Washington Prowler

Planting the Seeds of Victory

Kerry grows his own questioners. Plus: Breaking with Howie. Scripting an anti-Bush Oscar night.

By 2.5.04

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I'M GLAD YOU ASKED THAT
First it was former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean seemingly planting sick people around him so he could appear to be a healer while on the campaign trail. (Recall that early in the campaign, Dean was often coincidentally close by to aid people who had either fainted or fallen ill at his campaign events.)

Now John Kerry's campaign is planting volunteers at his appearances in order to make him appear tougher. At a rally yesterday at which he accepted the endorsement of Maine Gov. John Baldacci, Kerry faced down a heckler in the Portland audience who called out, "Why don't you tell them about your vote on the war and the Patriot Act?"

Kerry responded that he would -- but in time. "I never run away from anything, especially George Bush," Kerry said.

The candidate seemed to be quick on his feet in the response, and his retort garnered applause. Perhaps his quick thinking was the result of knowing the jibe was coming.

According to a Kerry campaign source, the campaign has been looking to plant local volunteers in crowds to mix it up, and to make it appear their man is facing down tough questioning. "This kind of confrontation pushes him up the line in news coverage," says the staffer. "Instead of facing a tough question from a reporter, the news guys have this seeming give and take to report on."

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO
The meeting scheduled to take place yesterday between Howie Dean and his union supporters has been put off until this weekend, according to Dean campaign insiders. Instead of a meet in Michigan, where Dean has essentially shut down his campaign, the unions and Dean will gather in Burlington, perhaps as early as Saturday.

All indications are that AFSCME and SEIU leadership are prepared to pull the plug on their endorsement of Dean and open up the vetting process so that they can meet with John Kerry and Sen. John Edwards in the coming days.

"The expectation is that we will be throwing our support behind Kerry by the middle of February," says an AFSCME staffer in Washington. "We don't want to wait around. We want to have those AFSCME signs waving behind a winner before March, when the nomination will pretty much be in hand."

Already organized labor groups with past loyalties to Rep. Dick Gephardt have been meeting with both Kerry and Edwards, but not Dean.

OSCAR POINTERS
Earlier this week, the Democratic 527 soft money PAC known as America Coming Together came together with some New York-based left-wing groups such The Media Fund, founded by Hillary svengali Harold Ickes, to sponsor an "Out With Bush" night similar to the "Hate Bush" event held in Beverly Hills last December. The gathering was held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

One thing that came out of it, according to an attendee, was a plan to provide talking points to all the agents and media advisers of persons nominated for an Academy Award. The hope is that the pointers will prove useful should any of these actors choose to slam the president in their acceptance speeches before a live national audience.

"It will just be a page of clever insults and shots at the Bush Administration," says the attendee. "The idea came up when someone said that she hoped Sean Penn would win for 'Best Actor,' because she just knew that his speech would be nothing but shots at Bush and bluster about Iraq. From there, someone suggested giving other nominees lines and ideas to use. There is this school of thought that if enough people do it, it will really hurt Bush."

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