- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

There is a civil war going on in Sen. John Kerry’s campaign organization that has produced a weak, inconsistent message and election strategy, veteran Democratic adviser Tony Coelho charged yesterday.

“There is nobody in charge, and you have these two teams that are generally not talking to each other,” said Mr. Coelho, who managed Al Gore’s presidential bid in the early stages of the 2000 campaign until he resigned because of ill health.

Mr. Coelho said the Kerry campaign has been seriously hampered by internal squabbling between campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, brought in earlier this year, and senior political strategist Bob Shrum, a veteran of numerous campaigns going back to George McGovern’s defeat in 1972.

“Here are two groups that have never gotten along and have fought, and it is a lot over money,” Mr. Coelho said. “Because in the Democratic Party, the consultants get paid for the creation and the placement of [advertising]. Republicans only pay you for the creation.”

“Our problem here is a national message,” he told CBS News in an online interview (www.cbsnews.com).

“What is it that we [Democrats] are? If you go to Kerry, that’s a disaster, because the candidate should not be involved in solving disputes or the creation of his message,” he said. “You need a [campaign] boss, somebody who says, ‘Shut up, we are going to work this out.’ Not someone who can go around to Kerry, and that’s Shrummy’s forte,” Mr. Coelho said.

Few Democrats wanted to talk about Mr. Coelho’s blunt remarks yesterday. Mrs. Cahill, who was Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s chief of staff, declined any comment through her spokeswoman. Mr. Shrum has rarely talked on the record to reporters and is known for working behind the scenes.

But Donna Brazile, who ran Mr. Gore’s campaign in its final months and maintains close contacts with Mr. Kerry’s senior advisers, strongly defended Mrs. Cahill’s role in the campaign and called Mr. Coelho’s remarks “sexist” and a “cheap shot and a low blow.”

“This is all palace intrigue. It bothers me to read these stories. This campaign is in good shape, and Kerry is in good shape to defeat Bush in the fall,” she said.

“Mary Beth is very much in charge of this campaign. They are adding people, which is customary to do at this part of the campaign. They are bringing in people who a year ago didn’t want to take a pay cut and come on board,” she said.

“I think it is sexist, and the reason is when a woman is running it. I experienced the exact same thing in 2000. ‘Donna isn’t in charge. Nobody’s listening to Donna,’” she said.

Complaints have been heard for months about bitter internal bickering in Mr. Kerry’s campaign organization and the Massachusetts Democrat recently brought in a new team of former senior advisers to President Clinton to beef up his message and speed up the campaign’s responses to a flurry of Bush campaign attacks.

The new advisers include John Sasso, a longtime Kerry confidant, who managed Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign in 1988 until he resigned after admitting that he leaked information to the TV networks that forced a Democratic rival, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, out of the race.

Others who have just joined the Kerry campaign to handle message strategy include Joe Lockhart and Mike McCurry, both former press secretaries in the Clinton White House.

Kerry officials have long insisted that the stories about internal discord are untrue. But a senior Democratic adviser with close ties to the Kerry campaign said yesterday that “there are a lot of axes to grind from 2000.”

“Remember how Tony got out of the Gore campaign? There are old wounds that have not healed.”

Mr. Coelho, who has epilepsy, suddenly resigned from the Gore campaign in June of 2000 at a time when the former vice president was running behind Mr. Bush and Mr. Coelho was blamed for many of the Gore campaign’s problems. At the time of his departure, he was being investigated by two government agencies on charges that he misused funds for the U.S. pavilion at the 1998 World Exposition in Lisbon.

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