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On the road with John Kerry

On a steamy Monday morning, Senator John Kerry, two aides, two members of the press, and New Hampshire congressional candidate Martha Fuller Clark, who had attended a fundraiser with Kerry in Boston that morning, piled into Kerryís SUV to trek up to the Granite State. As the vehicle started to head up Route 93, Kerry at first didnít seem all that interested in talking. Instead, he encouraged Clark, a 60-year-old member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, to make her pitch to me and Wayne Woodlief, of the Boston Herald.

You can learn as much about politicians when they donít want to talk as when they do. In this case, Kerry, a potential presidential aspirant in 2004, turned the spotlight over to Clark, who has raised $1.3 million so far, the most ever in a New Hampshire congressional race, and who gave Republican representative John Sununu the fight of his career in 2000. (Eight Republicans are fighting to replace Sununu, who is running for Senate. Clark is the only Democrat running.) Kerry didnít talk about it, but helping other politicians get elected is a time-honored way of laying the foundation for a presidential run; thatís how Georgia governor Jimmy Carter built a name for himself prior to his 1976 presidential campaign.

Kerry spent most of Monday campaigning for Clark and fellow Democrat Katrina Swett, who is running against Congressman Charles Bass. By spending time in New Hampshire, Kerry is helping to shore up his base. If Kerryís 2004 effort is to succeed, he must perform well in New Hampshire, where fellow New Englanders Governor Howard Dean of Vermont and Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut are also expected to compete (see " Joe Lieberman Sticks His Toe In, " News and Features, March 28 and " Battle for New England, " News and Features February 14). Other potential candidates include former vice-president Al Gore (if heís in, Liebermanís out), House minority leader Richard Gephardt (see " Clash of the Titans, " News and Features, June 13) and Senator John Edwards (see " Snappy Comeback, " News and Features, July 11).

Kerry came through for Clark big time. Her campaign had organized a " Veterans for Clark " event at the Manchester Veterans Administration Medical Center. There, Kerry, who earned a Silver Star for his service in Vietnam, glad-handed a group of war vets, with whom he typically shares rapport. One of these was Wayne Burton, with whom Kerry served in Vietnam. The Manchester Union Leader Tuesday captured Kerryís pitch for Clark. Clark, said Kerry, " is going to be there for them and is going to help protect that special relationship of America and its veteranís community. " Bingo. Kerry got his name in the New Hampshire press, and Clark got a positive newspaper clip promoting her campaign.

Kerry also trekked down to the Nashua Senior Center to appear at a prescription-drug-program event on behalf of Swett, who is the daughter of California congressman Tom Lantos. When Kerry rose to speak to the group of more than 50 seniors, he simplified what can at times be a complicated issue. Kerry noticed an old-fashioned electric bingo sign on the wall with illuminated numbers on it. " Let me try to put it a little more simpler, " says Kerry. " The big difference is that Charlie Bass is willing to play bingo with your prescription-drug plan, no guarantee, and no certainty of outcome. " By the time he finished, Kerry had completely won over the crowd, to whom he apologized for being late. " Take some time, talk to neighbors, take some time on weekends, " Kerry exhorted them on Swettís behalf. " People can reclaim [the House]. Weíve got more ability in this country on this planet to control our destiny. Letís go out and do it. And letís elect Katrina Swett to the US Congress. "

On May 2, I made the following proposition in an American Prospect Web-site debate with Jonathan Chait of the New Republic: " One idea I've been hearing up in Boston goes like this. The Democratic Party could never allow McCain to head up a ticket. He's too conservative. But he could run on a Democratic ticket with John Kerry. This idea is being pushed by former Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan. " Since then, the idea has been floated in the August issue of Menís Journal and on July 14 on Meet the Press, when Tim Russert asked McCain if he would run with Kerry as a Democrat. McCain responded " how about vegetarian? " ó his stock response when asked about changing political parties.

Kerry didnít have much to say about the scenario either when I asked him about it on Monday. But he did offer that McCain had invited Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz, to visit his ranch in Arizona. " He asked me to come down to Arizona and spend the weekend with him, which Iím going to do, " said Kerry, who was trying to work out the scheduling details. He figured the visit would take place in August or September.

Another possibility is that both McCain and Kerry could meet on neutral territory at the New Mexico ranch of MSNBC talk-show host Don Imus, who frequently has both senators on his show as guests. " I would like to see that place, " said Kerry. " But Imus would put us both to work. Heíll have us breaking in a horse or doing something. "


Issue Date: July 25 - August 1, 2002
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