Washington Prowler

Dumping Lehane

Kerry's clunker breaks down completely. Plus: Republican Senate on hold.

By 9.17.03

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HANGING OFFENSIVE
The announcement earlier this week that former Clinton and Gore spokesman Chris Lehane has stepped down from his strategic communications role with John Kerry's presidential campaign reveals everything that is wrong with the Massachusetts senator's campaign operation. At the same time that Kerry was pointing to a press release that stated that Lehane was stepping down for personal reasons Lehane himself and even some of his enemies in the campaign were telling reporters that Lehane had been pushed by those who opposed his campaign philosophy over the summer.

Lehane was one of the few Kerry advisers counseling an aggressive "attack Howie Dean" game plan that he argued would tamp down the growing support that Kerry people were seeing for Dean in New Hampshire, Iowa, California and New York. Even though Lehane was working without a contract and some say without being paid a full salary, the former Clinton hack had been putting in long hours trying to bail out Kerry's sinking ship.

Lehane's exit may be the first in what some Kerry insiders believe will be several high profile departures from the campaign. Last week rumors were swirling that key senior adviser and speechwriter and former Gore political hack Bob Shrum had lost the confidence of Kerry and would be leaving. Shrum too had been advocating a more aggressive campaign against Dean.

"This whole thing is getting out of hand," said a Kerry campaign insider. "We're losing good people. Those that are staying are losing confidence in Kerry, and everyone seems to be looking around wondering when all the wheels are going to come off."

Kerry remains strong on fundraising, but two weeks after his second announcement that he was running for president his campaign has failed to show any momentum. Given that the entrance of retired Gen. Wesley Clark will most likely take the spotlight for at least several news cycles, Kerry may find himself heading into October as a former frontrunner who is now a second-tier candidate.

What everybody who is talking seems to agree on is that while John Kerry may be the guy driving the car, it's wife Terry Kerry who's manning the lugwrench and unscrewing the tires.

IN THEIR DREAMS
Senate Republicans are expressing concern about recent decisions taken by some of their colleagues for the 2004 election cycle. With Sen. Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois already out the door and difficult elections for incumbents expected in Alaska and Pennsylvania, and weak candidate pools to challenge Democrats in Florida, Arkansas, and California, GOP senators are putting pressure on Sen. George Allen to ramp up his recruitment program in a last-ditch drive to try to build a series of campaigns that could get the GOP close to 57 or 58 seats.

Allen, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has failed to recruit strong candidates in states where other Republicans believed the party had a shot at beating incumbents. An exception may be North Carolina, where Republican Rep. Richard Burr appears to have a better than average shot at picking up departing Sen. John Edwards' seat. Elsewhere, though, Allen has no one strong to face Arkansas' Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Florida Sen. Bob Graham (who has yet to announce whether he will seek another Senate term while he pursues the Democratic presidential nomination).

Yet another state where Republicans were thought to have strong pickup possibilities is Georgia, where Democrat Zell Miller has announced his retirement. "For Miller's seat we have to view it as nothing but a hold," says a Senate Republican leadership staffer. "Miller votes for us so many times that he might as well be part of the caucus. If we lose that seat it's like we've lost doubly so."

Allen has been putting the hard sell on restaurateur Herman Cain, an African American, to challenge for that seat. And several state party officials have thrown their hat in the ring.

While it doesn't appear that Republicans will lose their slim Senate majority, it also doesn't appear that they will pick up the five or six seats that they were hoping to earlier this year.

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