagging, and it is doubtful he will make a big enough splash to remain competitive going into next week's Southern swing.

"We'd like him out sooner rather than later," says another Kerry adviser. "We'd like to have the South all to our selves. Edwards' decision could impact his future down the road."

By that, he means Edwards' chances at the vice presidential nomination. While it has not been discussed, for several days now, Kerry advisers have been dangling that prize out there to reporters in hopes of drawing Edwards into a conversation about quitting the race Wednesday morning.

But Edwards has not budged, and his advisers remain focused on causing some trouble for Kerry down South next week. "Our boss has stated from the beginning he is running for president, not vice president," says an Edwards adviser in North Carolina. "If the Kerry people are talking, we're not listening. It's obvious to us that Kerry doesn't respect us or our man very much."

In several debates, Kerry has been unable to contain his open hostility toward Edwards. While not at the level of Al Gore's eye-rolling, loud-breathing performances in 2000, it has bordered on patronizing contempt. It has also raised questions as to whether Kerry could co-exist with Edwards on the ticket.

"Kerry would do anything to win. If that means Edwards, that is what he will do. Look at his career, his record. The man is a pragmatist," says an Edwards adviser. "He knows he needs us whether it be to step aside, or for balance on the ticket down south. Either way, he is going to have to humble himself some way to get what he wants."

THE EDWARDS CONUNDRUM pales next to the one caused by the other man who has not been returning many of Kerry's calls: Bill Clinton.

The ex-president has been strangely silent on the primary playout over the past few weeks, leading some DNC insiders to fear there is a bombshell Clinton is about to drop, and it is blonde and ambitious.

"Everyone is looking at Hillary and wondering what the hell is going on," says a DNC insider. "It has been way too quiet and people in Kerry's camp are getting nervous."

The nervousness is in part rooted in the nomination process of the Democratic Party. For Kerry to win the nomination, he must have 2,162 delegate votes. He can get that number through any combination of regular delegates (those pledged to a candidate through the primary and caucus process) and superdelegates.

Currently, Kerry leads Edwards in the delegate count, 685 to 201. It is difficult to track superdelegate counts, in part because they are not bound to any candidate up until they begin casting ballots in Boston this summer. Super delegates are made up mostly of high-ranking Democratic Party leaders, including governors, Senators, congressmen, past U.S. Presidents and vice presidents, party chairmen, etc.

And this is what makes Kerry uneasy. Superdelegates are not bound to vote for the candidate who wins a primary or caucus in their respective states. They also can change their mind as often as they like before they cast their vote in Boston. In all, there will be 802 superdelegates in play for the nomination (including both Clintons), and should Kerry enter the convention without a clear and large majority of the bound delegates for the nomination, there are concerns that a bitter battle for the nomination may erupt.

"If Edwards has enough delegates to deny Kerry the necessary votes for the nomination, because Kerry fails to line up the superdelegates he needs, things could get interesting," says a DNC staffer. "At that point, in late spring, early summer, there is nothing that says Bill and Hillary could not emerge and put her name in play as either a presidential nominee or for the vice presidency, particularly if she can muster superdelegate votes."

All of this would have to happen on ballots called after the initial ballot in the convention, and it's a possibility the Kerry camp is aware of. That is one reason Kerry's people are pushing Edwards to quit after Super Tuesday. "We don't want him getting any more delegates after Super Tuesday. We don't need his count going up," says a Kerry adviser in Washington.

NEITHER BILL OR HILLARY HAS given any indication she is mulling stepping into the fray, though DNC types have for a month now been attaching her name to polls to test the appeal of various presidential tickets. There are many who believe a Kerry-Clinton ticket would be untenable for a number of reasons, not least because Kerry would likely end up ceding far too much to the Clintons in return for putting her on the ticket.

But it is also believed by many that if Kerry continues to do well in the polls against President Bush, Senator Clinton at the least would have to make a push for the vice presidency.

"She may not want to be vice president, but she won't have a choice," says a DNC fundraiser. "If Kerry has a legitimate shot at winning, she risks losing her window to run for president to someone else who is on the bottom of the ticket. If the Kerry-Clinton ticket loses, no biggie, she goes back to the Senate and is the frontrunner for 2008. If they win, she's locked in as the presidential nominee in 2012."

According to a Kerry source, the primary season has been in such a state of flux, that it is one reason Clinton has refused to publicly show approval for any candidate, even his hand-picked stalking horse, Wesley Clark. Kerry entreaties to have the president step forward after Super Tuesday to show some level of support for Kerry have thus far gone unanswered.

"The silence on this question has been deafening," says a Kerry adviser. "We know Clinton has told reporters that he has provided advice to us, but that simply isn't true. We have not sought much input from him, if only because of the 800-pound gorilla in the room. His wife."

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