Tuesday, May 03, 2005

John Kerry has to prove he's not yesterday's man

Here's a flawed article on Kerry from The Hill which does include some interesting material:

John Kerry has to prove he's not yesterday's man
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is using a database of contact information for about 3 million voters that he compiled during his presidential campaign to position himself for another White House run in 2008.

Democratic insiders say that Kerry’s unprecedented direct access to so many current and onetime supporters is a huge advantage heading into the next Democratic presidential primary. But his greatest strength, the experience of winning his party’s nomination last year, is also his greatest weakness, as many former supporters became disillusioned by his loss to President Bush and now blame him for losing a race they believe should have been won.
Patrick g. Ryan

Kerry has drawn criticism from many Democrats who say he did not have a clear, compelling message during his campaign and had difficulty connecting with voters.

But no other Democrat considered a White House hopeful, not even Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is the early favorite to win the nomination, possesses as large a list of potential donors and supporters. Only the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and MoveOn.org can boast of contact lists as large, say Democrats familiar with Kerry’s database.

In a hypothetical Democratic primary pitting Kerry against Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) — the three candidates whom Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters deem the most promising White House candidates — Kerry runs 14 to 18 points behind Clinton and four to seven points ahead of Edwards, three polls show.

The political team Kerry has hired to staff his new leadership political action committee, Keeping America’s Promise, indicates that he is gearing up for just such a showdown. Kerry has hired John Giesser, the No. 2 operative at the DNC in 2000 and 2004, to run it and Jay Dunn, who served as DNC finance director, to manage its finances.

“Everything he is doing from a political standpoint points in that direction,” said Steve Grossman, who served as DNC chairman in 1998, of the likelihood of another presidential run for Kerry. “That’s a very, very high-powered team that he’s keeping in place. You don’t generally spend those kind of resources and put that effort in building the A team to run for another term in the U.S. Senate.”

Kerry frequently sends messages through his vast mailing list to galvanize support for initiatives he is pushing on the Hill, such as a bill of rights for military families and the Kids First Act, legislation that would expand children’s health insurance. In a recent e-mail titled “Time for a dialogue: a very personal video,” Kerry distributed an online video of himself speaking out against Republicans whom he said are “crossing lines that should never be crossed.”

Kerry’s use of his grassroots network to build momentum for a major legislative proposal such as Kids First, which would give health insurance to more than 10 million uninsured children, responds to criticism Republicans repeatedly made last year: that Kerry had a record of paltry legislative accomplishment in the Senate.

To promote his health-insurance bill, and perhaps maintain his visibility among Democratic activists in crucial swing states, Kerry is traveling across the country this week, stopping in Washington state, Minnesota and Florida.

In addition to mobilizing support for various legislative priorities, the dispatches from Washington keep Democrats around the country informed of what Kerry is doing and maintain a medium for communicating with them. If and when Kerry decides to run again for president, the policy-focused e-mails could easily be replaced with fundraising pitches or attacks on his intra-party rivals. Kerry’s personal campaign account, Friends of John Kerry Inc., is paying for the missives.

By staying in contact with the people who gave money to him or campaigned on his behalf in the 2004 election, Kerry has tried to minimize the erosion of his popularity among Democratic activists, a conservation effort that the previous nominee, Al Gore, did not attempt to nearly the same extent.

“I think that few people, especially those in the media, have full appreciation of the dramatically different value he has gained over all other candidates,” said Wade Randlett, who served as national finance chairman on Kerry’s presidential campaign. “Kerry has the best infrastructure that a Democrat has ever had, and it’s sitting in a Zip drive that he can carry around in his breast pocket.”

Randlett said that the degradation of Gore’s base of supporters “was brutally dramatic” after his close loss to Bush in 2000. He said that 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had “no chance” of reassembling his campaign infrastructure after losing to George H.W. Bush and that Gore faced a “very uphill” challenge of doing so four years ago.

