Said in Louisville last month, "Americans...

DAVID WILHELM

August 18, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

DAVID WILHELM said in Louisville last month, "Americans understand that when it comes to politics, God is an independent."

That was the last straw for Barbara Mikulski, who insists that "She is a liberal Democrat." The senator demanded that Wilhelm be ousted as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

President Clinton reluctantly agreed to ease his young friend out of the DNC job, and did so by hiring Tony Coelho as "senior adviser" to the DNC, and making it clear that Coelho, not Wilhelm, was now in charge of party matters.

Coelho is sort of a funny choice. He resigned from the House of Representatives for, among other things, getting illegal campaign assistance from a savings and loan executive and making a suspicious killing in the market.

But when critics reminded President and Mrs. Clinton of that, they said, "Yeah. So?"

The experts in Washington say Coelho was brought in to work on the 1994 campaigns as a warm-up to be President Clinton's 1996 campaign manager. Yes, it's that time in the cycle when presidential politics begin heating up. Just this week, rumors started to float about a challenge to President Clinton in the primaries in '96.

He is so unpopular that many Democrats fear having to run on the same ticket with him two years from now. He is so unpopular that his own pollster advised congressional candidates this year to maintain distance between themselves and the president. He is so unpopular that it was suggested to him that he threaten Democrats opposing him on the crime bill with campaigning for them if they voted against his bill.

The 1996 presidential primaries may be quite different from any we've had in the past. As you know, New Hampshire prides itself on having the first-in-the-nation primary, usually in late February. Its Election Code specifies that it be first. But Maine has a new law saying its primary must be held on the same day as the New Hampshire primary.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner says that in order to deal with this threat, "We've got to keep our exact date a little quiet." A stealth primary! I hear Gardner got the idea from Paul Sarbanes.

Bill Clinton probably doesn't care about New Hampshire. He's the first elected president in the primary era not to have won in New Hampshire. He's more concerned with California. It will have about 50 times as many convention delegates as New Hampshire in 1996, and it is moving its primary from June to early March. Also, God is registered there.

All this helps explain why Californians Leon Panetta is No. 1 at the White House and Tony Coelho will be No. 1 at the Democratic National Committee.

By the way, just kidding about Mikulski. The real reason she demanded that Wilhelm be fired is that she didn't think he was spending enough money in California's Senate race this year.

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