Washington Prowler

Democrat Dependence

Is Jim Jeffords a campaign liability? Terry McAuliffe eyes a rising star.

By 7.26.02

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JEFFORDS LUBE
Democratic Senator Tim Johnson is one of the few Democrats to turn to "Independent" Sen. Jim Jeffords to buoy his campaign against hard-charging Republican Rep. John Thune. The Johnson camp apparently was hesitant to bring Jeffords out to South Dakota, but fellow South Dakotan and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle pressed Johnson to have Jeffords attend several weekend events focusing on education policy. Jeffords' expenses are being covered by the Senate's Democratic campaign committee.

While many Democratic candidates have avoided Jeffords for his bland personality and long ties to Republicans, Daschle, according to some leadership staffers, believes the Vermonter will illustrate to voters just how important it is that they vote Democrat.

"Without Jeffords crossing over, Republicans are in control. Jeffords is that one vote margin. Without him, without a Tim Johnson, we're potentially sunk," says a Democratic staffer. "For every Democratic voter or undecided who's leaning Democratic, he's a reminder that we need every vote, every victory we can get to keep Democrats in control of the Senate.

JOHNNIE AND TERRY
No big surprise that trial lawyer extraordinaire Sen. John Edwards was out front on Thursday bashing President Bush's proposal to cap plaintiff malpractice lawsuit awards. As expected, Edwards's staff was quick to put out the legal eagle's spin on how such caps would harm plaintiff rights and undercut the jury system in civil cases.

What was surprising was that Terry McAuliffe's Democratic National Committee also put Edwards front and center to push the Democratic spin on the Bush announcement. Early Thursday, all White House correspondents received a DNC e-mail announcing that Edwards would be holding a conference call to discuss the Bush plan. Sen. Edward Kennedy was willing to make himself available, but the DNC took a pass on him in favor of the increasingly visible Edwards. In fact, the DNC has been getting pretty cozy with Edwards of late.

"McAuliffe has been hearing nothing but raves about the guy everywhere he goes," says a DNC staffer. "Everyone says Edwards has no name recognition, but you go to Florida, Texas, California, Ohio, he's the Democrat people seem to want to see more of."

It's doubtful McAuliffe is pushing Edwards as a party standard bearer; after all, McAuliffe and his DNC have made a point of avoiding creating the appearance of favoritism when it comes to potential electoral conflicts. For example, while he tried to persuade Janet Reno not to continue what everyone agrees has been a semi-disastrous run for Florida governor, McAuliffe refused the state party's pleas to strong arm her out. He took a similar position in a few of the congressional races where re-districting pitted two incumbent Democrats against each other.

"It's let the best Democrat win, and then get behind the winner," says the DNC-er. "That's his rule."

That may be, but McAuliffe is also looking for a horse who can help Democrats win in November and he's not about to waste an opportunity to spin against this White House, even if doing so makes it appear he's giving a leg up to one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

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