Kerry, Bush In Sync With Hill
With the presidential contest set to reach critical mass on Super Tuesday, Democratic Party officials have opened talks with Sen. John Kerry’s staff to discuss synchronizing their respective political goals heading into November.
“People have had conversations, but they are preliminary,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) said in an interview. “There will be more discussions.”
The talks are the latest sign that party insiders are convinced the Massachusetts Democrat will eventually win the nomination and are taking steps to formalize relationships with his campaign, despite the fact that Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) is still believed to have a shot at beating Kerry.
“These talks indicate that the Democratic establishment here in Washington is quickly coalescing around Senator Kerry’s campaign,” said a senior Democratic aide. “Expect to see a lot of coordination between Senator Kerry, the DSCC and other leadership offices on Capitol Hill to coordinate schedule and message in the weeks and months to come.”
Across the Capitol, an official with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that organization has limited its contact about future coordination plans to the Democratic National Committee. Once Democrats choose a nominee, the nominee will assume control of the DNC’s resources.
“We have been talking with the DNC about, when there is a nominee in place, how we can coordinate our efforts,” said Kori Bernards, the spokeswoman for the DCCC.
Republicans are also setting in motion a plan to establish strong ties between the two GOP Congressional campaign organizations and the Bush-Cheney ’04 re-election effort.
Bush’s campaign manager Ken Mehlman and press secretary Terry Holt will meet with Senate and House communications aides separately on Friday to discuss the campaign.
“Between now and November you will see an unprecedented level of message coordination with the White House, the House and the Senate,” said Robert Traynham, the spokesman for the Senate Republican Conference. “This meeting on Friday serves as the first step in our efforts to make sure that the president is re-elected overwhelmingly.”
“It is an election year and it is important to make sure that not only the House agenda is communicated effectively, but also to understand how the presidential campaign will fit into that political framework,” said Greg Crist, a spokesman for the House Republican Conference.
Mehlman and Holt are expected to brief Republican staffers on issues ranging from fundraising figures to recent polling numbers. Another topic at the meetings that is expected to be discussed is how GOP Members can best serve as effective spokesmen for the president.
“This will also serve as a catalyst to recruit Members to serve as surrogate speakers in their home states,” Traynham said.
Coordination between the White House and Congressional Republicans is expected to be all but seamless, given that they have been working together on policy and political issues for more than three years. And administration officials have been active on the campaign trail raising money for GOP Members, many of whom have also helped seed Bush’s war chest.
Unlike Republicans, Democrats need to assemble a coordination plan from scratch. Well-placed sources said Democrats are waiting until after next week’s primaries to connect all the pieces. Voters from 10 states will head to the polls on March 2, which has been dubbed Super Tuesday because 1,151 delegates will be chosen.
“I think the groundwork is being laid and after March 2, we can go forward full steam ahead,” a senior Democratic aide said of the talks between the DSCC and the Kerry campaign.
Kerry currently leads Edwards in the delegate count, 682 to 201, according to the Kerry campaign. Democratic voters in Hawaii, Idaho and Utah will cast their ballots today with another 61 delegates up for grabs. A candidate needs to collect 2,162 delegates to win the nomination.
A senior adviser to Kerry said the campaign right now is focused solely on reaching the 2,162 threshold. “We are fighting for the nomination,” said Michael Meehan, a Kerry advisor. “We are completely focused on winning as many delegates as we can.”
Still, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged that it is critical for Democrats to coordinate their political operations if they hope to successfully counter the Republican message.
“As there has been in the past, there will be an effort to coordinate our campaigns,” said Durbin, who chairs a weekly message meeting attended by senior Democratic Senators. “It is just sensible, because Republicans have so many more resources. We have to take our limited resources and try to combine them effectively.”