Miller Moves Closer to Campaigning for Bush

Posted February 13, 2004 at 6:09pm

Bush-Cheney election officials are prepared to deploy Sen. Zell Miller (Ga.) to key battleground states over the next nine months in an effort to showcase a prominent Southern Democrat who has eschewed his own party’s presidential nominee in favor of backing the Republican ticket.

Already, Miller has attended events with the president in Georgia, but the Senator said he is ready to expand his campaign role beyond his own states’ borders.

“I will do whatever I can do to help and however they think I can help,” Miller said in an interview last week.

Miller, one of five Democrats retiring from the Senate at the close the 108th Congress, said a campaign schedule has not been formalized. Sources said Miller was asked to act as a Bush surrogate in South Carolina in the days leading up to that state’s Democratic primary but the Senator turned the request down. Had Miller accepted, it would have directly pitted him against three of his Democratic colleagues: Sens. John Edwards (N.C.), John Kerry (Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.).

Miller’s desire to help Bush win a second term all but closes the door on the chance he will reverse course and endorse a Democrat in the race for his seat. So far, a handful of little-known Democrats are seeking the nomination, but none appear to possess the requisite tools — money and name recognition — to run a competitive statewide campaign in a state that is trending Republican. Reps. Johnny Isakson and Mac Collins and pizza magnate Herman Cain are the leading contenders for the GOP nod.

“I want to devote my time and energy to electing President Bush and I think that if I get to dividing that time, then I cannot give President Bush what I would like to give him,” Miller said. “I have another life to live as well. My political life, whatever time and energy I have there I am going to devote it to President Bush’s re-election.”

Even though Miller has been estranged from a majority of his Democratic colleagues over the past year, party officials kept open a line of communications with him in the hopes he would help find a strong Democrat and give his blessing to that candidate to succeed him.

“It is just disappointing and unfortunate I think,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), vice chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Many of Miller’s colleagues privately say they are puzzled as to why the Georgia Democrat has chosen to be so public in criticizing his own party while embracing Bush.

“I think he is an angry man who probably regrets he ever came to Washington, and it is just strange to be trashing all of his colleagues and doing what he is doing,” said a senior Democratic Senator, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “What he does is of little relevance to the rest of us. He has written himself off.”

For his part, Miller argues it is the Democratic Party that has abandoned its core values, forcing him to speak out about the wrong direction he believes the Democratic Party is heading.

Late last year, Miller released a book, “A National Party No More; The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat,” in which he excoriated Democratic leaders for allegedly allowing liberals to hijack the party’s agenda while simultaneously turning its back on the South. Among those who faced Miller’s wrath were Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and presidential contenders Sens. Edwards, Kerry and Lieberman and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination at the time. It was also at about that time Miller chose to publicly announce his plan to support Bush in 2004 during his book tour.

Democrats now charge Miller is a Democrat in name only.

“Zell is a Republican who has not announced that, but everybody knows it,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).