Washington Prowler

Democrats Get Dirty

Kerry shovels in Dean's backyard. Davis digs ever deeper. Sweeney wants to say, ''Enough!''

By 7.3.03

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THE HOWARD DEAN PROJECT
The presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry may be saying that it doesn't care about the new momentum of Howie Dean's team, but it sure isn't acting like it. Kerry's folks have begun intensive opposition research on Dean, sending staff to Vermont to pull together whatever dirt they can find out about not only Dean but also his wife, who continues to work as a physician in the state.

"It's early, but not too early to start taking him down a notch," says a Kerry staffer. "We've gone head to head with Dean in debates, we've tried to shout them down and shut them up, and they are still hanging around. We're going on the offensive."

From the beginning, perhaps because Kerry was a fellow Northeastern Democrat, Dean seemed to focus his attacks on the senator from Massachusetts. The two candidates have gone at each other throats in debates and candidate forums around the country, and Dean has jabbed at Kerry from the podium. Now Dean has apparently outraised Kerry and his huge fundraising operation in the second quarter of this fiscal year.

Kerry's oppo staff appears to be focusing on Dean's career as a practicing physician, which the candidate has spoken about on the stump. Dean has claimed that he assisted underaged women who were pregnant, but has declined to say whether he provided them with abortions. Dean has also attempted to side-step his deferment from the military during the Vietnam War. Dean claims it was for a congenital back problem. But after receiving his free pass out of service, he spent several months skiing in Colorado, and has bragged about it.

The Kerry staffer says that Dean's recent appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" gave them pause. "He was avoiding having to talk about anything substantive from his background. There has to be stuff there. We're looking. If he's going to be around for the long haul, we might as well be ready."

GRAY AREAS
Across the country, Gov. Gray Davis's opposition research team -- the one that worked overtime during the last election to dig up dirt on former Los Angeles mayor Dick Riordan and opponent Bill Simon -- is at it again. Davis is said by one state Democratic insider to have budgeted more than $100,000 to dig up dirt on Rep. Darrel Issa, the multimillionaire who is helping to finance the recall effort against Davis, and who says he will run for the governor's job if the recall drive succeeds. Davis has also sent his minions forth to begin digging up dirt on actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Davis has been using his favorite news outfit to spread his dirt on Issa. Both negative reports about Issa's distant past -- that he and his brother were suspected of filing a false car theft report more than 20 years ago and that Issa faced gun charges more than 30 years ago -- appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. "They just handed everything over to them," says the state Democratic Party operative. "That's how it works. I doubt the paper even had to do any of its own reporting. Davis's people are pretty thorough."

SISYPHEAN BIG LABORS
In an attempt to bridge whatever difficulties the AFL-CIO's various unions have with one another, Uber Union Boss John Sweeney and his big labor confederation will host a Democratic presidential primary forum early next month in Chicago to hear candidates' positions on protecting rights to organize, health care and other issues important to workers.

Several member unions of the AFL-CIO -- there are 65 unions from across the country that make up the organized labor behemoth -- have requested that a separate invitation be extended to President Bush. Thus far, the AFL-CIO executive council has declined even to consider such an invitation.

Instead, all nine Democratic contenders will meet in Chicago on August 5 to do their song and dance for the most important financial and manpower franchise the party has its disposal.

Sweeney had hoped that by August there might be some consensus on which candidates deserved further consideration and possible endorsement from organized labor. But members of the executive council aligned with government employee union boss Gerald McEntee are refusing to play ball. McEntee wants to endorse his own candidate, believed to be Sen. John Kerry.

Sweeney may still look for some kind of nonbinding vote out of his executive committee later this summer, but it's doubtful that will happen given the sour mood of so many of his leaders.

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