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The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Meet Ron Mariano

Gephardt heads into Kerry territory

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

Dick Gephardt travels to Boston today to pick up an endorsement in John Kerry's home state.
Dick Gephardt travels to Boston today to pick up an endorsement in John Kerry's home state.

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
Morning Grind
Fund Raising
Howard Dean
Richard A. Gephardt

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Dick Gephardt enters John Kerry's kitchen today, traveling to Boston to raise money and grab a Beacon Hill endorsement from state Rep. Ron Mariano.

Mariano may not be a household name like, say, Jeanne Shaheen. But he may mark the beginning of an important move by Gephardt to shed his one-state strategy and maybe, just maybe, pose a real challenge to the beleaguered senator in his must-win state of New Hampshire.

Gephardt, who will hold fund-raisers in Boston before and after he appears with Mariano at 5:30 p.m. EST for a statehouse news conference, is running a distant third or fourth in New Hampshire. And while they deny he's not competing there, aides are wary of predicting he'll do well in the Granite State.

Nonetheless, aides see an opening, unimaginable one month ago, to take advantage of Kerry's recent troubles and overtake him in his back yard.

"This is very good, especially in light of what's happening to Kerry. The timing is great," said a senior Gephardt campaign aide in New Hampshire, referring to the Mariano endorsement. "There are a lot of folks who, if Kerry continues to stagger, who could come over to us and help us do well in New Hampshire."

Target: Dean

Meanwhile, the fallout from Howard Dean's double-union endorsement yesterday was only beginning to be felt. The '04 Dem campaign reached a tone so negative yesterday that more than a few Iowa Dems said they were planning to urge Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the emcee of the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines on Saturday, to issue a concerted appeal for unity and civility.

Kerry, who put off for another day his announcement about campaign financing, was nonetheless following the advice yesterday of aides who say Dean will falter only if attacked consistently and from every conceivable angle.

With that in mind, Kerry's campaign circulated a letter written Wednesday by seven Iowa labor leaders, who said they "personally" support Kerry and believe Dean's labor record in Vermont should concern Iowa voters. "We believe Howard Dean is the wrong candidate for public employees," they wrote. "Iowa's public employees need not be compelled to support Howard Dean, who as governor of Vermont left public employees out in the cold."

Kerry aides also released two letters penned by Dean, one written in 1993 and one in 1998.

In the 1993 letter to Leon Panetta, who then ran then-President Clinton's budget office, Dean sought to pressure the administration to pursue privatization efforts of federal government services.

In the 1998 letter, Dean told Vermont resident Susan Koh that he wouldn't intervene in a federal privatization effort of a day-care facility, saying that Vermont "relies heavily on the outsourcing of certain state functions in order to save taxpayers money. ... Overall, I have found that private contractors can perform the same service for less money while maintaining a high level of quality."

Kerry was not alone in attacking Dean yesterday. Gephardt's campaign manager, Steve Murphy, said that Dean, within the past two months, has spoken out of every possible side of his mouth on the $87 billion supplemental budget for Iraq, which Gephardt supported.

"Howard Dean's assertion that we should leave our troops stationed in hostile territory abroad without providing the resources they need to be safe is irresponsible. First, he said he would support the $87 billion for our troops in Iraq. Then he said he wouldn't politicize the issue. Now he has reneged on both," Murphy said.

"Putting faith in a candidate with a record of contradicting himself on fundamental issues like Iraq would lead to an electoral disaster against George W. Bush," Murphy added.


With your permission, the Grind would now like to take a step backward and focus briefly on Kerry's appearance Tuesday evening on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," which was the talk of, well, the senator's campaign blog today. As expected, most comments were positive, very much so. But a few remarks revealed a new level of concern among die-hard supporters and a frustration that the personable man they know is perceived so differently by the public. (Did someone say Al Gore?)

From "thaislyn": "He looked good [on Leno], got some (sometimes weak) laughs from the audience. ... Why is there such a dichotomy between the real JK and the automaton that takes over on TV, when it seems like the secret policy explication switch is flipped and the personality disappears."

This one from "BrianEgolf": "I thought the appearance was OK, but not great. Were there very many Kerry folks in the audience? The audience seemed a bit quiet to me watching from home. I wish Jay had asked more personal questions!"

And finally, from "wkea," who we have to assume is no fan of Kerry's: "Kerry has NO CREDIBILITY... Senator Kerry obviously received some BAD advice many months ago to show up at campaign stops (and now the Tonight Show) on Harley's. I'm quite sure some very highly paid consultant told him that it would help him connect with "Joe six-pack" and soften his image of being aloof and unapproachable. I have news for you: NO ONE IS BUYING IT!"

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