The ability to communicate directly with hundreds of thousands of active Democrats reduces the need for Kerry and his aides to generate favorable press coverage or travel to political events around the country to maintain his profile in the party, his allies say. As a result, Kerry can maintain his supporters and position himself for another White House run with relative ease.

“There is a zero marginal cost to communicate with them,” Randlett said of voters in Kerry’s database. “He can wait much longer [to decide to run for president] and suffer a much lower degradation of his base.”

But the advantages Kerry enjoys from winning his party’s nomination last year are balanced by the consequences of having fallen short against Bush in the general election, a race that many Democrats feel should have been won.

“I think he proved he cannot connect with people,” said Joe Cari, who served as national finance director of the DNC in 2000 and who estimated that he had raised about $100,000 for Kerry’s presidential campaign. “I don’t see his candidacy going anywhere. You tell me people in the Democratic Party are going to live, eat and breath John Kerry again. I don’t see it. I don’t see any fervor.”

“He really angered a lot of people by keeping all the money that he did,” Cari said, referring to close to $17 million left unspent in Kerry’s campaign account after the election.

“I wrote and asked for my money back,” said Cari, who gave $2,000 to John Kerry for President Inc. and $2,000 to Kerry-Edwards 2004 Inc., the general-election legal fund. “When you hold back $17 million, there’s no way that you can say that ‘I gave it my best shot.’”

Other Democratic fundraisers and strategists, who declined to speak on the record for fear of angering friends and professional acquaintances, offered similarly harsh assessments of Kerry’s candidacy. The chief criticism is that Kerry lacked a strong message, in contrast to Bush, whose campaign theme, one Democratic consultant said, could be summed up as “Vote for me, I’ll keep you safe,” an unmistakable reference to the war on terrorism.

Michael Bauer, a fundraiser and activist based in Chicago who gave to more than 30 Democratic candidates for the 2004 election, said he also asked the Kerry campaign for a refund after the race. Bauer, who gave $2,000 to John Kerry for President Inc. and $1,000 to Kerry’s general-election legal and accounting-compliance fund, said he threatened to sue for misrepresentation because Kerry left a substantial portion of his money unspent.

“I think he was woefully inadequate,” Bauer said. “He was an amazingly lousy candidate. He worked hard to lose that election.”

Kerry has seemed to try to make amends for finishing the campaign with so much left in his account. So far this year he’s given $1 million to the DNC, $1 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $500,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia-based attorney who served on Kerry’s finance team, said Democrats are split in their assessment of his potential in 2008. Some value his experience of coming within 70 thousand votes of toppling Bush, while others second-guess his campaign.

“If you call 100 people, you’re going to hear 50 come out one way and 50 come out the other way,” Kessler said. “I’m going to sound like a politician and say I agree with both [sides].”

Kessler, who served as finance vice chairman of the DNC in 2000, said that, unlike Gore, Kerry has worked hard since the election to strengthen his standing among donors, activists and party officials.

A few months after the 2000 election, Gore held several thank-you dinners for his supporters but “did not go back to those people to start building for the next round,” said Kessler, who attended a Gore dinner in 2001.

Kerry, by contrast, “is absolutely doing that,” Kessler said. “It’s 180 degrees different from what Gore did. He’s keeping an organization in place, but more than that he’s mining it.”

Kessler noted that Kerry is holding a fundraiser in Florida next week: “He’s not letting the grass grow under his feet. He’s working it.”

Katharine Lister, the spokeswoman for Kerry’s leadership PAC, Keeping America’s Promise, said that Kerry is raising money for other Democrats, not for his own campaign or PAC.

Lister said the purpose of Kerry’s PAC, which he set up in March, is to “strengthen the Democratic party” and “invest in state parties.”


Blogger Pamela Leavey said...

Nice of these fools to not point out that the left over money was pre-GE money that could not be used during the GE.

11:53 PM  
Blogger IFK Editor said...

I love how they always "balance" an article by diggin up some loud mouth with an opinion and passing it off as if he speaks for the Democratic party or all voters.

Well, here's my opinion - Kerry in '08.

8:20 PM  

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