Washington Prowler

Liddy Dole Slippage

Conservative nemesis Sheila Burke reinsinuates herself. Plus: Howie Dean's biggest catch.

By 2.20.03

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BURKE'S BACK
You can tell the euphoria over winning back control of the Senate has petered out completely when conservatives begin grumbling about the hiring practices of Senate leaders and new Senators. Already, the loudest gnashing of teeth seems to have been elicited by Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who is said to be using her husband's former chief of staff and consigliere Sheila Burke to vet prospective senior staff candidates.

Burke, who famously became a kind of Medusa figure to conservatives in the early '90s for her interest in pushing a national health-care plan in line with the goals of the Clinton White House and her seeming antagonism toward Reagan Republicans, is currently serving as a senior director of the Smithsonian Institution. According to several Senate sources, Burke has been actively participating in the vetting process of résumés and candidates, looking for moderate Republicans with extensive Hill experience to fill several senior positions on Dole's staff.

It's not surprising that Burke would lend Dole a hand. After all, few know the Hill and the Senate better then Burke, and her contacts remain top shelf after spending time teaching at the Kennedy School and working with old contacts now with the Bush Administration. But conservatives were hopeful that Dole would remain true to the conservative platform she ran on last fall. Burke's reemergence would suggest otherwise.

Recall that Dole was not the conservatives' first choice to run for Senate in North Carolina. In fact, the NRA had initially decided not to endorse anyone in that race out of concern that Dole was not strong enough on gun-owner rights. Likewise, pro-life groups were hesitant to strongly back her candidacy. But Dole, perhaps sensing her political opportunities slipping away, went out of her way to say she's support NRA members and pro-life issues, and she was able to roll to victory.

"She hasn't done anything egregious yet," says a well-known conservative activist. "But to my mind it's only a matter of time if the people that were surrounding Bob Dole are the people advising her."

MEATHEAD OF MINDS
Former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean's presidential bid got a huge boost this week when he was endorsed by the Meathead himself. Yes, large Hollywood lefty Rob Reiner has come out in support of Dean and signed on as a California co-chairman of his campaign. According to a California Democratic Party fundraiser, Reiner is telling associates that he has committed to raise at least $4 million for Dean in the coming months, as well as help shape and perhaps oversee production of Dean's national media plan, including TV spots.

Reiner knows how to run California campaigns. He helped finance and develop the campaign for Proposition 10 several years ago, which targeted tobacco dollars for early childhood development programs. Reiner was also a strong financial supporter for both Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and helped both men raise millions among entertainment people in the past three presidential races.

"This is a big deal for Dean," says the fundraiser. "Kerry's out here and looking to tap into the same people. All of them will do okay, but Dean may have lined up a guy who can keep the cash rolling in well after other guys can't get any more out of these donors."

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