STILL THE WINTER SOLDIER
Signs that the national press continue to give Sen. John Kerry a free pass that they didn’t give former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean have been playing out throughout the campaign season. The most obvious one occurred during Kerry’s campaign swing through California a couple of weeks ago.
Kerry stood by and applauded and laughed as a string of celebrities and lesser political lights attacked President Bush and Republicans in general on everything from the war on terrorism to Iraq to Social Security policy.
Perhaps the most outrageous scene took place at a breakfast fundraiser in a San Francisco hotel, where state assemblyman Mark Leno introduced Kerry.
Leno, with Kerry standing next to him, led the crowd in a question and answer intro in which he asked questions and the crowd responded, “John Kerry.”
One of the questions was, “Which candidate will not only summarily fire but will bring criminal charges against Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft?”
The crowd screamed “John Kerry,” with Kerry laughing and clapping as he prepared to take the podium.
Despite the enthusiastic response, some at the event complained to the state Democratic Party and the Kerry campaign about the over the top introduction. But no one was making an effort to clarify Kerry’s apparent “Al Gore moment.”
According to a California Democratic Party staffer, Leno’s intro was cleared by the Kerry campaign with few if any changes. “They seemed to like the introduction, anyone who says otherwise is just ass-covering.”
A Kerry campaign source says it is routine for introductions of the candidate to be cleared by the campaign, but that this wasn’t a specific Kerry event. “It was Democratic, not campaign related, so we wouldn’t have seen it,” says the campaign. “We had to work hard to keep it out of the national press. If it got out that this was stuff Kerry was enjoying, even if it was in San Francisco, we’d be taking heat.”
In fact, Kerry has been introduced in similar fashion across the country, usually with the candidate nodding, smiling or applauding along with the crowd, and with the traveling press corps rarely noting the extreme language and positions he appears to be pandering to on the campaign trail.
On July 3rd, at a rally with farmers in Wisconsin, candidate John Kerry waxed poetic about growing up on a farm, learning his “first cuss word” from riding around with the hired help, and learning a respect for the land by tilling the soil with his own hands.
It all sounded great, and should have, but before the candidate uttered those words, he made sure his staff researched it enough so that he wasn’t caught in any inaccuracies.
“He had people check with his brother and others to make sure he could talk to the farmers on their level without having history come back to bite him,” says a Kerry campaign staffer. “I don’t know if he didn’t recall his time on the family farm, or if he was just confirming his own recollections, but he definitely didn’t have a lot imprinted on his memory. He needed help recalling what he did and maybe didn’t do on the farm.”
Kerry also spent some time off the campaign trail last week practicing his shotgun shooting in preparation for wooing gun owners in the upper Midwest.
LABOR SHORES UP ITS PRIDE
For months organized labor, better known as the Democratic Party Comintern, has been telling Washington insiders that the Democratic vice-presidential nominee was a done deal: Rep. Dick Gephardt. In fact labor has done more than just say it. Its honchos have been downright intimidating about it. Given their behavior and threats, you’d think a contract was up for renewal with the Newark, New Jersey trash removers local.
Yet in the past week, there has been a change. Suddenly, the unions’ best friend Gephardt has a chum: Sen. John Edwards.
In press reports and spin to reporters and Beltway insiders, organized labor leaders and lobbyists alike have been singing the praises of Edwards, a man who wasn’t even labor’s third choice in the primary season (that dubious distinction went to John Kerry, before labor’s favorite, Howie Dean, went down in flames). “Either one would make us happy,” says an AFL-CIO lobbyist in Washington, speaking of Gephardt or Edwards as a veep pick. “Edwards passes all the litmus tests.”
Yet that wasn’t the position of labor a month ago. Could the Kerry campaign actually be showing some spine in telling the unions who is really in control?
“The reality is reality has set in with those guys,” says a Kerry adviser in Washington. “It became clear to them that while Kerry would listen to what they had to say, they weren’t necessarily going to get the guy they wanted. John Sweeney [AFL-CIO president] has had to come around to the idea that the pick is not his to make.”
Hence the expanding list of veep nominees acceptable to labor.
The decision to back Edwards as a second choice came about three weeks ago, during conference calls among labor leaders in Washington and New York. “It’s better to show unity before everything happens than to look out in the cold after the fact,” says the AFL-CIO lobbyist. “If Edwards is the guy, then we have quotes going on three weeks now that show we were backing the bottom of the ticket and had a hand in it. That’s all they are interested in. Looking like they have control of the situation.”
THE VEEP MADELEINE
Depending on who you talk to, Rep. Dick Gephardt either got word late Thursday that he was on the bottom of the ticket or that he was out of the race altogether. Several news outlets were reporting over the July 4th weekend that John Kerry and Gephardt had met late Thursday July 1st in the Georgetown home of Madeleine Albright, a neighbor of Kerry’s. ABC News had noted through the process of elimination that Gephardt was the only veep candidate in D.C. that evening for the surreptitious gathering.
But Gephardt and advisers denied a meeting ever took place, and Gephardt himself told an ABC news producer that he had never set foot in Albright’s home.
That’s not to say Albright hasn’t been the facilitator of meetings for Kerry in the past. Her offices are in the same building as Kerry’s campaign offices, and Kerry, as well as senior advisers, have been known to use her space for more secure meetings away from watchful eyes. As well, Kerry on occasion has used his Capitol “hideaway” office for meetings, though with less success due to reporter stakeouts.
All that said, Gephardt advisers believe that at some point last week, Gephardt met with Kerry and received some final word on his status as a candidate.
Meanwhile, the buzz around Sen. John Edwards was growing louder as a group of Kerry advisers with ties to the Edwards camp appeared to become a little more focused in their work over the holiday weekend. “Several folks in Washington flew down for the senator’s beach walk,” says a Kerry campaign volunteer. “But it appeared there was more to it. They were bringing briefing books and appeared to be packing for a longer trip.”