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Kerry, Edwards Pay N.H. Staffers

Two of the Democrats most often mentioned as contenders for the White House in 2008 are currently paying staff to work for local candidates in New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first presidential primary.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who shared the national ticket in 2004, are both using their leadership political action committees to pay the entire salary of a staffer working through the state party. Kerry is paying for Geoff Wetrosky to work to re-elect Manchester Mayor Bob Baines (D), while Edwards is underwriting Angie Siecker’s efforts on behalf of state Sen. David Gottesman’s bid for another term.

Baines was an early Granite State supporter of Kerry’s 2004 presidential primary bid and Wetrosky began working for him in April. In the 2004 cycle Wetrosky was on staff for the June special election victory of South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D) and worked on the presidential effort in Florida during the general election.

Siecker, who served as a field operative for Edwards in the Iowa caucuses, is formally working for the state Senate caucus but focusing specifically on Gottesman, who faces a tough re-election race in November. Gottesman, an attorney by training, backed Edwards’ candidacy in New Hampshire during the primary.

Steve Elmendorf, a longtime Democratic operative who is now a lobbyist with Bryan Cave Strategies, called the moves “a fairly big step in the process.”

“You do not pay staff in New Hampshire unless you are running for president or thinking about running for president,” he added.

Spokeswomen for both Kerry’s Keeping America’s Promise PAC and Edwards’ One America PAC insisted that their efforts were part of broader campaigns bolstering the Democratic Party from the bottom up and not a signal of an early-starting presidential bid.

“John Kerry is committed through KAP to strengthening and investing in Democratic state parties,” said spokeswoman Katharine Lister. “This is a beginning of a program.”

Lister noted that Kerry was active in the successful campaign of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa earlier this year, and in the past three months KAP has made several large contributions to state parties, according to informed sources.

Edwards’ spokeswoman Kim Rubey said Siecker’s work in New Hampshire was part of the former North Carolina Senator’s “Raise the States” effort to help elect local candidates.

“Sen. Edwards wants to help strengthen state legislative caucuses and is helping with fundraising and recruiting,” Rubey said. “This is just another way to help build the grass roots of our party.”

Regardless, there seems little doubt that the hirings by the two men will be viewed through the prism of 2008 presidential politics as both have made little secret of their ambitions.

After his 2004 loss to President Bush, Kerry has sought to stay in the public eye, forming the new PAC and using the 3 million e-mail addresses gathered from the last campaign to try and maintain an online following.

At the end of April, Kerry filed his first report detailing KAP’s fundraising. He showed $189,000 in total receipts — mostly in the form of $5,000 contributions from some of the heavy hitters in Democratic fundraising circles including tobacco heir Smith Bagley, Harry Bookey, an Iowa moneyman, and Robert Farmer.

Kerry’s PAC spent $41,000 from Feb. 10 to March 31 — more than half of which went in contributions to other candidates, including $4,200 to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), a likely 2008 rival. Clinton is up for re-election to a second term in 2006.

Earlier this year Kerry used leftover funds from his presidential primary account to donate $1.25 million to the Democratic National Committee, $1 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $500,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Last December he used the same account to chip in $50,000 to the Louisiana Democratic Party to aid candidates in two House runoffs, and $250,000 to the recount effort in the Washington gubernatorial race.

Kerry has also barraged his e-mail list, sending two missives in the last two days calling for White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to resign due to his alleged involvement in leaking CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to reporters.

Edwards has been even more active, regularly traveling to New Hampshire since the start of the year.

He was the guest of honor at a fundraiser for the state Senate’s Democratic Caucus on June 21 and will be back in the state on July 29 for state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro’s (D) birthday party. D’Allesandro was a key Edwards backer in 2004. Edwards is expected to return to New Hampshire in the fall for a fundraiser to benefit state House Democrats.

Donations of manpower, money and equipment to influential state parties are nothing new in presidential politics.

During the last race, Edwards donated computer equipment and software to the Iowa and New Hampshire state parties.

Kerry gave significant financial contributions to the state parties in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which held its primary Feb. 3, 2004.

Staffers appear to be the early currency of 2008 jockeying.

“Presidential campaigns are like arms races,” said Democratic consultant Jim Jordan. “The other guy builds a bigger bomb or a bigger army, you’ve got to have one, too.”

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