BEGGING FOR CLEMENT
Democrats in Washington and Tennessee breathed a sigh of relief when Tipper Gore announced Sunday that she will not seek the Democratic nomination for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat. She had a critical meeting on Sunday with Rep. Bob Clement, who formally announced his Senate candidacy yesterday. The meeting was cordial, but tense, according to several people who spoke with the two parties afterward. “Clement was under huge pressure to back out and leave it open for Tipper,” says a staffer for Rep. Nita Lowey, who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which recruits and fundraises for House candidates. “It slowed the process for him, and added undue pressure on him on the weekend before one of the biggest days of his life.”
Clement had already held off other competitors for the seat currently held by retiring Republican Fred Thompson. Fellow House member Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. was perceived to be a frontrunner for any open Tennessee Senate seat after a star-turn at the 2000 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. But earlier this month Clement and Ford met and Ford agreed to step aside.
Clement arrived at the Gore meeting and made it clear he would not step aside for Tipper. “He’s been fundraising with this campaign in mind. He wasn’t going to pull the plug just because Tipper wanted in,” says a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. “She never really gave him a clear reason why she was running and why he should step aside for her.”
Clement’s refusal to make way for her apparently played into Mrs. Gore’s decision. As did the Democratic Party’s seeming uncertainty about her campaign. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which recruited Clement, was stunned by last week’s announcement that Gore was considering a run. “She wasn’t on our radar screen at all,” says a DSCC fundraiser. “We didn’t even think about her when we were doing our polling down there. We knew Clement would be a strong candidate. He was our guy no matter what.”
The DNC, too, was surprised by Gore’s interest. “We had no idea,” says the party fundraiser. “Anyone who says we were pushing this is lying. Tipper Gore obviously is a great Democrat and a great friend to the party, but this was just out of the blue. I don’t think [DNC chairman] Terry McAuliffe knew what to make of it.”
What can be made of it is that the Gore family isn’t getting out of the politics business any time soon. If anything, it’s desperately looking to prove the 2000 presidential campaign was an aberration. Even as her mother seemed to waver about running, daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, who was a senior adviser to Daddy Al, was making calls to her father’s supporters on her mom’s behalf. Donna Brazile, a longtime Al Gore campaign adviser, was making plans for a campaign staff in Tennessee, and calling former Gore 2000 staffers in Washington and Nashville. “I got a phone call,” says a Washington lobbyist who worked for Al Gore in the 2000 campaign. “They were planning at least three D.C.-based fundraisers.”
“It was awfully presumptuous of them, wasn’t it?” says a DNC advance staffer. “McAuliffe told us not to get too agitated over this until it was a done deal, and he was right. It turned out to be nothing. But if Tipper had run, you would have had some pissed off party people. This was not something they wanted.”
Today’s Illinois primary finds Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez in a tough race for his 4th Congressional District seat against Chicago lawyer Marty Castro. Though now expected to win, just weeks ago he seemed headed for a loss, thanks to the efforts of his Washington colleagues. According to a Democratic House leadership aide, several influential House Democrats, including Whip Nancy Pelosi, House fundraiser Nita Lowey, and Texan Martin Frost, steered money to Castro’s coffers in the hopes of knocking Gutierrez out of the race.
“He’s just not a team player,” says one Democratic House member. “And we need team players more than ever. There is no trust there because he’s a single issue guy and those folks never work well with others.”
That single issue is Puerto Rico, about which feels passionately. In fact, he backs statehood for the island and was one of those arrested on Vieques in protest of U.S. Navy bombing exercises. His main problem is the perception among colleagues that he does nothing for them and virtually nothing for his constituents. “It’s rare that you see so many people lining up against a sitting Democrat other than Jim Traficant,” says the Democratic leadership aide. “But they’ve been doing it with Gutierrez.”