Kerry Looking for Hill Help
Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign has taken steps in recent days to ramp up its message coordination with its supporters on Capitol Hill in hopes of matching the aggressive efforts already put in place by President Bush’s Republican allies.
Kerry campaign officials — led by deputy campaign manager Steve Elmendorf — attended the House Democratic leadership message meeting on Wednesday and then met with key staffers for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.), who heads House Democrats’ message efforts, and Rep. Ed Markey (Mass.) on Thursday night.
David Moulton, Markey’s chief of staff, said that the meetings were designed to “make sure that the existing mechanisms for responding to Republican attacks and Republican messages are aware of the message coming out of the presidential campaign.” He added that it was simply a continuation of activities that began before the presidential primaries and will continue after the November election.
Those three House Members’ offices —along with Kerry’s Senate office and that of Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) — are expected to serve as a clearinghouse and guidance point for the campaign as it looks for Congressional surrogates to move its messages.
“They will talk to us about who would be good” to speak on certain issues, said Brendan Daly, communications director for Pelosi.
Kerry also named lobbyist David Castignetti to serve as his Senate liaison late last week. A House liaison will be chosen in the near future, according to campaign sources.
These meetings and moves come as the Kerry campaign has begun to increase its use of Members of Congress as surrogates around the country.
“Republicans have been using the floor of the House and Senate as a campaign tool to attack John Kerry,” said Kerry spokesman Tom Eisenhauer. “It’s important that Democrats have the information they need to set the record straight.”
As an example, in expectation of Bush’s visit to the battleground state of West Virginia last Friday, homestate Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D) and Robert Byrd (D) put out a joint statement Wednesday attacking the so-called “jobless recovery.” Byrd also penned an op-ed column on the subject that was circulated to the state’s newspapers.
On Thursday, West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise (D) — a former nine-term House Member —held a rally in Charleston with the state’s steelworkers calling into question Bush’s policies for the steel industry.
That approach is similar to the Bush campaign’s strategy of “bracketing,” which means that Congressional surrogates are on the ground both before and after any Kerry visit to make sure the Republican point of view is represented in local television, radio and print coverage.
The Bush campaign’s surrogate strategy is more advanced at this point, with lists of willing Members grouped by their states, issues and even committee assignments.
It also appears to be a more top-down organization than what Kerry is putting in place.
While the Kerry campaign has and will continue to ask Members to do specific tasks, there also appears to be some level of freedom for Members to take the initiative on some issues. Moulton described the approach as a “conscious parallelism” of message.
Last week, for example, Pelosi saw an article in The Wall Street Journal in which House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) requested a Treasury Department audit of a tax plan nearly identical to the one Kerry has proposed.
Pelosi spoke to Ways and Means ranking member Charlie Rangel (N.Y.) about the story, and the two had a news conference denouncing DeLay’s tactic later that day.
They also penned a letter to the inspector general at the Treasury Department complaining that DeLay’s request appeared to be “an instance of the Bush Administration misusing government resources for political purposes.”
That is not to say, however, that Kerry wants Members to freelance on message matters. A set of talking points is distributed daily by the Kerry campaign, and increasingly Members are being included in weekly planning meetings that map out the Senator’s movements and message for the upcoming seven days.
“Everyone is pretty much on the same page already … so we’re just making sure we’re all talking regularly,” said Eisenhauer.
Daly said that the talking points simply reinforce the already comparable messages from Capitol Hill and the Kerry campaign.
“We are all saying similar things anyway,” said Daly. “His issues are our issues.”
The Kerry campaign is currently utilizing Members to drive home its proposal for six debates in six states on six distinct issues with the president.
To make the point in Washington state, where Kerry has called for a debate on the environment, the Kerry campaign put Rep. Adam Smith (D) forward to do a handful of local radio interviews on the subject.
The campaign has a dedicated staff member — Dag Vega — who is charged with ensuring that Kerry surrogates get booked on a variety of news and talk shows both on television and the radio.
Campaign officials expect several other staffers to be added under Vega as the campaign proceeds.