The Clinton(s) factor in Kerry veep choice

An evaluation of the intensifying political campaign again raises questions and answers.

Q: How did John Kerry get to the top of the heap?

A: When the Iowa Democrats decided that Howard Dean - then the leader in the polls - was not for them and turned John Kerry into the upset victor in their caucuses, it was all over. From this decision by a relative handful of voters, Mr. Kerry was propelled - immediately - to leadership in the New Hampshire polls. And with that Iowa-fueled momentum, Kerry went on to roll over his opponents in state after state.

Q: What does this mean?

A: Adam Clymer, political director of the National Annenberg Election Survey, sized up what's happened this way in The New York Times: "Democrats who once rebelled at having their presidential chances dictated by big-city bosses seem to have cheerfully handed over that power to small-town Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire." He added that Iowa seemed to have taken over this role this year on its own.

Q: Is Kerry another John F. Kennedy?

A: Kerry is certainly seeking to convince the voters that this is so. And he is from Massachusetts, has Ted Kennedy enthusiastically behind him, and passes a football around with colleagues, just the way Jack used to do when he was taking a little respite along the campaign trail.

But I knew Jack Kennedy (as a reporter who covered his race for the White House and who had a number of interviews and conversations with him) and I can say with conviction: Kerry and Kennedy are not at all alike.

The major difference between the two men is this: Kennedy was one of the most likable candidates to ever seek the presidency. A joshing fellow with a wry wit: he was just a wonderful guy to be around. And he possessed a personal warmth that quickly turned audiences into supporters.

Of Kerry, I read and hear repeatedly: By nature he's not a social mixer and has to work at warming up to people - and that it's John Edwards who is naturally likable. Kerry's great quality - as viewed by voters - simply is that he is electable.

Of course, being perceived as electable is no small thing. Look how far Kerry has ridden on that voter perception.

But it's interesting to note that at this time in the 1960 campaign, Kennedy didn't look electable. Indeed, it appeared that his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon, was the electable one - although Nixon certainly wasn't liked very much by the people or the press.

Indeed, it wasn't until that first Kennedy-Nixon debate in the fall of that year, not long before the election where Kennedy did so well, that the Massachusetts senator began to run even or a little ahead of Nixon in the polls.

Q: Then, is John Kerry now the "top dog" among the Democrats?

A: Certainly as the party's choice to run against Bush he has become the Democrats' spokesman and leader. But Sen. Hillary Clinton often shows up in polls as the most popular Democratic politician. Indeed, it's amazing: the most admired and popular politician among the Democrats is being left to sit on the sidelines in this presidential race.

Q: So what is Senator Clinton up to?

A: Well, her decision to speak at the annual journalists' Gridiron Club dinner last Saturday was interesting. She obviously was using this occasion to remind the nation's top movers and shakers that while the spotlight has been elsewhere on the primaries, she is still very much a part of the political game.

While a few pundits have suggested Mrs. Clinton would be a good running mate for Kerry, obviously she would just be too strong politically and as a personage to be placed in the second spot.

Q: Who then will be No. 2?

A: The personable John Edwards seems to be everybody's choice for the spot. Perhaps he could help Kerry with the Southern vote.

An unrealistic, but not Constitutionally prohibited, thought: If Kerry really wanted help in the South - and all around the country - he could ask Bill Clinton to be his running mate.

Clinton might even accept. But then, what if the Kerry-Clinton ticket won? Could Bill ever play second fiddle?

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