Townsend joins parade of Gore surrogates in Iowa

Lieutenant governor visits elderly, school group

January 11, 2000|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Maryland's lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, joined the parade of presidential candidate surrogates into Iowa yesterday on behalf of Vice President Al Gore, praising him as a man "who knows what is going on and knows what he's doing."

Townsend visited two senior citizen centers, the Iowa State Education Association and attended a reception of the Polk County Democratic Party in a one-day trip to the Iowa capital on behalf of Gore. Her visit came after a swing across Iowa on Friday by her uncle Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, accompanied by the vice president.

The senior Kennedy's tour was more visible and was greeted by large crowds in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and West Des Moines. But Townsend was warmly received by the Iowa seniors and held them in rapt attention as she talked as much about her late grandmother Rose Kennedy as about Gore.

At the Elsie Mason Manor seniors home, she introduced herself not as Maryland's lieutenant governor but as "the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy," which seemed to strike a responsive chord. Eighty-year-old Evelyn Miller, who knew of Townsend's official capacity and was informed that she is expected to run for governor of Maryland in 2002, said, "It's too bad we don't have her here for governor. I can't walk, but I'd get out and work for her."

Townsend concentrated on pushing for a Gore victory in the Jan. 24 Iowa caucuses over former Sen. Bill Bradley.

Asked later whether she would turn down an offer to be Gore's running mate if it were offered, Townsend demurred, saying she was focused on Maryland issues and politics.

Iowa's lieutenant governor, Sally Pederson, introducing Townsend at the reception, said that whomever the Democrats nominate, he "certainly would be wise to have Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on his short list to be vice president."

As the caucuses, the first step in the delegate selection process, move closer, the Gore campaign is mobilizing the largest surrogate team by far among the candidates in both parties.

Townsend joined not only her uncle, but also other Clinton administration officials who have trooped through the state in support of Gore. The list includes Education Secretary Richard W. Riley; Commerce Secretary William M. Daley; Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Aida Alvarez, administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Three former Democratic presidential candidates who ran well in previous Iowa caucuses -- House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, former Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa -- have also joined the Gore surrogate team.

Bradley, running as a self-styled insurgent against the party establishment, has a far smaller surrogate operation. While Townsend was stumping for Gore in Des Moines yesterday, Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota was touring western Iowa with Bradley.

Others on Bradley's surrogate team include Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich and two former New York Knicks basketball teammates, Dave DeBusschere and Willis Reed.

Gore leads in the latest Des Moines Register poll, 54 percent to 33 percent for Bradley, among voters who say they plan to attend the Democratic caucuses in two weeks.

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