Skip to comments.NYT: Advisers Urge Kerry to Flex Power in Senate and Party (Print ed.: Kerry is Urged to Use Power)
Posted on 11/06/2004 6:40:04 AM PST by OESY
Still reeling from his loss to President Bush on Tuesday, Senator John Kerry is being urged by top advisers and friends to take a high-profile role as the Democratic Party grapples with issues like selecting its next chairman and shaping its identity and course.
Unlike Al Gore, who made a tortured exit from the public stage after his loss to Mr. Bush four years ago, Mr. Kerry has a Senate seat to return to and is under no pressure to disappear from view for the sake of national unity and the legitimacy of the presidency, his advisers say. They argue that his continuing presence in the Senate gives him a natural role in determining how Democrats deal with the White House.
"If President Bush indeed wants to earn the support of people who supported Kerry, then he'll probably have to deal with Kerry," said Mike McCurry, a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign. "The question for Kerry is in some ways the same as for Bush: Does the president want to lead by establishing some bipartisan consensus in the center, or does he want to govern from the ideological right?
"Kerry would be the person that could help him accomplish that, but if not, there will be a hunger for someone to stand up to Bush."
Mr. Kerry's confidants pointed to his e-mail list of 2.6 million supporters - which helped him raise more than $249 million, a record for a presidential challenger - as a major asset that Mr. Kerry could harness to project his influence well beyond the Senate chamber, and not just in financial terms. They said one option would be to set up a new organization the way Howard Dean did with his political action group, Democracy for America, after his defeat in the Democratic primaries.
"All those people are looking for guidance," said David Thorne, Mr. Kerry's best friend, who also oversaw the campaign's Internet operation. "Will they respond, and what do you say, are questions, but no one has ever had anything like that. You have a constituency. What do you do? Can you keep that together, and keep speaking with them and working with them?"
Cameron Kerry, the senator's brother, said, "Fifty-five million people voted for him; they need a voice, and he can be their voice. The discussion of how best to do that is ongoing. He's certainly not going to just walk away and lick his wounds."
But others cautioned that Mr. Kerry had little time to waste. Senate Democrats are already lining up behind Senators Harry Reid of Nevada and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois as their new leaders. And with Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards and Dr. Dean in waiting as potential Democratic presidential candidates in 2008, Mr. Kerry is likely to have stiff competition for the party's helm.
Moreover, he will have to fend off those who argue that he is a poor choice for the party's public face, having failed to connect with many voters on bread-and-butter Democratic issues like jobs and health care, some Democratic strategists said.
"I doubt if any of the contenders would accede to Kerry as the head of the party," said Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal group. "He does have this added problem of, when you lost, it does put a tarnish on things, even when you got the most votes of any losing candidate ever.
"Plus, Democrats are pretty famous for eating their wounded. Hillary will have a significant feminist vote, Edwards will make a big play for the conservative side and the populists, I've heard that Bill Richardson is already starting his campaign, and then there's Dean. You'll see a lot of people out there who people will want to give a chance to and not Kerry."
Mr. Kerry's top advisers said they expected that as the titular head of the party the senator would have a good deal of influence over choosing a successor to Terry McAuliffe, the party's national chairman.
Others cautioned that only a sitting president typically gets to name the party leader and said that while Mr. Kerry would have a say, so would labor leaders, minority leaders and others, including the party's so-called Clinton wing. Among those already said to be lobbying for Mr. McAuliffe's job is Donna Brazile, who was Mr. Gore's campaign manager and is national chairwoman of the party's Voting Rights Institute.
Several Democratic strategists argued that the best role for Mr. Kerry outside the Senate would be as a forceful Democratic spokesman and critic on foreign affairs and national security, which are his policy areas of greatest comfort and which dominated the presidential campaign.
"I never thought in my lifetime I'd see a Democrat run on a platform of strong national defense," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant. "I think of Bush's as an unstable presidency. Democrats want to stabilize their country again, and John Kerry can help do that in offering a powerful countervailing voice to the Bush doctrine, or lack of a plan. He can become a coalition builder, with the McCains, Hagels and Lugars. And he understands Bush more than any other member of the Senate."
Mr. Kerry's focus on national security, as it turned out, hurt his efforts to break through to middle-class voters on pocketbook issues like jobs and health care, according to Democrats inside and outside of Mr. Kerry's campaign, who pointed to several reasons.
For one, they said Mr. Kerry was hamstrung in making his pitch on domestic policy as planned for the final weeks of the race, because events in Iraq - new casualties, missing explosives, or other fodder for attacks on Mr. Bush - constantly intervened.
"The central debate that happened every single day from Labor Day on was, do we want a domestic message, a foreign policy message, or do we do both?" said one campaign strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen as criticizing his former colleagues or his boss. "Every day we'd have a plan going into that day, and every day we'd have to say, do we respond to the events that interfered with our plan, or do we not?''
