POWER BEHIND THE THRONE
Howie Dean called Al Gore on Sunday morning, and asked him for assistance in re-tooling the foreign policy speech the former Vermont governor made on Monday in California. The two men now speak at least once a day, and Gore seems -- at least to longtime Dean staffers and advisers -- to have taken on senior policy adviser status in the eyes of the candidate.
"Gore really seems to have taken to the notion that he is helping steer a successful campaign," says a Dean adviser in Washington. "He even made some suggestions about changing our bumper-sticker and yard-sign designs. Maybe it's a vicarious thing or something."
Democrats in Washington are once again getting nervous about a threatened run for president by Green Party factotum Ralph Nader. The consumer guru turned political hack cut into Democrat Al Gore's voting bloc last go-round, and Nader appears ready to do the same in 2004.
Earlier this year, when Howie Dean was struggling a bit in the polls, rumors had him willing to look at the Green slot on state ballots as a way to keep his presidential aspirations alive if he lost the Democratic nomination. And even some Green Party folks seemed interested in the idea of taking a viable national candidate on board their fledgling operation.
But Nader now appears to be the guy once again. While he has declined to reveal his current leanings, he sounds receptive to another run and not the least bit interested in helping the Democratic Party. "We think a Nader run could actually help the Democrats," counters a Green Party activist in Georgia. "Look at what happened in San Francisco. Our candidate pushed the Democrat to be a better candidate, and increased turnout."
Actually turnout in last week's San Francisco mayoral runoff was flat compared to other off-year elections, and you won't find a Democrat in his right mind who thinks a Green run is a good idea, especially with a fellow like Dean on the top of the ticket.
While Nader refuses to admit that his 2000 candidacy affected Gore's chances, he did siphon off about 3 percent of a vote that most likely would have gone to Gore, including thousands of votes in Florida. But overlooked is that Dean's campaign thinks it has many traditional -- if such a term fits -- Green Party followers already sewn up. "You look out west, up north, on college campuses, we have those guys working for us, and giving up money," says a Washington-based Dean adviser. "With the governor's antiwar position, he was attracting those folks before Nader started talking up his candidacy again."
While Republicans are enthusiastic at the prospects of picking up another Southern Senate seat -- this one vacated by Democrat John Breaux, who is retiring -- the Louisiana one may well be the toughest for them to win. While North Carolina and South Carolina would appear to be the easiest, with Florida following in difficulty, the recent Louisiana election for governor raised some warning flags for the GOP.
Already, the buzz in Washington is that former Bush Administration member Bobby Jindal is in line to run for Breaux's seat, coming off his impressive showing in the gubernatorial race. But Jindal, while polling well in some areas of the state, despite media and pundit predictions that a non-white candidate would fall flat, failed to perform well in parts of the state traditionally rich in crossover Democratic votes for conservative Republicans. Jindal's ethnicity might have played into it, as some GOP pollsters believe, but further research and polling will have to firm up those views. In the meantime, Jindal is thought to be the candidate, if he wants to try again.
Meanwhile, House Republican David Vitter has indicated he would be open to running Breaux's seat. As for Breaux, there continue to be rumors that he will join with Republican Sen. Don Nickles in setting up a lobbying and policy shop in Washington."
Finally in Florida, as predicted by the Prowler, former HUD secretary Mel Martinez is gearing up for his Senate run to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Graham. The RNC and state Republicans are looking for a way to clear the field for Martinez, who has been lagging in fundraising. The biggest name to lop off is former Rep. Bill McCollum, but supporters have said he would probably only step aside for a high profile Bush Administration position in Washington.
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