Sen. John Kerry has apparently let attack dog political consultant Bob Shrum off his leash. Over the weekend, former Sen. Max Cleland, who lost his Georgia Senate seat in 2002, put out a statement through the Kerry campaign that essentially called President Bush a coward for serving in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam war and attacked former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean as a weasel for taking medical deferments instead of serving.
Cleland, who lost both his legs in the war, was responding to recent reports about Dean, who got a medical deferment for a bad back, then proudly detailed spending weeks on end skiing in Colorado. (At least he wasn't skiing in Canada.)
The tough talk from surrogates is being tied to Shrum, the bare-knuckled senior adviser to Kerry and the author of Kerry's latest batch of stump speeches in which he portrays himself as "The Real Deal."
Never mind that this has been the slogan of MSNBC's "Joe Scarborough Show" for months, or that Kerry's "Real Deal" is the third try at a creative packaging of the Massachusetts junior senator.
"It feels like we're grasping at straws," says a New Hampshire volunteer for the Kerry camp. "He doesn't want to fight through the obstacles, instead he just tries to sidestep them by having his staff re-create him."
Kerry's staff is hoping that going negative in a nuclear way against Dean will give them a toe-hold on good news moving into the critical months before the New Hampshire primary. While Kerry has consistently said he will stay in the primary race regardless of the early outcomes, a bad loss in New Hampshire would probably sink his campaign, as he has not focused much time on the South.
TOO HOT TO HANDLE
Gen. Wesley Clark watched Bill Clinton run his campaigns, and Bill Clinton has been helping Clark, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Clark has picked up a few of Clinton's old campaign habits. For example, Clark recently decided to pull one of his press aides off the campaign trail and place her in Manhattan, where she will work as his "celebrity outreach" coordinator. These political neophytes learn quick.
Look for an announcement in the week after Thanksgiving that Bush administration Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez will run for the Senate seat opening up in Florida with the retirement of Sen. Bob Graham. Martinez will probably have to face off against at least one other Republican for the GOP nomination, as Gov. Jeb Bush has refused White House requests that he help clear the field of competition.
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