Kerry’s Response Teams
Sen. Looks to Coordinate With Hill, K Street
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) will meet separately on Thursday with the full House and Senate Democratic Caucuses, just days after top aides courted senior lobbyists in a coordinated effort to match President Bush’s money and megaphone in the general election.
The Kerry campaign is also developing rapid-response teams in the House and Senate to counter Republican floor attacks on the presumptive nominee and put Democratic Members forward as validators for Kerry on a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues.
“Our most immediate task is to develop on both the House and Senate sides rapid-response teams,” said Kerry deputy campaign manager Steve Elmendorf, noting that the teams would hopefully be operational by the end of the week.
On the fundraising front, Elmendorf and Kerry advisers Bob Shrum and Peter Maroney met with roughly 125 top lobbyists, lawyers and party activists last Friday in an effort to begin drumming up support for an April 7 gala fundraiser for Kerry in Washington, D.C.
“This is it,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide with ties to the Kerry campaign. “This is the start of a well-coordinated campaign to integrate the different aspects of Senator Kerry’s operation.”
The April event is one of myriad fundraisers around the country designed to raise $80 million for Kerry between now and the start of the Democratic National Convention in late July.
The Bush campaign had $104 million on hand as of Jan. 31, and began running three separate ads in 17 battleground states last week.
The Friday meeting held at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom was described by several attendees as an effort to bring supporters of Kerry’s former rivals for the presidential nomination into his tent — as well as demonstrate a desire to maintain relationships with the same lobbying community he has been critical of on the campaign trail.
Early indications suggest that the charm offensive on K Street is working.
Former Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), now a managing partner at Clark & Weinstock, dismissed the idea that Democrats in the lobbying profession were upset about Kerry’s frequent criticisms of special interests and his pledge to crack down on them.
“I don’t think many of us are going to be worrying about what may come in a Kerry administration on those issues because we are far more interested in seeing him elected for other issues,” Fazio said. “This is all about the country and the future of it.”
Kerry, who moved his small Capitol Hill headquarters to much larger office space at 15th and H streets Northwest on Friday, is looking downtown for financial help. Campaign officials hope to pull in at least $1 million at the April fundraiser with the help of inside-the-Beltway players.
“We have a giant task to close the gap of the $150 million that George Bush has raised,” said Michael Meehan, a senior Kerry adviser. “We will never reach that, but we will raise enough money to compete with him.”
One attendee of Friday’s meeting said the Kerry officials were particularly laudatory of former rival Howard Dean for helping pioneer Internet fundraising and forcing Kerry to break the spending caps. In detailing its fundraising plan for the next five months, Kerry’s campaign claimed to have raised $2 million immediately following his Super Tuesday win, bringing the Massachusetts Senator’s 2004 Internet fundraising total to $7.6 million.
Among those in attendance at the meeting included: Democratic fundraiser Beth Dozoretz, Fazio, Lloyd Hand of Piper Rudnick, David Leiter of ML Strategies, Jamie Houton of Microsoft and Ivan Schlager of Skadden Arps. Leiter and Houton are former Kerry aides.
A report released last week by the Center for Responsive Politics said that Skadden Arps was Kerry’s biggest contributor, donating $105,650 to his campaign.
While the K Street network appears to be responding to Kerry’s call for help, a senior Democratic Senator and several lobbyists said it is critical for the Massachusetts Democrat not to alienate the business community.
“I think sometimes the language belies a willingness to be cooperative,” said the Senator, who asked not to be named.
But the Senator added that the business community “needs to know we are going to be prepared to say no when it is not in the best interest of the country.”
Meehan sought to downplay any rift that might exist between Democratic lobbyists and Kerry, but in doing so made it clear that the candidate’s constituency will be middle-class voters.
“Hopefully [the relations with K Street] is as good as it is with Main Street,” Meehan said.
When he returns to Capitol Hill this week, Kerry is expected to meet with the full House Democratic Caucus at 9 a.m. Thursday and the Senate Democratic Caucus at 1 p.m.
The Kerry campaign has reached out to the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus but specific times have not been finalized.
Starting today, the Kerry campaign will have several surrogates in all leadership meetings in both the House and Senate.
On the House side, David Moulton, chief of staff for Rep. Ed Markey (Mass.), will represent Kerry; on the Senate side it will be Kerry legislative director George Abar.
Elmendorf, who spent years working the House during his time as chief of staff to Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), will oversee the activities.
“Our goal is to fully integrate our people into what the [House and Senate Democrats] are doing,” Elmendorf said.
The largest portion of that integration effort will come from the rapid-response groups.
Republicans in both the Senate and the House have already shown a willingness to attack Kerry from the floors of their respective chambers, and Elmendorf said the campaign recognizes the need to have a quick reply to these jabs.
“We need to respond when they do something on the floor of either house,” he said. “We need people available immediately to go to the floor and respond to it.”
But Elmendorf added that the rapid-response teams will have an added function beyond fighting on the floor.
“If the campaign is in a dialogue with President Bush on some issue not being debated on the floor we need to have Members and Senators available to go out and do press for us,” he said.
After a recent spate of critical comments by Republicans regarding Kerry’s record on defense, retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.) were made available to reporters to defend the Senator’s record.
“We will do a lot more of that on a variety of issues,” said Elmendorf.