Washington Prowler

Clinton’s Impressive Opening Act

A star is born in NYC. Plus: Republicans now have a prayer.

By 12.4.02

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A STAR IS BORN
Given the poor performance of those he campaigned for in the last election, it's surprising any Democrat would lobby to introduce Bill Clinton at the Democratic Leadership Council confab in New York City last Tuesday. John Edwards was apparently an eager beaver, saying he'd change the itinerary for his long-planned European junket. But the winner was Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a relative unknown nationally. "Clinton asked [DLC chairman] Al [From] if he'd get O'Malley to do it," says a DLC source in attendance. "It was a bit of a surprise, but apparently Clinton has been watching O'Malley and is impressed."

O'Malley, for those who haven't seen him in action, may be the next big thing in Democratic circle. A young, articulate, good-looking and a savvy politician, he overshadowed this year's Maryland gubernatorial elections until he decided not to run. Polls showed that had O'Malley challenged Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the Democratic primary, he would have won, and most likely would have handily defeated Republican and governor-elect Bob Ehrlich.

O'Malley is considered a moderate to conservative Democrat, and he can regularly be found jamming with his Irish rock band in Baltimore bars. According to a DNC source, there has been some talk inside the party of trying to find a way to push Sen. Barbara Mikulski aside in 2004 to make room for O'Malley. "He's the hot property right now," says a DNC source.

"Everyone wants a part of him. We're trying to figure out how to get him more national exposure. The DLC thing will help."

Clinton's speech, incidentally, was a classic. He often bit his lip, shook his head and shook his fist in what has become the basis of Clinton caricatures everywhere. But even DLC members in the audience were chortling when the former president launched into a diatribe about how Republicans were stealing Democratic ideas. "Like he never did," says one DLC member from Washington who attended the speech. "His entire presidency was built and run on ripping off the Republicans. That and impeachment. We got our money's worth, that's for sure."

NEW PLANS FOR CATHOLICS
After years of only marginally attempting to garner the Catholic vote and surrendering it to the Democrats across the country, the RNC and Bush White House are finally pulling together a concerted plan of attack to draw Catholics back to the fold. Part of the plan is being rolled out in Louisiana, where Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez is campaigning for Senate candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell. Martinez is expected to be one of a slate of identifiable Roman Catholics put forward around the country over the next two years leading into the presidential elections.

"It's more proactive and direct than in the past," says an RNC policy staffer. "Instead of just listening to Catholic Washington insiders, we're sending out the kind of ethnic and cultural Catholics voters can identify with. We think we've just been getting bad advice on the Catholic voter for too long, and it's hurt us at the polls."

The Bush administration and House and Senate candidates saw some improved support among Catholic voters in 2002, and there is a consensus inside the White House that had Bush in 2000 drawn stronger support from the almost mythic blue collar Catholic "Reagan Democrats" in the Rust Belt, he would have had a stronger showing in Michigan and Illinois.

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