The Kerry campaign's feuding tribes.

Taking stock of people and ideas in the news.
April 15 2004 1:31 PM

The Kerry Tribes

The seven factions fighting for control of his campaign and his presidency.

John Kerrt
Kerry: Which tribe will claim the prize?

If John Kerry wants to govern America, he first must govern his own campaign. So far that hasn't been easy. If Bush's campaign is North Korea—totalitarian and monomaniacal, utterly devoted to its Supreme Leader—then Kerry's is Afghanistan—a chaotic battlefield of multiple feuding tribes. Kerry is the Hamid Karzai of his campaign, trying—so far futilely—to unite his disparate factions. Which tribe gains the upper hand will determine the style of Kerry's campaign, the issues he addresses, and even his presidential priorities if elected.

Here are the Kerry Tribes, what they want, and how you'll know if they're winning:

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The Kennedy Militia
The power center of the campaign. Three of Kerry's top aides—chief media strategist Bob Shrum, campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, and communications director Stephanie Cutter—come from the province of Sen. Ted Kennedy (himself an important Kerry adviser). Shrum, who has been close to Kennedy since his 1980 presidential campaign, has consolidated control over Kerry's operation, making himself its mightiest warlord. During the primaries, Shrum helped to force out Kerry's first campaign manager, Jim Jordan, and replace him with Cahill, who had been Kennedy's chief of staff. Cutter also came straight from Kennedy's staff. Shrum is a famous advocate of populist, us-against-them rhetoric, and Kerry's emphasis on "special interests" and "Benedict Arnold companies" is a clear reflection of his growing power.
What they want: Fiery populism.
Sign that they're winning: Kerry issues Shrumian broadsides against special interests.
Biggest enemy: The Clintonites, who prefer 1990s Democratic centrism to "people vs. the powerful" tirades.

The Boston Fixers
Kerry's political muscle, these tough-talking Bostonians operate in the shadows, handling unglamorous—but essential—tasks for him. All are well-schooled in Boston-style retail politics and hardball. One subcaste is the Dukakoids, men who worked under former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. This group's key figure is John Sasso, a longtime Dukakis aide turned Boston lobbyist. Another is Jack Corrigan, reputed to be a crack political organizer. Both have been tasked with important missions: Sasso will be Kerry's liaison to the Democratic National Committee, while Corrigan is in charge of making sure the Democratic convention in Boston goes smoothly this summer. In a subcategory of his own is Michael Whouley, the operative/lobbyist who has achieved a mythic, Boba Fett-like reputation among Democrats for engineering Al Gore's 2000 come-from-behind win in New Hampshire and jump-starting Kerry's Iowa comeback.
What they want: Minimal attention to their under-the-radar skid-greasing.
Sign that they're winning: You never hear about them.
Biggest enemy: The D.C. Fixers, who think they're smarter than Boston hacks.

The Kerry Clan
Every candidate takes counsel from his family, but Kerry's seems particularly plugged in. His brother, Boston lawyer Cam Kerry, has given him political advice for 30 years and may rival even Shrum for influence over the candidate. His wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, is the most politically astute and opinionated candidate's wife since Hillary Clinton. Kerry's two daughters, Vanessa and Alexandra Kerry, and stepson Chris Heinz are also active in the campaign. From what little dribbles out about their opinions, it seems that this group—presumably more personally sensitive to attacks on Kerry—favors hitting back hard at opponents.
What they want: To protect John Kerry, the person.
Signs that they're winning: More candidate R&R; campaign operatives complaining about mysterious new ideas planted in Kerry's head.
Biggest enemy: Fixers of every variety, because they're self-interested mercenaries who don't put Kerry first.

