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The President punches back. Hillary crawls toward the ring. Schumer slips on a banana peel.

By 2.22.04

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PRIMED TIME
Expectations are high for a speech President Bush is to make today before the Republican members of the National Governors Association meeting in Washington. The speech is expected to be the rollout of the Bush campaign stump speech he will use over the next few months in the lead up to the fall run for re-election.

"He's primed. Perhaps we're a few weeks earlier than we planned," says a Bush campaign adviser. "But the polls, the public are telling us its time to get moving and get this campaign up and running."

At the same time that Bush will be making his speech, the Bush campaign is expected to start running TV and radio time in selected cities around the country. The image ads are again the first real Republican salvo in the 2004 race. "John Kerry and Terry McAuliffe have been getting a free ride at our expense long enough," says the campaign adviser. "Now they are going to have to start playing a little defense."

TICKET PUNCHER
According to a staffer at the Democratic National Committee, senior staff there continue to hear stories of Bill and Hillary Clinton emissaries fanning out to keep the New York senator's name in play during the final weeks of the Democratic primary season. "It's unseemly for her to be out there when we have Edwards and Kerry battling it out, but the Clinton people don't want her too far out of peoples' minds," says the DNC-er.

Senator Clinton is expected to make several high profile speeches in the weeks after March 10, when primary season wraps up. As well, she has been coordinating with Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle about picking floor fights with Republicans in the upcoming Senate session.

Meanwhile several longtime Clinton cronies, including adviser to both Bill and Hill Harold Ickes, are talking to labor leaders and grassroots supporters about a spring push intended to ratchet up pressure on the Democratic nominee to put her on the bottom of the ticket.

"Her fingerprints can't be on this," says the DNC staffer. "But we know what she's doing. McAuliffe has talked to Bill about it. Everyone knows the drill."

Ickes will be a key player in everything unfolding, in part because of his close ties to organized labor in New York and nationally. The AFL-CIO is integral to Democratic hopes in the fall.

"In some ways Ickes is more important than Bill," says a former Hillary Clinton campaign adviser. "He can work behind the scenes in ways that Bill can't. Any 'Hillary for Veep' program is going to have to be pulled off with his help."

TOP BANANA
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer is well known for spending as much energy to get face time in front of a camera as he is for planning partisan attacks against Republicans. There is also good reason he is not known for his sense of humor. That's because he doesn't have one.

The latest evidence comes after his colleague and regional neighbor, Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, ribbed Schumer during a speech at the 50th annual Washington Press Club Foundation dinner a few weeks ago.

Corzine, who in the same speech claimed that Sen. Elizabeth Dole was the beneficiary of performance enhancing drugs because of her husband's Viagra use, told the audience of mostly reporters and editors, "Frankly, sharing a media market with Chuck Schumer is like sharing a banana with a monkey. Take a little bite of it, and he will throw his own feces at you."

Schumer was not amused. In fact he was so angry, according to a staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, that he planned on holding a press conference about it. "He just didn't see the irony in that," says the staffer.

Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed. But Schumer and Corzine have yet to speak about the incident. According to another Senate source, when Corzine approached Schumer in the Senate cloakroom recently, the New York senior senator was decidedly cool.

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