SHARING THE DIRT
For all the talk about Wesley Clark staying out of Iowa, he sure had a hand in the derailment there of Vermont Gov. Howie Dean. According to several sources in the John Kerry and John Edwards campaigns, much of the opposition research on Dean that flooded the caucus landscape came from people connected to the Clark campaign.
“It wasn’t just Clark, though,” says a Kerry staffer. “We know of at least two different stories that came from people currently on staff with the DNC, who fed the material to reporters.”
According to the staffer, those stories involved furthering the already mushrooming Dean controversy over his accepting speaking fees from drug companies, as well documents that revealed Dean’s deliberations as governor on healthcare issues.
“These are folks who worked for Clinton back in ’92 and ’96 and in the administration, who are helping their friends in the Clark camp,” says the Edwards staffer. “We know who they are, and while we’re not helping them, we’re not trying to stop them either.”
So it is possible that the DNC opposition research machine is actually working against one of its own? Perhaps, though a number of pundits have pointed to Clark adviser Chris Lehane as a likely source of dirt on Dean given that, as a former senior adviser to Sen. John Kerry‘s campaign last year, and Kerry’s early opposition research forays to Vermont, Lehane would have had access to and knowledge of the most damaging Dean material.
But outwardly Clark’s campaign, and Lehane in particular, spent much of last week beating on Kerry in an attempt to tamp down the growing momentum the Massachusetts senator was building in Iowa and taking into the New Hampshire primary.
“Some of the Dean stuff may have been coming from a campaign, but it didn’t have the feel of primary opposition research,” says a Sen. Joe Lieberman staffer. “From what I was seeing and hearing, this was material that was being doled out by party types and Clinton allies looking to shoot down Dean and elevate Clark, but with no Clark campaign fingerprints.”
AFTER THE DELUGE
Now that Rep. Dick Gephardt is out, the race is on for his labor support — mostly manufacturing unions attached to the AFL-CIO. At this juncture, it doesn’t appear that Howie Dean‘s campaign has the juice or momentum to peel many off for his own campaign. Rather, many of the unions appeared to be looking at John Edwards as an alternative to support.
The unions up for grabs, everyone from plumbers to construction to steelworkers, proved to be less than critical to Gephardt’s sinking campaign in Iowa, but could be extremely helpful to a campaign like Edwards’ both in providing money and in building support in South Carolina and throughout the South, where the manufacturing industry believes itself to have been a victim of pro-free trade policies.
As well, should the unions now free of a candidate solidify behind one candidate, particularly Kerry or Edwards, it would clarify the potential candidate the overall AFL-CIO would seek to endorse.
The best indicator — not necessarily a confirmation, of course — that Edwards appeared to be the favorite to pick up Gephardt’s organized labor support came on Tuesday morning during a final Gephardt staff meeting on the ground in Iowa. There, state campaign manager John Lapp told staff and volunteers, many of them on loan to the campaign from labor, that Edwards was his candidate of choice for them to support down the road.
Gephardt’s national campaign was quick to distance itself from that suggestion, though a number of senior campaign staffers, particularly in South Carolina and in the rust belt, are now looking to Edwards for possible jobs.
IT’S TOO LATE, PERIOD
Clearly Former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean isn’t spending his campaign fund on anger management courses or dress for success instruction. He has raised more than $40 million, probably has about $25 million banked after Iowa, so why all the cheap-looking TV ads?
That’s what many of his supporters in New Hampshire are wondering, after seeing the quality of the material the candidate aired in Iowa and so far in New Hampshire. Dean’s top advisers are now said to be looking to bring on board at least one more national firm to develop TV spots for the candidate, though it may be too late in New Hampshire, and that might be too late for his campaign.
“There was a broad-based opinion inside the campaign that we didn’t need the splashy ads that other candidates were airing,” says a Dean adviser in Iowa. “It went against the core values of the campaign we were trying to convey to the voters. But at this point, we may have to just surrender and spend the money. That’s why we raised it.”
Is Wesley Clark one tantrum away from a Dean meltdown? John Kerry staffers believe so, after watching Clark throw hissy fits on television when commentators and interviewers attempted to make the case that Kerry had a similar military career to Clark’s. Clark has stated on several occasions of late that while he stayed with the U.S. Army through the Vietnam War, Kerry left military service to become a war critic. On other occasions, Clark has belittled Kerry’s rank, saying he was merely “a lieutenant” compared to his rank of four-star general and pointing out in a fit of pique that unlike other candidates, including President Bush, “I won a war.”
“He may have been a debating champion at the Academy, but he seems to lose his cool in an odd way,” says a Kerry staffer. “It’s similar to Clinton, who would belittle you or be dismissive of you if he was pissed off at you. Maybe Clinton sees that in Clark and admires it.”