The D.C. Fixers
Given that Washington political pros usually swarm to a winning campaign the way shoppers raid the malls the day after Thanksgiving, this group is surprisingly small. Almost no big-shot Clintonite politicos—people like James Carville, Paul Begala, John Podesta, and Joe Lockhardt—have joined the Kerry team. Nor have many leading Gore 2000 strategists, such as Ron Klain and Carter Eskew. But a few usual suspects are already aboard. There's the ubiquitous Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who has advised congressional Democrats for years. After his candidate lost, former Gephardt chief of staff Steve Elmendorf signed up as Kerry's deputy campaign manager. Former Gore campaign staffer David Morehouse is a top communications aide. And Kerry talks regularly with Harold Schaitberger, a longtime union operative who is now president of the international firefighters' union (and who won Kerry's undying gratitude for endorsing him during his darkest days last fall). Other Beltway pros are waiting in the wings, murmuring that Kerry's political and communications teams need more of their insider savvy.
What they want: Carville-esque fame and glory, a job in the White House—or at least a gig hosting Crossfire someday.
Sign that they're winning: You'll hear a lot about their brilliant "war room" tactics.
Biggest enemy: Boston Fixers and Kerry Loyalists, their rivals for access and post-campaign rewards.

The Clintonites
While few Clinton-era politicos have joined the campaign (see above), plenty of Clintonites are now toiling in Kerry's policy shop, hammering out his agenda. Kerry's policy director is Sarah Bianchi, a health-care wizard who spent years in the Clinton White House (and was Al Gore's policy director). His economics team is also composed of ex-Clinton wonks, including Gene Sperling and Roger Altman. Kerry has also recently started taking advice from Bruce Reed, Clinton's former policy director and a godfather of Democratic-centrist domestic policy. On foreign affairs, too, Kerry talks to all the top names from the Clinton years: Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke,and Jamie Rubin. (Rand Beers, a Clinton appointee held over into the Bush administration until he fled in anger, is officially Kerry's chief foreign policy adviser.) On both domestic and foreign policy, this group remains to the right of the party's post-Howard Dean mainstream.
What they want: Democratic Leadership Council centrism.
Sign that they're winning: Kerry gives more Third Way-ish speeches like his March 25 call for a cut in corporate income tax rates.
Biggest enemy: The Kennedy Militia and its populism.

The Kerry Loyalists
These are the made men in Kerry's circle. Bostonians all, most have been at Kerry's side since the beginnings of his political career. Key figures include Ron Rosenblith, Kerry's first Senate chief of staff and a longtime confidante. There's also political consultant John Marttila, pollster Tom Kiley, and Kerry's 1996 Senate campaign manager Chris Greeley—men who have worked on most or all of Kerry's senate campaigns. Though many Washington sharpies scorn some of these Bostonians, they have hung on stubbornly. (A less-wizened member of this camp is Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan, a former Senate aide who started out as Kerry's driver.)
What they want: A return on their long investment in Kerry.
Sign that they're winning: The Kerry campaign never "goes Washington," and its power center remains in Boston.
Biggest enemy: Clintonites and Washington Fixers: Kerry neophytes who threaten to supplant the old hands.

Band of Brothers
These Vietnam veterans occupy a special place in Kerry's heart. Not all are political: Kerry's Vietnam boatmates don't seem to give him political advice, for instance. But others do have real campaign influence. These include former state politico Tom Vallely and former antiwar activist Chris Gregory, both dear friends of Kerry's who fought in Vietnam. (In Kerry's past Senate campaigns, Gregory was in charge of rounding up "The Dog Hunters"—a group of veterans who heckled Kerry's opponents.) Kerry also has a full-time veterans' organizer in John Hurley. And of course there is defeated Georgia senator and Democratic martyr Max Cleland, who has turned into the Kerry campaign's shrillest anti-Bush voice. Scarred like Kerry by Vietnam, this group seems to share his suspicion of aggressive U.S. foreign policy.
What they want: Head-on challenges to the Iraq war and Bush's military record.
Sign that they're winning: Kerry fixates on Vietnam as a prism for foreign policy decisions.
Biggest Enemy: Clintonite foreign policy hawks, especially those who never served in the military.

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