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Inside Politics

Kerry's inner circle lacks color

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Carlos Watson talks about Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack."

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John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
Carlos Watson

This week in "The Inside Edge," take a look at John Kerry's inner circle, learn how Republicans are reaching voters via religious radio, meet a Brazilian Socialist winning praise in the United States and find out the next candidate on Carlos Watson's Top 10 list of possible VP candidates.

Walking the walk

While Democrats have long claimed to be the party of greater inclusiveness, this year President Bush may argue that his administration is more diverse at senior levels than John Kerry's would be.

Seizing on the nation's diversity -- the country is almost one-third non-white -- Bush has appointed African-Americans, Asians, Latinos and women to senior and non-stereotypical roles: Secretary of State, national security adviser, Transportation Secretary, White House Counsel.

Unlike Al Gore whose campaign manager, political director and finance director were African-American, the Kerry campaign, as of yet, has no one of color in the innermost circle, including Kerry's campaign manager, campaign chairperson, media adviser, policy director, foreign policy adviser, general election manager, convention planner, national finance chairman, and head of VP search team.

That's an odd position for a campaign that will probably rely on African-Americans and Hispanics for one in four of their general election votes and the crucial margin of difference in battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.

Though Kerry could claim that a campaign team and administration are two different things, that kind of defense might not wash with voters. Indeed, Kerry argues that the campaign is still forming and things will change.

"John Kerry and this campaign are committed to diversity. We are building our general election campaign, and it will be reflective of the diversity of the Democratic party and of America," Kerry deputy campaign manager Marcus Jadotte said Wednesday.

"If John Kerry is entrusted with the presidency, he is committed to building an administration that matches the high standards set by Bill Clinton, " Jadotte added.

True, influential members of Congress including Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tennessee, Greg Meeks, D-New York, and Rep. Juanita Millender-MacDonald, D-California, and also former Cabinet Secretary Henry Cisneros are key advisers and people of color. One Kerry deputy campaign manager, Jadotte, is also African-American.

Despite these facts, if Kerry's inner leadership circle remains the same, do not be surprised if Bush points out the inconsistency, a more effective issue than many Democrats can imagine. Indeed, RNC Chair Ed Gillespie has set the ambitious goal of securing 25 percent of the black vote in 2004. While that sounds crazy to many Democratic insiders, shining a light on Kerry's lack of diversity may be one way to get there.

Finding the right frequency

In 2000, Catholics were a key swing group that ultimately helped George Bush win the presidency. In 2004, John Kerry, the first Democratic Catholic presidential nominee since John F. Kennedy, may take away the Republican's edge. How will the president potentially replace some 2 million to 3 million Catholic votes? He could turn to the 4 million registered voters and evangelical Christians who stayed home in 2000, according to Bush strategist Karl Rove.

How to reach them? The president will likely take a page from the campaign play book of Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal -- a young Indian-American who surprised many by reaching the gubernatorial runoff last year in a crowded field. Jindal shrewdly used advertising on Christian radio to reach listeners inclined to vote for him. Expect the president's re-election team to do the same.

Indeed, in 2004, radio and the Internet may be just as important to the president's electoral chances as the much more ballyhooed television.

Man to watch in Brazil

Since 9/11, Americans have been more attuned to international politics than perhaps at any other time since Vietnam and are becoming more familiar with foreign leaders. One such leader not yet on mainstream radar screens, is Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

"Lula," as he is known, has quietly become one of the emerging stars of international politics. The former Socialist, who ran four times for the presidency before winning and initially scared the Western financial community, has turned out to be a more conservative fiscal manager than expected. He continues to oversee a generally improving Brazilian economy.

While the Western finance community has come to respect him, the 58-year-old former factory worker still has "leftist cred" and has been outspoken on what he calls trade fairness between the United States and Europe and Third World countries. He has also led a dramatic and so-far successful effort to combat AIDS in his country. If Lula truly gets South America's largest economy on track and makes meaningful headway with the country's unspoken but vicious race and poverty issues, over the next two to three years, he could become the world's most influential non-Western head of state since Nelson Mandela.

More significantly, as international issues -- from outsourcing to the war on terror -- increasingly occupy the time of American presidents, American citizens may begin to hear the name and the opinions of Lula quite a lot.

Who will it be? Take three

In the 20 years since Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, no woman has been named to a major ticket. This despite the fact that women comprise a majority of the electorate (52 percent in the 2000 election). This fall, John Kerry could shake up the race by choosing a woman as his running mate.

Among the potential women that Kerry could choose are Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, an Internet millionaire, and Sen . Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a two-term senator from a vital swing state. Or he might pick 43-year-old Sen. Blanche Lambert Lincoln, D-Arkansas. Born to a farming family, the seventh-generation Arkansan beat her old boss to win a seat in Congress in 1992. After two terms, she took time off to raise twin boys with her doctor husband. In 1998 she ran for office again becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the Senate.

Moderate, easygoing and affable, Lincoln is a good campaigner and would likely help Kerry with young professional women, soccer moms, some rural voters and some border state voters as well. A respected legislator, Lincoln would also put Arkansas back in play for Democrats, much as it was when favorite son Bill Clinton was on the ticket.

Critics will point out that Lincoln is relatively unknown -- but how many knew Sens. Lieberman or Quayle when they were selected as running mates? Others will note that as a first-term senator, Lincoln does not have as much experience as other candidates -- although her 10 years in Congress give her more experience than presidential candidate-turned-VP wannabes Gen. Wesley Clark or Sen. John Edwards.

Still others will note that she does not have significant foreign policy and military experience in a year in which those issues will be paramount. What are the odds that Kerry chooses Lincoln who is also up for re-election to the Senate? Probably low. But remember, in the last several national elections, Democrats have racked up big majorities among women in order to win the popular vote. In 2004, Kerry may figure that having one of the voters actually on the ticket may be a good thing to keep the streak alive.

Next week, I'll take a look at a VP candidate who wanted to play college football, but ended up hitting the books, instead.

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