Super Bowl Makes Strange Bedfellows

Posted January 28, 2004 at 6:30pm

It’s hard to get Sens. John Kerry (Mass.) and John Edwards (N.C.) to agree on much these days as they slug it out for the Democratic presidential nomination, but the two candidates actually cut a secret deal last week to join forces on one matter of national importance.

With each man concerned about alienating voters in politically critical states, the Senators’ advisers privately agreed not to challenge one another to a wager on Super Bowl XXXVIII, which pits

Kerry’s New England Patriots against Edwards’ Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

Kerry’s squad briefly tried to get a bet going with their counterparts last week. But the Edwards camp was skittish about having the Senator highlighting his allegiance to a Carolina team on the eve of the critical New Hampshire primary so as not to offend Northeastern voters.

“We could think about pushing for [a bet] this week,” Edwards campaign spokesman Roger Salazar noted to HOH. “The reverse might be true.”

Indeed, now that the New Hampshire primary is over, the Edwards folks were tempted to issue a challenge to Kerry. That would force him into the sticky predicament of re-expressing his allegiance to the Patriots on the eve of Tuesday’s South Carolina primary. (While the Panthers are based in North Carolina, they have plenty of fans in both states.)

But the two Senators ultimately decided to chicken out and call a detente. That’s a sharp departure from the usual political practice of lawmakers from the two states involved in a big game putting up delicacies from their home turf — perhaps a few buckets of New England clam chowder and mounds of Carolina barbecue — as a way of betting on the game.

Salazar put a slightly more positive spin on the development. “We’re going to focus all efforts on the campaign at hand,” he said. “And come Sunday root, root, root for the home team!”

Kerry spokesman David DiMartino also stressed the beauty of the two Senators working together (could this be the seeds of a ticket forming?) and decided to toss the pigskin at retired Gen. Wesley Clark — who has shown plenty of elasticity by rooting for the football team of whichever city he happens to be visiting.

“The one thing with John Kerry and John Edwards is that when it comes to football, you know where they stand,” DiMartino said. “Unlike other candidates, whose team affiliations are as vague as their party affiliations.”

Putting on the Ritz. Lost in all of the media coverage of Kerry rolling in Iowa and New Hampshire is the fact that the wealthy candidate is also starting to pull away in the all-important Ritz-Carlton primary.

But Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who bills himself as an up-from-the-bootstraps man of the people, could be laying the groundwork for a stunning upset in the mock election being conducted by the luxury hotel chain.

The Ritz, which has four locations in the D.C. area, has been handing out Democratic and Republican ballots to people who check into their pricey rooms and diners who eat at their swanky restaurants.

Kerry, who is trying to shake his elitist reputation and probably wants no part of the Ritz crown, has the overall lead among the four locations.

But Kucinich has surged into the lead at the Ritz’s downtown D.C. location by securing 28 percent of the vote. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who also fashions himself as an average guy, is second at 26 percent, while Kerry snagged 22 percent there.

“I can assure you we’re not padding the voting — that’s certainly not our usual constituency,” Kucinich spokesman Doug Gordon told HOH. “Who knew that a man who grew up poor in the streets of Cleveland — and lived in cars a couple of times — would have such a wide constituency? I’m sure he’s honored and flattered.”

Edwards, meanwhile, is edging out Dean at the Tysons Corner, Va., location. Kerry has the overall lead thanks to the fact that he’s leading by wide margins among voters at the hotel’s Georgetown and Pentagon City, Va., locations in balloting that continues through Super Tuesday. “Winning the Ritz-Carlton primary is part of the Kerry Southern Strategy,” joked one Kerry adviser.

Also of note are the write-in votes the Ritz has been receiving for who should be the Democratic vice presidential pick: former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Roger Clinton, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner as well as Reps. Harold Ford Jr. (Tenn.) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.).

And while President Bush secured almost all of the votes of the people who requested GOP ballots, there was one write-in for Al “I’m in Charge Now” Haig for president.

“He comes here a lot,” noted Ritz spokeswoman Colleen Evans. “It might have been him.”

In the Crossfire. After bearing the wrath of Republican Members angry about CBS’ initial plans to air a docudrama critical of former President Ronald Reagan, network president Les Moonves is now facing heat from Democrats on a new front.

Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday fired off a letter, co-signed by 26 Hill Democrats, urging Moonves to reconsider his refusal to air a Super Bowl commercial from that tears into Bush on the issue of the budget deficit.

Officials at CBS, who buckled to GOP Members last year, have insisted that running such an issue ad would violate their policies. But Sanders noted that White House ads on drug use have run during previous Super Bowl telecasts and the network rakes in tens of millions of dollars in every election year.

“The choice not to run this paid advertisement appears to be part of a disturbing pattern on CBS’s part to bow to the wishes of the Republican National Committee,” charged the Members. “We remember well CBS’s remarkable decision this fall to self-censor at the direction of GOP pressure.”

Gephardt Farewell. Several dozen former staffers for Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) turned out Tuesday night at a D.C. farewell party at the 1223 Club.

The former presidential candidate and his wife, Jane, were among the folks who came together to offer thanks and say goodbye as people get ready to scatter to new campaigns or completely different chapters in their lives.

“It was nice to have one night where people were not talking about the presidential campaign at all,” noted former Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith. “After a year, we found out that people actually read books and have hobbies.”