Kerry’s House Supporters Say He’s Turned Corner

Posted November 19, 2003 at 6:17pm

For the second time in less than a week, the newly installed campaign manager for Sen. John Kerry’s (D) presidential effort spoke with Members on Wednesday as the Massachusetts lawmaker attempted to move beyond a series of negative stories stemming from his decision to fire his original top handler.

“There is a sense among those of us who have been with Kerry for a long time that the campaign has turned a corner,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), one of roughly 12 lawmakers who attended the gathering. “The staff stories and inside baseball stuff are behind us.”

Rep. Stephen Lynch (Mass.), who was also at the gathering, said “there was a consensus among the group that this is a critical time to focus our energies on expanding his base of support in the Congress and helping to get John’s message out to undecided voters.”

Kerry Communications Director Stephanie Cutter said the meeting, which took place at a private home at 209 C St. NE and followed a Members-only conference call late last week, had several purposes.

The primary goal was to introduce Members and staff to newly installed campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, Cutter said. Cahill was brought in last week when former campaign manager Jim Jordan was fired.

“Mary Beth Cahill is a pro,” said McGovern.

It was also a checkup on canvassing efforts by several of the Members — McGovern as well as Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Bill Delahunt (Mass.) — over the weekend in New Hampshire.

Cutter estimated 1,000 doors were knocked on by Kerry surrogates during the effort.

“Everybody is on the same team and fighting,” she said.

McGovern brought 50 of his supporters with him to Concord and said he spoke about his experience at Wednesday’s meeting.

Kerry has ceded his status as the frontrunner in New Hampshire — and for the nomination generally — to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

In two independent surveys released Monday, Dean led Kerry by more than 20 points in the Granite State. Many observers believe that Kerry must win New Hampshire if he is to have any chance at winning the nomination.

Rep. John Tierney (Mass.), another attendee, said the campaign’s superdelegate strategy was also discussed at the meeting.

Kerry has the backing of 21 Members of Congress, second only to Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (Mo.) 32 supporters.

“For a lot of Members, they are trying to wait and see who is going to win and then jump on board,” said McGovern. “We are trying to convince people to get on early.”

Over the past 10 days, Kerry has struggled to extricate himself from his decision to fire Jordan and the subsequent resignation of two other staffers.

Kerry attempted to quickly pivot from the staff shakeup but details of Jordan’s firing, including the Senator’s assertion that it was a “one-day story” continued to fuel discussion of the overhaul. He caught more flack by dismissing the two staffers who left in Jordan’s wake as people that were “not really involved with me.”

He later apologized to all three former staffers.

Cutter emphasized that neither the meeting Wednesday nor last week’s conference call was aimed at allaying Member concerns about the recent spate of bad press.

One source familiar with the call said the Kerry campaign emphasized that a “smooth transition” was being made and that the media’s coverage of the news was blown out of proportion.

Tierney said he was not concerned that the controversy of the past week would ultimately affect Kerry’s bid for the nomination.

“Most people know John well enough, whether they are Members or voters, and see that now we are to hear the John Kerry we know about it,” Tierney said. “We know what he can do and what he stands for.”

McGovern dismissed the staff story as well.

“When all of us go home, nobody is talking about John Kerry’s campaign manager or any internal staff shakeups,” he said.