Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Boston Globe on Kerry's Prominence

Direct jab from Bush pleases Kerry camp
Democrat’s aides say criticism only raised his profile

By Rick Klein, Globe Staff | November 15, 2005

WASHINGTON — President Bush’s Veterans Day broadside against Senator John F. Kerry, delivered in a major speech on the war in Iraq, was greeted with quiet cheer by those in the senator’s camp who are laying the groundwork for his possible run for the presidency in 2008.

By singling out Kerry as the Democrats’ leading Iraq war critic, aides to the Massachusetts Democrat said, the president confirmed Kerry’s continuing prominence in national politics, something the senator and his aides have fought hard to maintain.

‘’Kerry is clearly one of the national leaders of the Democratic Party,” said Jenny Backus, a Kerry political strategist. ‘’John Kerry has articulated a clear strategy for Democrats, and there’s nothing more dangerous for Republicans than a united Democratic Party.”

On Friday, speaking at an Army depot in Pennsylvania, Bush specifically cited Kerry’s early support for the war as evidence that Democrats agreed that Saddam Hussein was a threat to US security. Kerry fired back yesterday in a 20-minute speech on the Senate floor, accusing Bush of misleading the nation to persuade Congress to authorize force. He said the president engaged in an ‘’almost desperate-sounding Veterans Day attack.”

‘’Instead of laying out a clear plan for success in Iraq, the president laid into his critics with an 11th-hour rhetorical assault that dishonored America’s veterans and those serving today, even as he continued to distort the truth about his war of choice,” Kerry said.

Kerry seemed to relish his return to the national spotlight. Since Bush defeated him last year, the senator has tried to preserve his role as a Democratic leader by taking advantage of his stature as the party’s most recent nominee. He has showered money on fellow Democrats, made speeches on Iraq and other controversial issues, and kept up a travel schedule that is unusual for a failed presidential candidate just a year after the race.

But until now, he’s been eclipsed by the Democrats’ new crop of presidential contenders, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John Edwards, a former senator and Kerry’s 2004 running mate. So Bush’s remarks struck many in Kerry’s political operation as a validation of their work.

‘’It makes him a bit of a hero among Democrats to have George Bush attacking him,” said Don Fowler, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Fowler added that Kerry’s recent trips to presidential battleground states like New Hampshire and Iowa would suit a politician who is contemplating another run for president.

‘’He would be a viable candidate in ‘08,” Fowler said. ‘’I wouldn’t count him out.”

Kerry aides insist that the senator has made no decisions about his political future; he would be up for reelection in 2008, and under Massachusetts law he can’t appear on the same ballot for both the Senate and the presidency.

Still, Kerry’s involvement in local races is a key part of keeping him viable as a national candidate. Through his campaign account and his political action committee, Keeping America’s Promise, Kerry has donated a total of $700,000 to 80 candidates and $3.1 million to 17 local and national political organizations, according to data provided by his political team.

Kerry has held political events in 15 states since last year’s election, including visits to the presidential proving grounds of Iowa and New Hampshire and swing states such as Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He has helped organize 45 fund-raisers for Democratic candidates, and has used his e-mail list of 3 million supporters for lobbying campaigns on major issues in Congress.

The political events are a natural fit for a man who has never been known as a top legislator in the Senate, and they could gain him the good will of Democrats across the country, said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. But Kerry can expect serious obstacles from his own party if he wants to restart a presidential campaign, Berry said.

‘’He’s speaking frequently and passionately, and the Democratic Party doesn’t seem to care very much,” he said. ‘’It’s a party that wants to move on.”

Compared with other unsuccessful presidential nominees, Kerry’s political activities are rare so soon after his defeat. Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat who had served for years in the Senate, virtually disappeared from the national stage for nearly two years after losing to Bush in 2000. When President Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole in 1996, the longtime Republican senator from Kansas largely retired from public life.

The last Massachusetts Democrat to win the presidential nomination, Michael Dukakis, served out the final two years of his governorship but never reemerged on the national scene after the 1988 presidential race. After President John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in 1960, Nixon returned home to California, lost the governorship, then sat out an election cycle before running again and claiming the presidency in 1968. He was the last person to return from a general election defeat to win the nomination.

But Kerry’s work as a presidential candidate has morphed into a full-time political operation. This year, he has campaigned with Democratic candidates in high-profile races for governor of New Jersey and mayor of Los Angeles. He’s even worked for candidates for county executive in Rockland County, N.Y., and the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, city council.

His activities have been geared toward building on the grass-roots support he enjoyed in his presidential run, said John Giesser, executive director of Kerry’s PAC.

‘’He has provided an unprecedented level of financial and organizational support to the Democratic Party nationally, and to candidates for office up and down the ticket,” Giesser said. ‘’His support is going to Democrats who are fighting for change, friends who have stood by him, new leaders seeking to unseat incumbents, and colleagues in the Senate.”


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