It probably isn’t coincidental that on the day that former Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart officially joined the Kerry campaign, the behind-the-scenes pushback to bail out Kerry’s presidential campaign began in earnest.
According to a Kerry campaign source in Washington, the campaign itself, or perhaps entities outside of the campaign to allow for plausible deniability, has pulled together more than 1,000 documents related to members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, many of them compiled within the past three weeks by professional opposition researchers assigned to dig up dirt.
“We have the documents,” says the campaign source. “It’s not clear that the campaign did this or that it was done by an outside group and given to us. Either way, we have the stuff and we’re going to use it.”
In some cases, the material is said to include psychological evaluations from the post-Vietnam era, employment records, and criminal and civil court records (including divorce and child support data).
According to a Democratic National Committee staffer, who has not seen the material, the Kerry campaign has every right to use that information against the Swift boaters. “These guys say they know war and they know battle, well this is war. They can’t expect the Kerry people to just sit back on their heels. There will be pushback and it will be ugly.”
The DNC staffer denied that the documents were the result of the party’s opposition research efforts. But the staffer added that the Kerry campaign and the DNC were working on putting together another round of attacks on Bush and his National Guard service, which might be dropped on the media next week to embarrass the president during his re-nomination in New York.
Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign continued to look for documentary material that would aid their candidate in some way, but were striking out. “A lot of were pushing for a full release of Kerry’s diaries from the period. But we’re hearing that those diaries aren’t helpful at all, and may actually make matters worse,” says a Democratic political strategist not aligned with Kerry.
One glaring example of that was published by the Washington Times Wednesday morning.
“The only way they are going to get out of this is through a war of attrition and with the help of the media,” says the Democratic strategist. “You watch CNN and Chris Matthews and read the New York Times and you can just tell from the faces of the anchors and the words on the page that they are disgusted by this story and want to wash their hands of it. Kerry has to figure out a way to make it easy for them to do it, and that’s through dirty politics of their own.”
Another positive byproduct of this Kerry controversy, for Republicans, at any rate, is the Kerry camp’s inability to use former President Bill Clinton in a public way to help keep the campaign focused on issues. “You can’t a have a guy the Republicans dubbed a draft dodger out there at the same time you’re putting out Vietnam fires,” says a Kerry campaign source.
But all of this assumes Clinton would want to be out there to begin with. Clinton has not been very visible or vocal on behalf of Kerry since his appearance at the Democratic convention in Boston. Clinton has attended several fundraisers on Kerry’s behalf, but for the most part neither he nor Sen. Hillary Clinton has been asked to participate in the campaign.
“[The Kerry campaign] has not asked them to do much of anything,” says a former Clinton staffer. “They are doing some things for other candidates, but the Kerry people have gone out of their way to keep the Clintons at arms length. Which is probably just fine with the Clintons.”