Tuesday, November 16, 2004

'Changed forever,' Kerry returns to his Senate role

(Excerpt) By Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY

John Kerry, departing from past practice for losing Democratic presidential nominees, doesn't plan to do a disappearing act. He returns to the Senate Tuesday and aims to be a force in his party.

Kerry does not rule out another run in 2008 but calls it "inconceivable" to think about that now.

More immediately, he anticipates pressing his signature campaign issues on Capitol Hill and on the national stage. He has pledged to continue to fight to expand health coverage and stem cell research, build energy independence and protect Social Security (news - web sites) "with all of the energy that I have and all of the passion I brought to the campaign."

Kerry is looking for creative ways to promote those ideas and also planning a think tank to serve as a "venture capital fund" for new ideas. And he is taking steps to form a political action committee to keep alive a network that generated record fund-raising and voter turnout for Democrats. The PAC would fund his travel and allow him to help congressional candidates in the 2006 elections.

Though he is going back to his old job as junior senator from Massachusetts, associates say Kerry will be doing it in a new way. He was "changed forever" by his presidential campaign, spokesman David Wade says, and returns "on a mission" to lead the nation toward affordable health care and "a foreign policy in the tradition of Roosevelt and Truman."

Kerry is "looking ahead at how to be a voice for the 56 million people who voted for him," his brother Cameron says. "There is a process of transformation that you undergo when so many people invest their hopes and aspirations in you and your campaign. You become enlarged by the weight of all that."

Kerry has been studying ways to emulate the legacies of several presidential hopefuls who returned to the Senate. Barry Goldwater helped build a national Republican Party. Hubert Humphrey and Edward Kennedy became champions of Democratic causes. But the most relevant example may be Republican Sen. John McCain: He nudged his party toward reform after his 2000 bid and remains an active prospect for 2008.


Blogger IFK Editor said...

Analysis: Kerry sees place for a big role in future

Monday, November 15, 2004
By Maeve Reston, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Within days of his defeat in the Nov. 2 presidential election, Sen. John F. Kerry made it clear he intends to maintain a leading role in the Democratic Party, setting Capitol Hill abuzz with speculation that he might consider another run for the White House in 2008.

Kerry's ambition to remain a major player stands in stark contrast to the post-defeat fate of recent Democratic nominees.

Walter F. Mondale and Michael Dukakis retreated to academia amid shrill recriminations after their landslide losses in 1984 and 1988. Former Vice President Al Gore, who lost the 2000 election even though he won the popular vote, quickly stepped out of the limelight as many Democrats chided him for having blown the advantages of campaigning at a time of unparalleled prosperity against an untested newcomer.

But so far, Kerry appears to be shouldering less blame for the party's losses than his predecessors -- which could strengthen his position for a rare second shot in 2008. As they analyze the Nov. 2 results, party leaders seem more concerned with improving the party's message than pointing to the failures of their presidential candidate.

Kerry also will return to his role as U.S. senator from Massachusetts this week with the weight of 54 million votes behind him and with few other Democrats in a position of national leadership. And even if he hasn't decided to run again, there are advantages in keeping the possibility alive, despite the difficulties in doing so.

Repositioning himself for 2008 would be a complicated matter for Kerry, and he would face hurdles that range from fending off prospective challengers such as New York's Sen. Hillary Clinton to explaining why he could capture the support of America's heartland a second time around.

Kerry has said no one should be talking about a 2008 bid already, but he sparked the speculation with remarks at a campaign goodbye party last weekend and he reportedly has made calls to donors to keep his organization intact. Kerry announced to reporters on the Hill that "54-plus million Americans" voted for health care, energy independence, unity in America, stem-cell research, and protecting Social Security on Nov. 2 and that he would be "fighting for that agenda with all of the energy that I have and all the passion I brought to the campaign."

"He now does have a national platform," said Barbara Kellerman, research director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "He could decide to play, as a senator, a far more prominent, visible role than he did in the past."

Kellerman pointed to what many have described as a leadership vacuum in the Democratic Party in the wake of the election. Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle was defeated and former House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt is on his way to retirement. The Senate's prospective minority leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, is relatively unknown nationwide, as is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

"John Kerry really has an opportunity here," Kellerman said. "Who else is the media going to turn to other than Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry? ... There is no obvious other person around right now. It's not a question of Kerry being rediscovered, it's just that there's not much competition."

Kerry's higher profile in the Senate could help him refine his qualifications for the presidency, although any legislation he proposes will face stiff opposition with both houses of Congress under Republican control. During the presidential campaign, Kerry rarely spoke in detail about his 20 years in the Senate, and President Bush relentlessly ridiculed his record as thin and outside the mainstream.

Many former presidential candidates have lost and returned to the fray, although most of them were Republicans, including Richard M. Nixon, the only one in recent generations to lose in a general election and eventually win the White House.

Former President Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination in 1968 and 1976. Former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole ran in 1980 and 1988 before winning the GOP nomination in 1996. George H.W. Bush tried for the White House in 1980 before claiming the Republican nomination in 1988 after serving as Reagan's vice president.

"It's not unusual to fail in a first race, but to learn a lot that then becomes useful in the second race," said Gerald Pomper, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. "You meet people all around the country and you learn about how to do it."

But few who have gone down to defeat as a major party nominee have run for president again.

"You've been given your shot and you didn't make it," Pomper said. "It depends to what extent people blame you for your personal failures, rather than the situation."

No Democrat has won the party nomination after suffering a general election defeat since Adlai Stevenson, who reluctantly challenged World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. He lost by 6.5 million votes (and was crushed in the Electoral College). In 1956, Stevenson was persuaded to challenge Eisenhower again and lost by 10 million votes.

Nixon is the last candidate to have won the White House after losing in a general election.

Nixon was defeated by John F. Kennedy in 1960 by 119,450 votes in one of the closest elections in history. He attempted to regain a national platform by running for governor of California, but failed and retired from politics after a famous press conference in which he told reporters they wouldn't "have Nixon to kick around anymore." He re-emerged before the 1968 election and won the presidency.

Kerry might not be sure he wants to run again at this point -- his floating of the possibility last week could amount to little more than a way to make sure he maintains a voice within the party. But it won't be long before prospective candidates will have to get back on the road again to court Iowa and New Hampshire activists over intimate dinners and plot how to raise $250 million-plus over the next few years.

"There are two or three people out there right now that have national name I.D., national organizations that have the ability to raise significant funds through the networks they have, and those people have to immediately begin preparing those networks," said Mike Feldman, a senior adviser to Gore in 2000 and a partner in The Glover Park Group, based in Washington .

Relationships with key campaign donors, for example, deteriorate over time, and if candidates with designs on the White House fail to keep up those relationships, they risk losing them.

"Over the course of two years [Kerry] built a national network, a national fund-raising network, a network of operatives and a network of activists in every state in the union," Feldman said. "If he doesn't tend to that network over time, those people will find other things, new things, new people to become interested in politically."

7:53 PM  

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