Washington Prowler

John and Jeanne

Kerry's shrewd New Hampshire moves. PLUS: Edwards and the Virginia model.

By 1.8.03

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KERRY THE TORCH
Sen. John Kerry spent part of his holidays in New Hampshire, where he believes a win in the nation's first primary will give his candidacy the look of an unbeatable. Kerry has been meeting with small groups of New Hampshire Democrats since 2000, even attending election-night parties for Democratic New Hampshire legislature candidates, in an attempt to build up a solid grassroots network. All along, Kerry and his associates have been talking up New Hampshire as key to his success in 2004. In reality, if Kerry doesn't win there, his campaign may be toast. This, after all, is a primary in a state that is basically a suburb of Massachusetts.

Kerry's possible geographic edge is why Sens. John Edwards and Joe Lieberman, Vermont Gov. Howie Dean and Rep. Dick Gephardt have been spending more than mere token time in the Granite State. To knock Kerry down a peg or two in the polls a year from now could mean the difference for their own presidential bids.

That said, Kerry has more than geography going for him. According to a Kerry adviser, their man has been putting heavy duty pressure on former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen to back his campaign. Despite losing her U.S. Senate bid against John Sununu, she remains a popular in-state political figure. And while no one is saying there would ever be a quid pro quo for her support, she is expected to accept a nice lecturing gig at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government .

VIRGINIA TERRITORY
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is credited with winning his seat by reaching out to traditionally conservative rural voters and luring them over to the Democratic Party. The rural outreach is the brainchild of hot shot Democratic political consultant Dave Saunders, who is based in Roanoke. Saunders designed a campaign for Warner that had him playing up to the so-called NASCAR voter. And it certainly appeared to work for Warner, who became Virginia's first Democratic governor since Douglas Wilder.

With the increasing importance of the Southern primaries for Democrats now setting in, Saunders is suddenly a very hot property. He's already doing work for Sen. John Edwards' PAC, the New American Optimists, and is being wooed by Edwards to join outright his presidential campaign. Edwards is most in need of Saunders' rural approach, if only because almost all the political cognoscenti agree that if Edwards is to make a splash in 2004, he has to win the South Carolina primary and perform well elsewhere below the Mason-Dixon line.

But some Virginia political know-it-alls say the Saunders approach, while smart, might not be replicable elsewhere in the South. "Virginia is a weird state in that a lot of the rural voters, while perhaps personally conservative, tended to vote Democratic anyway. We're talking old mill towns, coal mines, that kind of thing. Back in the '40s and '50s and '60s they were always voting Democratic," says a Virginia Democratic Party staffer. "Just from what I've seen lately in places like Georgia and South Carolina, Republicans there have a stronger ideological hold on the rural voters than they do in Virginia."

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