It isn’t for nothing that Bill Clinton has Wesley Clark on his speed dial. What with Clinton running his campaign and all.
No sooner had Clark pulled the plug on his presidential run last Tuesday night — and started the firestorm surrounding stories of Kerry and his extramarital affairs — than Clinton was on the horn telling him to shut his mouth and get in line behind Kerry.
Clinton is thought to have once wanted Clark to at least be on the bottom of a Democratic ticket. But as the campaign wore on, doubts arose. “All of the reasons Clark was pushed out of the Army hierarchy were made clear to Clinton during the campaign,” says a former Clark staffer now advising John Edwards. “Clark was just not someone who focused well day to day. It was frustrating. That last night, where he’s caught mouthing off about Kerry, is the kind of stuff we were dealing with all the time.”
Now, according to several sources inside the Clinton camp, as well as DNC insiders, Bill Clinton is looking for a way to push wife Hillary Rodham Clinton onto the bottom of the ticket. One big reason: money. Kerry will need a lot more of it. Clinton can facilitate his getting it.
“You look at who is lining up with the cash to keep Kerry viable for the next few months and it’s all the people who are beholden to Clinton: organized labor,” says a DNC fundraiser. “We as a party won’t be able to compete with Bush’s millions. It’s our partners, AFSCME, SEIU, the 527s, that are going to keep Kerry in the news, on the airwaves.”
For example, AFSCME president Gerald McEntee — who once was thought to be one of Kerry’s biggest backers until he jumped to Howie Dean’s campaign — was a key early supporter of Bill Clinton in the run-up to the 1992 presidential campaign. After McEntee climbed on Clinton’s back, he was dubbed the “Kingmaker” for plucking the struggling Arkansas governor from the pack and touting him.
Clinton rewarded McEntee by making him a key player in national Democratic politics and by encouraging labor laws that gave unions like AFSCME greater flexibility and membership opportunities through state and local governments.
“If Bill wants Hillary on the bottom of the ticket, all he has to do is make a few phone calls — Kerry would have little to say in the matter if it got that far,” says a DNC fundraiser. “Kerry may think he’s going to be running things, but he’s in for a rude awakening.”
Kerry is pulling in more money now than he was a month ago, to be sure. But by conservative estimates, he will have about $40 million to spend between now and the convention. That is about a third of what the Bush campaign has to spend over the same period.
“The only way Kerry keeps up is with the help of guys like McEntee and the 527s, which are also funded by organized labor,” says a Democratic pollster in Washington. “That money from those groups puts Kerry at about the same level as Bush. Without that money, Kerry isn’t in the race for very long. He doesn’t know it yet, but he has already been bought by the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party.”
In fact, according to one AFSCME House lobbyist, “I wouldn’t be surprised if McEntee expects a seat at the table when picking the candidate. This is going to be a presidential race unlike any other, given the cooperative effort involved. And by that I mean, Kerry cooperates with all the folks who are paying the tab to get him into the White House. If they want Hillary, he will probably have to take Hillary.”
The strategizing to put the New York Senator on the bottom of the ticket now takes center stage because of the early missteps of the Bush campaign in tamping down the National Guard story and the ongoing unrest in Iraq. Those issues, combined with Kerry’s momentum, have given Democrats a sense that they can actually win a presidential race.
“A Kerry presidency, with say someone like [Indiana Sen.] Evan Bayh on the bottom of the ticket, automatically give Bayh the edge eight years from now to run for president,” says a DNC insider. “Eight years from now, Hillary probably can’t run for president. The Clintons have been mapping this thing out for ’08. Now they are looking at a different situation. A Kerry win with someone else on the ticket makes it harder for her to run.”
Just how influential the Clintons will be in the Kerry campaign was made clear on Sunday when Rep. Charles Rangel took the seat across from NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert and threw his support behind Kerry in the same way his former candidate, Clark, did. Rangel used talking points provided him by Clinton supporters in New York. “Rangel was just one more favor the Clintons are providing the Kerry campaign,” says a DNC staffer in Washington.
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