"You'd go into Ohio, which lost a quarter of a million jobs, and there'd be 15 soldiers killed that morning in Iraq, and we'd planned to talk about the job losses," the strategist said. If Mr. Kerry said a few words in response to the day's casualties, "that's what the press is going to cover, and we'll never get our job message out. On the other hand, how can we give a speech and not talk about it? Every single day we had to face that dilemma."
But another major reason Mr. Kerry was unable to close the sale with middle-class voters, advisers said, was that the Bush-Cheney campaign succeeded - with Mr. Kerry's help - in making him seem somehow alien and too far removed from the lives of those voters to understand them.
"Partly it was his style, the way he looked, the way he talked, his wife, the windsurfing, the houses," said the former strategist, who like other campaign officials said the sum total played into the Republican caricature of Mr. Kerry as vaguely foreign. "So I don't think there was any one specific thing, but it was a series of gut things that made a difficult question for them even harder.''
"We tried to get his language pared down more, with simpler speeches, less statistics; we had him out hunting, we put him in a bar in Wisconsin to watch a football game; we tried to humanize him more for people," the strategist said. "But at the end of the day, what's probably most important in politics is, you want to be as authentic as you can.
"Gore crossed the line of being inauthentic and didn't pass the smell test. Kerry didn't cross that line, but people didn't authentically connect with him, either. People felt they could connect with Bush even if they didn't agree with him, and on the margins that matters."
For Mr. Kerry, and the party, there is an old lesson here worth relearning, the strategist said: "There has been and continues to be a common tendency of Democrats trying to reach people through their brains and Republicans through their hearts. And in politics, hearts win the day."
Cameron Kerry, the senator's brother, said that he's "not going to just walk away and lick his wounds."
Having succeeded beyond belief with the Democrats' selection of Kerry, Divine Intervention may once again play a role by offering up Hillary for sacrifice in 2008. The Clintons are gifts from heaven that keep on giving.
Donna Brazile as McAuliffe's replacement would be, pardon the mixed metaphor, icing on the Clinton cake -- though I recognize it's too early for dessert.
like the vets say this isnt over ...... and wont be untill their all gone to jail or another country.
Kerry? Power? Bwa ha ha ha.. flop flop .. whew..
As I say, he can't even show up for work on a regular basis, so how much power can he wield?
How can he go wind surfing if he has to spend all that time in the senate? Working is beneath his dignity.
Gov. Richardson would, IMHO, have the best shot at winning in 2008. Hispanic, southeastern state, Gov.
The power to put everyone asleep with his constant droning?
Not even a stake through the heart will stop these goblins.
Kerry will continue with his glorious vacations, enjoying TayRayZas 5 mansions and miss as many votes in the Senate as before. He will continue to accept his paycheck, and do NOTHING.
Agreed. That occurred to me as well.
>"I never thought in my lifetime I'd see a Democrat run on a platform of strong national defense," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant.<
This from a member of the party who brought us FDR, not to mention Harry Truman.
How far they've fallen.
There are few things more pathetic, and more powerless than a defeated Dammocrap presidential candidate. Just ask Al Gore, Mike Dukakis, Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern.
Yes, whatever power he had was expelled on this election. With the new GOP majorities in both chambers, Kerry will now have about as much power as a Congressional page.
"But another major reason Mr. Kerry was unable to close the sale with middle-class voters, advisers said, was that the Bush-Cheney campaign succeeded - with Mr. Kerry's help - in making him seem somehow alien and too far removed from the lives of those voters to understand them."
"For Mr. Kerry, and the party, there is an old lesson here worth relearning, the strategist said: "There has been and continues to be a common tendency of Democrats trying to reach people through their brains and Republicans through their hearts. And in politics, hearts win the day."
Maybe. But, take a lack of vision, The non-Plan, and a complete disagreement with the politics of the left: redistribution, nannyism, and trying to foist every contradictory social attitude that irrational people believe onto a rational citizenry, my mind said, "Hell NO!"
"Kerry will continue with his glorious vacations, enjoying TayRayZas 5 mansions"
That is if TayRayZa does not dump his sorry ass, in which case he might really have to spend a few days at the office.
I suspect his ego will make it difficult for him to settle for a lesser prize. After all, what good will his Vietnam home movies and Purple Hearts do him in the Senate?
"Kerry would be the person that could help him accomplish that (bipartisanship), but if not, there will be a hunger for someone to stand up to Bush."
Mike McCurry still doesn't get it. Instead of "we have to find a way to work with Bush...to take part in his agenda" it's all about "we have to make him do things our way or we'll make sure nothing gets done at all". That's a sure- fire way for the dems to lose more seats in '06. Preach on, Mike, preach on!
The N.Y. Times is backing Bill Richardson for 2008 and just wants Kerry to cause some trouble for Hillary.
Not gonna happen. Misery loves company.
"What, like work? I don't think McAuliffe would like that and besides, it would cut into my polo and sailing time."
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