Washington Prowler

He Wants to Show He’s Kerry

Massachusetts' junior senator prepares to go it alone.

By 3.19.02

SOLO FLIGHTS OF FANCY
Sen. John Kerry, according to a Capitol Hill staffer, is "looking for a moment -- the picture that will capture the imagination of voters" for his presidential campaign. An opportunity for such a moment may come soon when Democrats attempt a Senate filibuster over drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has promised an all-out floor blockage of the drilling legislation, and Kerry is thinking of waging a one-man filibuster, one that could go on for 20 hours. "Seeing him down there on the floor, working it on C-SPAN, would be pretty cool," says an occasional Kerry campaign adviser. "If he pulled it off, it would be like Jimmy Stewart in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.'"

Kerry is mulling a solo filibuster as part of his plan to position himself for a presidential run in 2004. Because he is a decorated Vietnam veteran, Kerry and his advisers are generally confident such a run would be well-received. But Kerry also feels that because he has had to serve in the shadow of his home state's senior senator Ted Kennedy, the public is less aware of him than it should be. A solo filibuster on the major environmental issue of the day, before what surely would be national TV coverage, would certainly be one way to attract unprecedented attention.

One-man filibusters are rare. The longest in modern history was Strom Thurmond's back in the 1950s when he took the floor for more than 24 hours to block civil rights legislation. If Kerry were to start one, he could not surrender the floor. To do so, even to a Democratic colleague, would risk ending the filibuster and any chance Kerry would have to make a lasting impression on voters.

But the biggest threat to Kerry's solo chances is Daschle, who has his own presidential aspirations and wants to orchestrate a party-wide filibuster on ANWR drilling, not to mention kill any GOP plans to filibuster campaign finance reform -- and he wants to do all this in such a public way that America will come to see him as an alternative leader to President Bush. Says a Democratic leadership aide: "When this session of Congress is over, Daschle wants America to look at Washington and see two men squaring off on everything: him and Bush. He wants to be the guy everyone turns to as an alternate to Bush when it comes to policy and political questions. If he reaches that point, he'll be certain about his political future."

CROSSOVER CONSULTANT
On person who may be involved in shaping Tom Daschle's future is former Republican political consultant John Weaver, who recently signed on as a consultant with the Democratic National Committee and with Senate Majority Leader Daschle. Weaver had been a key consultant to John McCain during his presidential run, and oversaw polling on McCain issues like gun control, campaign finance reform, and a patients bill of rights.

Weaver, who hails from Texas, has found himself locked out of most other Republican campaigns and issues lobbying and consulting because his backing of McCain angered Bush strategist Karl Rove and the Bush White House. "Weaver couldn't get a foothold anywhere with potential clients knowing he had no access to senior Republicans," says a senior Democratic House staffer, who is working with Weaver on advising House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. "Now we have a guy who probably understands the Bush team's mindset better than most of our other Democratic strategists."

Weaver isn't out of Republican politics altogether. He has kept McCain as a client, much to the dissatisfaction of Republican Senate leaders. Weaver will be consulting with McCain on campaign finance reform and patients bill of rights legislation, both issues on which McCain and Democrats generally agree.

According to a Senate leadership aide, Weaver has made it clear he'd love to get into a presidential campaign again. "This is an audition for him," says the aide. "If things go well, perhaps Daschle or Gephardt would bring him in for '04."

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