Washington Prowler

Knowing One’s Place

Tom Ridge's nervous big night. Plus: Democrats line up in moderation -- except for the immoderate Gore. Then there's John Edwards.

By 6.7.02

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DEMOCRAT CATTLE CALL
The Democratic Leadership Council is expecting a big turnout at its late July national convention in New York City. The biggest attraction will be the "cattle call" of Democratic presidential hopefuls, who will attempt to sway the so-called "moderate" wing of the Democratic Party.

Already Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry have lined up speaking slots. Two other key Democrats are still wrangling over theirs. Al Gore is demanding to be allowed to deliver the keynote to the entire event. "He feels he had the DLC's support for president in 2000, that he carried their water for them for eight years of the Clinton-Gore administration, that he deserves to be given the spotlight this time around," says a current Gore adviser in Washington. "He's earned it."

Apparently the DLC disagrees. According to a council insider, there remains vigorous debate among the leadership whether Gore should be invited at all. According one current DLC staffer, Gore was not on the initial "wish list" of key speakers at the New York event. "It may have been inadvertent or just assumed that he'd be there, but some of us took it another way," says the DLC aide.

Gore's problem could be the man who ran with him in 2000, DLC stalwart Joe Lieberman. "Lieberman has been a loyal member of the DLC, and while he remains supportive of Gore, he isn't pushing that hard to give him what he's demanding," says the DLC-er. "There are a lot of council members and staff who are saying Lieberman deserves the spotlight. Gore is old news."

The other question mark is Sen. John Edwards, who also has been pressing for a so-called "primetime" speaking slot. Given the buzz he now enjoys, there is little doubt Edwards is in DLC demand, but he wants a slot that will place him in close proximity to DLC chair Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana. Why? "Edwards thinks that is the 2004 dream ticket: Edwards/Bayh," says a Democratic National Committee senior political aide. "He's looking for any opportunity to test it out, and the DLC conference could be the perfect place for a test drive."

TIED UP IN KNOTS
On what could have been the biggest political day of his life, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge yesterday focused more on his wardrobe than on the seemingly impossible task of serving as Secretary of Homeland Security. "He was worried about the color of the tie he was going to wear," says a current Homeland Security staffer.

Apparently Ridge was concerned that for big events and TV appearances President Bush prefers to wear the now famous Cornwall blue power tie that has become so popular in Washington since his inauguration.

Ever the Bushie, Ridge has taken to wearing the tie as well. "But he was concerned about wearing the same tie the president was," the staffer says.

In the end, sense won over style, and Ridge decided to wear a bright but grayish tie that would appear less presidential but still be in line with his newly elevated stature.

ROUGH ON RIDGE
Look for Democrats in the next day or so to quietly float the name of current Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld as an alternative to Tom Ridge. Despite his public comments last night that he had spent a great deal of time speaking with congressional leaders, Ridge has studiously avoided meeting with House and Senate leaders and does not have the broad-based support that a near celebrity like Rumsfeld has.

"There's no doubt that Ridge is going to be the man. But if Bush is going to get his $38 billion budget and his choice of nominee, we aren't going to make it easy for him," says a Senate Democratic leadership staffer. "When you compare a man like Rumsfeld and his track record to Ridge, there's no comparison. Rumsfeld wins every time. People should question the choice of Ridge for this critical job."

Barring a scandal that might have escaped an extremely extensive background check on Ridge, there is virtually no chance President Bush would walk away from one of his best and closest friends in politics.

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