Washington Prowler

Richardson Blacks Out

Memory shortage along the Democratic power grid. Plus: John Edwards figures to hang on.

By 8.18.03

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GRID LOCK
On Thursday, as states in the Northeast reeled from power outages, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe got on the horn to current New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who in a previous life, served as key Clinton apologist and as Energy Secretary.

"They saw this as a political anvil that could be dropped on the Repubicans' head," says a DNC staffer. "With Richardson's background, he could go out there and really highlight the energy crisis created by Republicans."

The only problem is, the Clinton cabal is probably more responsible for the blackout mess than anyone. According to a career Energy Department staffer, early in his tenure Richardson met with a number of no-growth environmental groups committed to blocking expansion of power resources around the country, including the ceding of land for regional installation of expanded power lines and the like. "He committed the department to not seeking that kind of expansion," says the department staffer. "They even blocked the study of the power grid that [current secretary of energy Spencer] Abraham ordered when he came into office. That study could have been completed more than three years ago."

As well, Clinton adminstration energy nuts blocked a number of different projects that would have sought ways to increase power availabilty around the country from a variety of sources, instead of depending on major power plants in the Northeast. "It was all about tearing down the energy establishment to satisfy their radical left anti-energy crowd," says the staffer.

Richardson, who went on national TV and blamed the Republicans for not expanding the grid, received no tough questioning about his tenure as head of the Energy Department. But who could blame the reporters? After all, Richardson did little in his time there. He failed to detect North Korea's early stages of nuclear weapons research (part of his portfolio at Energy), he blocked power grid studies and improvement, and he became famous in-house for his junkets overseas. His security detail was known for talking about the trips Richardson and senior staff would take overseas on the public dime. Perhaps most famous was a cruise down the Bosphorus in Turkey, after which the department had to struggle to find a suitable governmental reason for the trip.

BOWLES OVER
Sen. John Edwards' presidential campaign staff is girding for news that he will pull out of the primary race to focus instead on his re-election to the Senate. "We don't see how he can do both for much longer," says a volunteer in North Carolina. "He has a better shot at winning re-election, but if he doesn't move fast, he risks losing that slot, too."

Tarheel state Democrats have been making increasing noise about Edwards and his floundering presidential hopes. Six weeks ago, they had him meet with former Senate candidate Erskine Bowles, who lost to Elizabeth Dole in 2002. Bowles has the basic structure of a statewide operation in place from the last go-round, and some Democrats prefer him to run in place of Edwards.

Edwards's meeting with Bowles ended with no comment from either camp. Sources said afterward that neither man seemed interested in discussing their future plans, with Bowles pressing Edwards to make a decision for the good of the party.

As it stands, Edwards is in the top tier of Democratic presidential hopefuls money-wise, but in the second tier polling wise. He has essentially pooled his hopes for the primary run in South Carolina, where he is a native son. But other candidates, such as Rep. Dick Gephardt, are also focusing on that state, as Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean focus on New Hampshire.

Some Edwards supporters expect to hear something from Edwards in early fall. Others believe Edwards will attempt to string things along until it is too late for the state party to field another candidate in North Carolina, and his national political prospects will be far more apparent.

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