- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Since losing the 2004 presidential race, Sen. John Kerry has become a champion for liberal issues and a go-to Democratic fund-raiser. Politicians salivate over his list of supporters left over from his bid, and the Massachusetts Democrat hasn’t ruled out another run — someday.

Many Democrats still seethe over Mr. Kerry’s loss but cautiously applaud his antiwar efforts and his fundraising for liberal causes and candidates.

“There’s a clarity that I have about what is important that comes out of the race in ‘04,” Mr. Kerry told The Washington Times in an interview recently. “You kind of get back from it a little bit, you can really see with that clarity. I don’t get tempted to jump back in, but an honest statement would have to acknowledge that there are times when you, sort of, you know, miss the battle a little bit.”

Those lingering presidential ambitions are the problem and have put the longtime senator out of step with his Massachusetts constituents, said Ed O'Reilly, a Democrat aiming to challenge Mr. Kerry in his Senate re-election primary next year.

“I think John Kerry has been running for president his entire adult life, and I think I can do better,” said Mr. O'Reilly, a former firefighter and Gloucester city councilor.

But it will be an uphill battle for Mr. O'Reilly to even get on the 2008 primary ballot.

“One is going to be hard pressed to really be a serious challenger to the senator,” said Michael Goldman, a political consultant in Boston. “If a candidate does not have name recognition, money or field organization, they are not going to beat John Kerry.”

Mr. Kerry has $6 million in the bank; Mr. O'Reilly has raised less than $50,000.

A blogger at Left in Lowell said she feels “a lot of optimism” when she hears Mr. O'Reilly campaign.

“I’m a big fan of competitive primaries, but even I at first thought he was totally crazy [to] challenge a juggernaut like Kerry,” the blogger wrote. “But then, I think of how many people have been severely disappointed in Kerry, and I start to wonder.”

Others view Mr. O'Reilly as a long shot, but he is burning shoe leather, greeting voters at picnics and outlining his candidacy to local Democratic chapters across the state.

He is trying to court the same liberal bloggers who helped propel Democrat Ned Lamont to a primary victory last year over Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, but few at the recent Yearly Kos blogger convention were aware of his candidacy.

Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos said Mr. Lamont’s win last August sparked a real sense of change among liberal activists, but he doubts he will support Mr. O'Reilly, even though he is “a fan” of primaries.

“Elected officials should face voters to justify to the party they deserve another chance,” he said. “They aren’t elected for life.”

Mr. Lamont, who beat Mr. Lieberman in the primary but lost the general election when the senator ran as an independent, was hesitant to say Mr. O'Reilly could get any traction. He said an insurgent candidate needs an incumbent “who is just taking voters for granted.”

Mr. Lamont lauded Mr. Kerry for supporting him last fall. He described Mr. Kerry as “gutsy, strong and out front” on trying to end the war.

But Mr. O'Reilly said the 2002 vote to authorize the war made him view Mr. Kerry differently: “How could he not know that vote was wrong?”

Mr. O'Reilly contributed $2,000 to the Kerry campaign in 2004. Mr. Kerry kept $15 million from the race in the bank. He transferred $7.2 million this year into his senate re-election fund, prompting Mr. O'Reilly’s stump line that his own money is now being used against him.

James Boyce, a senior adviser to Mr. Kerry in 2004, has known Mr. O'Reilly for more than a decade and thinks he has a shot at winning.

“Any time you have a passionate, authentic citizen-politician in this day and age, the new guy has a chance,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more real people entering races and winning. People are frustrated with the war, they’re frustrated with what has happened to our country, and that means by default, they’re frustrated with the incumbents.”

As for Mr. Kerry, he said he is “very confident about the record I’m producing on a daily basis” for Massachusetts.

Still, “I never take anything for granted at all,” he said. “Period.”

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