Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Democrats say they are more unified than ever in their determination to beat President Bush, but there have been desertions in the party’s ranks by antiwar activists who back independent candidate Ralph Nader and grumblings from blacks and Hispanics who say Sen. John Kerry has taken them for granted.

The Democrats’ troubles with an often-contentious political base do not end there. Most polls show that at least 12 percent of all registered Democratic voters say they will vote for Mr. Bush, twice the number of Republicans who intend to vote for Mr. Kerry.

“There is more unity in this election cycle than has ever been seen before, but that doesn’t mean that there is no disagreement and everything is hunky-dory. That certainly is not the case,” said Democratic campaign strategist Maria Cardona.

In fact, Democratic insiders acknowledge that many of former candidate Howard Dean’s antiwar supporters have not switched to Mr. Kerry’s candidacy. Although most have flocked to the Massachusetts liberal’s banner, an unspecified number of them are backing Mr. Nader who, unlike the senator, has said he would pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq.

“There are Democrats who are upset with Kerry over his position on the war. You can see that Kerry is aware of that as well,” said Kevin Zeese, spokesman for the Nader campaign.

“We met with him and his staff last week and noticed afterwards that his staff said that Iraq was not discussed, when of course it was,” Mr. Zeese said. “What I make of that is that he is very insecure about the issue because he wants the peace vote and the war vote.”

No one knows yet how many of the antiwar activists, who formed the base of Mr. Dean’s army of supporters before his campaign imploded in the early primaries, are backing Mr. Nader. But the consumer crusader is showing some of his largest numbers in heavily Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, where he is polling 8 percent of the vote.

Other episodes of party disagreement have broken out in the last month, when minority leaders expressed their displeasure with the mostly white makeup of the Kerry campaign staff. Among them:

• Last month, Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, one of the country’s most politically powerful Hispanic organizations, openly complained to Mr. Kerry that not “a single one of your senior staff is Latino.”

“Quite frankly, we find this deeply troubling and raise questions about the seriousness of your commitment to diversity.”

Democrats say that since Mr. Yzaguirre’s complaint, Kerry campaign officials have moved to ease Hispanic concerns.

“There was a meeting the other night of Kerry campaign outreach staffers and Latinos, and it seems things are on the right track now,” said Miss Cardona, who is mounting a major Hispanic TV ad outreach drive for the Democrats.

But other Hispanic leaders, who did not want to be identified, said they were waiting to see how much of a policy-making role Hispanics will have in the Kerry campaign.

• Also last month, Donna Brazile, one of the party’s leading black strategists who managed Vice President Al Gore’s campaign in 2000, attacked Mr. Kerry for not placing more blacks in positions of influence in his campaign.

“The last thing the Democratic Party needs in 2004 is to repeat the failures of its most recent past on matters of race and inclusion,” Miss Brazile said.

“If the past is indeed prologue, this message has been lost on Senator John Kerry’s campaign, which has failed to understand how to navigate one of the most important issues in American politics: race relations and diversity,” she said.

It still isn’t clear what personnel changes Kerry advisers have made in response to her criticisms, but her sharply worded remarks raised questions about party unity just as the senator was putting together his national campaign organization.

Democratic analysts said that in the end, Mr. Kerry will have no problems with the black vote.

“Kerry ran very strongly among black voters” in the presidential primaries, said David Bositis, chief polling analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a group that focuses on issues of interest to black Americans.

But Mr. Bositis says there are disagreements within the party that still have to be worked out.

“There are people, the people who supported Dean, who want him to be more aggressively hostile to George Bush on the war, but I don’t think he’s going to do that. Dean and Kerry have reconciled their differences,” he said.

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