Off the Hook

Posted November 3, 2004 at 7:06pm

One Democratic group’s get-out-the-vote effort in Pennsylvania sort of got up and went. Luckily for the progressive 527 group America Coming Together, John Kerry still won the state’s 21 electoral votes despite an automated phone bank snafu. [IMGCAP(1)]

ACT coordinated an automated final get-out-the-vote telephone message featuring former President Bill Clinton urging Philadelphians to get out and “vote for change tomorrow.” Unfortunately, the automated messages went out on Election Day, which meant tomorrow wasn’t only a day away, but a day too late.

Democrats on the Kerry campaign in Philadelphia initially suspected foul play by Republicans, who allegedly had made a number of fishy phone calls in the Philadelphia area — including calls to suburban women claiming Kerry was the “NRA candidate.” But Democrats soon realized the day-late telephone mistake was due to friendly fire. “We thought it was Bush sabotage but self-inflicted wounds wound the worst,” joked one prominent Democrat.

Sarah Leonard, a spokeswoman for America Coming Together, acknowledged the boo-boo, saying, “I don’t know exactly what it was, I just know it was human error.” She noted that the mix-up “didn’t have an impact as we won the state handily.”

Phonus Interruptus. Maybe Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and her soon-to-be GOP Senate colleague just don’t have good phone karma. Or maybe he has seniority envy.

When Landrieu called Rep. David Vitter to congratulate him on his victory over Democratic Rep. Chris John in the open Louisiana Senate race, Vitter hung up on Landrieu, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

They say part of Landrieu’s purpose in calling the Republican candidate was to explain why his opponent, John, had not yet conceded. Landrieu congratulated Vitter on his apparent victory, said she looked forward to working with him in the Senate and explained that John was waiting until outstanding votes were tabulated in the Democratic precincts before conceding defeat.

Vitter apparently wasn’t interested in an explanation. One source said Vitter snapped, “We won fair and square!” — and hung up on Landrieu. Click.

Vitter’s campaign did not return calls seeking comment. But one Senate Republican source said Vitter was a bit peeved that John waited to concede when Vitter already was receiving congratulatory phone calls late Tuesday from other Democrats, including Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the third-place finisher in the open Senate primary, state Treasurer John Kennedy.

Landrieu, who will assume the throne as the state’s senior Senator when the next Congress convenes, did not characterize Vitter’s telephone manners. Her spokesman, Brian Geiger, said, “I think there was a misunderstanding. Senator Landrieu called Congressman Vitter to congratulate him on a hard-fought race and said she looked forward to working with him in the next Congress.” He declined to say how the conversation ended.

One Democratic source in Louisiana said Landrieu was willing to believe that Vitter’s hang-up was more the result of bad connections between cellphones than bad manners. HOH is skeptical, since his campaign spokesman did not return two messages.

Kerry for Leader? Brooding leads to creativity, at least among depressed Democratic Congressional aides. One Democratic press secretary on Capitol Hill sent this e-mail out Wednesday to colleagues:

“Subject: Minority Leader of Senate

The Senate Democrats should nominate John Kerry as the new minority leader of the Senate. At this point, what do we have to lose?”

The aide’s initiative wasn’t going anywhere, however, as Minority Whip Harry Reid (Nev.) has all but locked up the post.

Jeepers Creepers. White House reporters described a “surreal” and “weird” — and very long — night in the White House press room as election returns dribbled in showing a very different scenario from what exit polls had shown all afternoon. As one reporter for a national newspaper described it, President Bush and Vice President Cheney made “ghostlike appearances” throughout the night, occasionally walking along the covered colonnade by the Rose Garden outside the White House press office.

“It was spooky,” the scribe said. “It shed very little light on what they were thinking.”

Dayton: Safe Again. Having survived the big pre-election scare, Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) will reopen his Senate office on Monday. The Senator told reporters during a conference call Wednesday, “The timeline for the heightened threat has passed in those reports.”

“Those reports” referred to classified intelligence reports that Dayton said detailed terrorist threats against Congress, prompting him to shutter his Capitol Hill office last month. Dayton said he can safely reopen his office now since the terrorist activity was anticipated only through Election Day.

Responding to critics who ridiculed the Senator’s decision, since U.S. government officials had said there was no new intelligence concerning a possible attack, Dayton told reporters, “I’d like to have people read it for themselves, and have an informed basis for my decision.”

Don’t Tell Kerry. While every other living, breathing Democrat was jumping for false joy over the early exit polling that showed a decisive victory for the Massachusetts Senator, John Kerry himself was kept in the dark.

A knowledgeable source tells HOH that the campaign kept the results from Kerry so he wouldn’t stop making phone calls and doing satellite TV interviews. He did 38 interviews in 30 media markets over four and a half hours, following the setting sun westward.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.