Washington Prowler

Who’s Afraid of Howard Dean?

Hillary turns down the chance of a lifetime. PLUS: Who Howie’s not afraid of.

By 12.7.03

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FOX AND THE CHICKEN
Sen. Hillary Clinton had the opportunity to do what only Republicans had been able to do recently: hit all four major Sunday morning talk shows on the same day. But concerns about appearing on Fox News' revamped show meant she only hit three.

Clinton had been offered a shot at Fox, but decided against it when her staff learned that Democratic presidential frontrunner Howie Dean was the lead guest.

"Fox was trying to make a big splash with its new host [Chris Wallace]," says a Hillary Hill staffer. "We didn't care so much about him, but we didn't want to share the same stage with Dean. It would just create too many opportunities for misunderstandings. She isn't running against him. She's not going to defend anything he says, and she doesn't want to be asked to talk about him."

Clinton generally performed well, and only appeared to come unruffled when ABC News' George Will called her for claiming America's civil liberties were somehow being eroded by the Bush administration. She continued criticizing the Bush team's handling of the Iraq conflict, as well as its war against terrorism.

"She really offered nothing new to the discussion," says an ABC producer. "We'd been led to believe she had some new material. She brought nothing to the table."

Clinton was in demand after her return from Afghanistan and Iraq, where she angered the military with her expectations of first-class treatment, from being served first in chow lines, to motorcades and military escorts.

"It was like she was First Lady all over again," says a civilian staffer in Iraq. "She came here just hoping she'd have an opportunity to make us look bad. It wasn't a fact-finding mission at all."

As for her decision to duck the Dean questions, neither the New York senator nor her husband have come to terms with the apparent momentum Dean has built up in the past three months. Neither has sought him out. Instead Bill has been feverishly working to bail out the campaign of Wesley Clark, while Hillary has been focusing on her own political appearances on behalf of the Democratic Party.

"At some point, Dean and Clinton are going to have to sit down. The next step for the candidate is to get the seeming approval of the true leader of the party," says a DNC staffer.

TRAVELING MAN
Howie Dean may not be cultivating the support of Bill Clinton, but he is going after the Congressional Black Caucus. Already he has the endorsement of some of the most liberal House members who also happen to be members of the CBC -- CBC Vice Chair Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) jumped on Howie Dean's bandwagon early. Now it appears CBC Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is going to endorse Dean too.

Dean's success in picking off CBC support from Dick Gephardt is somewhat surprising, but he's showing the political acumen to back up the CBC's support. For example, last week, Dean announced that he was hiring CBC staffer Doug Thornell to serve as his traveling press secretary.

"That hiring let us know we weren't going to be forgotten," says another CBC staffer. "Dean has sought us out. Some of the other candidates haven't bothered."

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