Kennedy to Re-emerge for Kerry

Posted June 18, 2004 at 6:37pm

After helping Sen. John Kerry catapult to the Democratic presidential nomination, fellow Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy has largely disappeared from the public eye. But the absence is due to end soon: Kennedy is poised to re-emerge as a Kerry surrogate beginning with the party convention in July.

Kennedy will address convention delegates, and the assembled media throng, at 8:15 p.m. on July 27, one of the prime speaking slots of the entire gathering.

“We are going to Ted Kennedy’s home state to hold our national convention,” said Steve Hildebrand, the campaign manager for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). “Ted Kennedy isn’t going away, nor should this party want him to.”

Conversations with Congressional aides, campaign officials and Democratic consultants describe Kennedy’s public involvement for Kerry as an arc. It began with high-profile appearances in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, then dipped as Kerry sought to broaden his appeal to moderate swing voters, and now is ready to rise once again as Democrats seek to energize their base for the fall election.

A Democratic consultant who is not aligned with the Kerry campaign said that Kennedy would be essential for boosting turnout this fall, and that his absence from the campaign trail of late stems from the fact that “there are no election-turnout issues in June.”

Kennedy spokesman David Smith said the Senator is “willing to do whatever the campaign asks of him.” Smith added that no one on the Kerry team has suggested he play a less public role in the campaign.

A high-visibility presence for Kennedy —long a hero to the Democratic left and a villain to the Republican right — at this stage of the race would be more a liability than an asset to Kerry, noted several Democrats.

“He has a different party profile with the base and party faithful than he does with swing voters,” said a Democratic strategist familiar with the Kerry campaign.

Another Democratic consultant was more blunt.

Kerry, said the source, already “has all the people who like Ted Kennedy with him. Now he has to get the people who are mixed toward Kennedy.”

Hildebrand, however, disagreed. While acknowledging there is “a time and a place for anyone,” Hildebrand said he would “absolutely use [Kennedy] and use him often.”

Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for President Bush’s re-election campaign, described Kennedy as “John Kerry’s chief surrogate.”

“Senator Kennedy seems to be on the point for the ‘Blame America First’ movement,” Schmidt added.

Even if Kennedy is not regularly seen arm-in-arm with Kerry at events in battleground states, he remains one of the campaign’s most influential advisers behind the scenes.

“He is critical to most things we do here,” said Steve Elmendorf, Kerry’s deputy campaign manager.

“He is having a great impact on the race,” added Donna Brazile, a Democratic consultant and Roll Call contributing writer who served as campaign manager for then-Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential bid. “Not all signs are visible.”

Sources say that Kennedy speaks to Kerry regularly and that the candidate solicits his advice, though the Massachusetts Senator is careful not to overburden his colleague with pointers.

“He recognizes that Senator Kerry has his own campaign to run, and he is not inclined to give unsolicited advice too frequently,” said one Democratic strategist.

“Most of the conversations between he and the campaign revolve around Mary Beth Cahill,” added the source.

Cahill, Kerry’s campaign manager, left Kennedy’s office in December, where she served as chief of staff, to take over the then- flagging presidential effort.

Cahill was the brainchild behind Kerry’s decision to go for broke in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses; his unexpected win there propelled him to victory in the New Hampshire primary eight days later, which all but sealed the nomination.

In addition to Cahill, Kennedy has another strong connection to the Kerry high command: media consultant Bob Shrum.

After serving as chief speechwriter to Kennedy during his unsuccessful 1980 primary challenge to President Jimmy Carter, Shrum served as Kennedy’s press aide until 1984, when he opened his own consulting business. The two have remained close.

“Not only are people like Bob Shrum and Mary Beth Cahill in the inner circle, but it is Kennedy who has been amazing in terms of keeping the party unified and progressives energized behind John Kerry,” Brazile said.

A Democratic consultant noted that Kennedy provided Kerry with “credentials” for liberal primary voters, and those voters have stuck with him so far in the general-election campaign.

Democrats do appear unusually united heading into this fall’s election, although that solidarity appears more attributable to a distaste for President Bush than any particular enthusiasm about Kerry.

On the two most important “red meat” issues for the party’s base — the war in Iraq and Bush’s tax cuts — Kerry has not wholly supported the views of many liberals within the party.

While Kerry opposed the 2001 and 2003 tax-cut plans, he does not favor a complete rollback of the benefits, but instead advocates for a repeal of the tax breaks for Americans who make more than $200,000 a year. Kennedy, by contrast, has supported a complete repeal of the tax cuts.

Kerry also voted for the resolution that led to the war in Iraq. Kennedy opposed it.

Schmidt noted, however, that Kerry had an even more liberal voting record than Kennedy in 2003, according to an annual study done by National Journal.

Kennedy’s role extends beyond campaign strategy to convention management. The senior Senator is playing a crucial mediation role in the ongoing labor dispute between Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the city’s police union, which could lend an ugly edge to the convention that begins July 26.

The two sides met last week, and Menino voiced optimism that an agreement can be reached in the near future.

Kennedy “believes the issue needs to be resolved by the parties in the dispute,” said Smith, his spokesman. “He is actively encouraging all parties to come to a resolution.”

The convention appearance will segue into a role for Kennedy in the fall campaign, centering on energizing and turning out the Democratic base in November.

“Based on need, the Senator will campaign wherever Senator Kerry needs him in the fall,” said a Democratic strategist. “At the right time I expect you will see Senator Kennedy in a number of states.”