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Cleland Urged To Run

As speculation mounted Wednesday that former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young would remove himself as a potential Georgia Senate candidate as early as today, Democrats in the chamber were intensifying their efforts to coax former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) to run again in 2004.

For several months top Senate Democrats have been trying to convince their former colleague to seek the seat of retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), even as Cleland has publicly indicated he is not interested in a political comeback at this time.

“I have talked to him and all kinds of people have talked to Max,” said a senior Democratic Senator, who spoke about the recruitment efforts aimed at Cleland only on the condition of anonymity. “We think Max would be our best candidate in Georgia. For a long period of time we have been after Max.”

The Senator suggested those efforts would increase in the coming days should Young decide to take a pass on the Senate race. And a Senate Democratic source echoed that the wheels are already in motion to make a renewed effort to try to persuade Cleland to run.

Another Democratic Senator said he thinks Cleland might be warming up to the idea, adding that the former Senator “was worn out emotionally and physically” from his failed 2002 Senate re-election campaign.

Several Senate Democrats said if Young does decide against a bid, it would all but clear the field for Cleland to enter the race.

“Max Cleland has been the number one choice from the very start and he continues to be the number one choice,” said the Senator, who demanded anonymity.

At least one of the factors driving the recruitment of Cleland, who was defeated by now-Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R), is the lingering bitterness within the Caucus about the outcome of that race.

Democrats were infuriated by what they view as the mischaracterization of Cleland’s legislative record and what amounted to the questioning of the triple amputee Vietnam veteran’s patriotism. Most notably, they point to a Chambliss television spot that attacked his voting record on homeland security issues and featured photos of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein (The footage of the two men were removed before the ad actually aired).

These Democrats also believe that Cleland would be able to raise a substantial amount of money in a short period of time from loyal Democrats across the country who also are angry about the way in which he was ousted.

“If Max were to do it, he would be the easiest candidate in America to raise money for,” said a Democratic Senator, bemoaning “the travesty of what went on.”

Earlier this year, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee commissioned a poll to test the strength and favorability ratings of potential candidates in the race. The findings showed Cleland well-positioned for another race, sources familiar with the poll said.

But the Washington-based efforts to recruit Cleland underscores the two schools of thought at play as national and state Democrats set out Wednesday to determine who — if it is not Young — should carry the party’s banner in 2004.

Young, also a former mayor of Atlanta and a one-time House Member, is expected to make his intentions known this morning, sources said Wednesday, when he delivers the keynote address at a breakfast meeting of the House Democratic Study Group on National Security.

An Associated Press story Wednesday quoted two anonymous sources who indicated Young is now leaning against entering the race, yanking the rug out from under a campaign that Democrats had for the past month considered a forgone conclusion. As late as Wednesday morning party strategists were circulating that Young would announce his candidacy in the the race to succeed Miller by the end of next week.

But as word that Young might not run made the rounds, some Democratic strategists immediately pointed to Michelle Nunn as their preferred next-generation candidate in Georgia.

Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), had been considering the race when Young’s interest in becoming a candidate became known in July. She later said she would defer to the elder statesman.

The 36-year-old founded Hands On Atlanta, a nonprofit volunteer organization, in 1989 and served as executive director of the organization until last month. She is now president of CityCares, a national volunteer network founded in Atlanta.

“She was poised to look at the race and that interest has never waned,” said a Democratic strategist in Washington.

“She’s definitely still interested,” added one knowledgeable Georgia Democrat. “She’d be the kind of candidate you’d want.”

Some Democrats believe Nunn would have little trouble raising the needed funds for the race, pointing specifically to the fact that she would get help from her father and the almost certain backing of EMILY’S List.

As of last night, Sen. Jon Corzine (N.J.), chairman of the DSCC, said he had not spoken to Young about his decision.

“I still think there are a number of good candidates if it is in fact true that Andy has come to a conclusion,” not to run, Corzine said. “We will be competitive.”

During a visit to Washington last week, Young met with officials at the DSCC as well as Democrats on both sides of the Capitol and it looked all but certain he would enter the race.

But there had been some signs that the 71-year-old Young, who has had health problems, might not be fully committed to a political comeback. One source on Wednesday suggested that health was the biggest factor in Young’s apparent reversal on the Senate race.

“I almost wish I could run a really good campaign, and lose,” Young told the New York Times in August.

Miller announced in January that he would not seek re-election in 2002 and since then Democrats have faced consistent recruiting setbacks.

After their two top prospects — Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox — passed on the race, party strategists were hopeful Attorney General Thurbert Baker would toss his hat into the ring sometime this summer.

But Baker, like Cox and Taylor, backed away from running, although none of the three has ever publicly and officially closed the door on a bid.

Still, the Democratic source in Georgia indicated that the statewide office holders may be taking a second look at the Senate race now that Democrats’ prospects nationally are looking more favorable than they were six months ago.

“I think more than a few of them … are thinking ‘maybe this is more doable than I thought,’” the source said.

And, after Georgia Democrats suffered staggering defeats at the polls in November 2002, it’s taken the party some time to regroup.

“It’s taken a while for people here to realize that the Democratic Party is not going away,” the source said. “It’s hard to underestimate the level of shock that went through the Democratic establishment here when that happened.”

On Capitol Hill, though, Democrats are saying very little publicly about Young’s expected announcement or the possibility that Cleland might throw his hat in the ring.

“We would love to see Max as a candidate, but Andrew Young is a very qualified and capable person in his own right,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). “Either one would receive an enthusiastic response.”

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