If former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean seemed a bit off his game during last Thursday’s debate in South Carolina, it was because Sen. John Edwards had screwed up his strategy.
Since his underwhelming performance in New Hampshire, Dean had been attempting to reach out and meet with Edwards, and even told intermediaries that he would be willing to travel early to South Carolina for a sit-down. Instead, Edwards ducked the phone calls.
“The assumption was that he wanted to try to strategize, perhaps go after Kerry in a coordinated manner,” says an Edwards campaign staffer in South Carolina. “We weren’t interested. Kerry might be frontrunner elsewhere, but our man is the frontrunner down here.”
Edwards and his key strategists went so far as discussing a possible Dean meeting, and whether it would be advantageous. But in the end, late Wednesday it was determined that Edwards shouldn’t accept Dean’s phone calls or speak to him extensively, even after the Greenville debate.
When Dean went up to Edwards after the debate had concluded, Edwards gave Dean a warm smile and a pat on the back, and, according to the Edwards source, told Dean, “Hey, let’s talk. Call me some time.”
“The senator thought that was pretty funny,” says the staffer.
Sen. John Kerry hasn’t wasted any time in drawing in top-tier staff from losing campaigns. Quietly, he has brought on board Steve Elmendorf, who served as Richard Gephardt‘s chief of staff during the Missourian’s run as minority leader of the House. Elmendorf had worked as Gephardt’s chief campaign and political director before the candidate pulled the plug on his presidential bid the day after losing in Iowa.
Elmendorf will serve as Kerry’s deputy campaign manager, and almost certainly is already heating up the phone lines between Kerry campaign headquarters and the AFL-CIO. “He’s going to get us those labor endorsements faster than we would be able to get them without him,” says a Kerry insider. “We were really the only campaign he looked at. He knows a winner when he sees one, especially since he spent six months on board a loser’s.”
Actually, Elmendorf had looked at John Edwards‘ campaign after the North Carolina senator reached out to him. A number of groups that were supportive of Gephardt in Iowa and New Hampshire were looking to Edwards as well, and the Edwards campaign was hoping Elmendorf would do for them what Kerry expects will now be done for him.
“It probably just wasn’t a good fit,” says an Edwards adviser in Washington. “But who’s to say that in a few months we won’t all be working on the same campaign. Things seem to work out that way in this game.”
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