Kerry fires campaign director

Change in `dynamic' comes amid staff disputes on how to combat Dean

November 11, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

DES MOINES, Iowa - Sen. John Kerry, once the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination but who now trails former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in the polls, replaced his campaign manager yesterday to settle internal campaign tensions over how to deal with Dean's surging candidacy.

Kerry fired Jim Jordan, who had helped Kerry emerge as the candidate to beat early this year, and replaced him with Mary Beth Cahill, a longtime Democratic strategist who most recently worked as chief of staff for Sen. Edward Kennedy. Kerry and Kennedy represent Massachusetts, and Kennedy has endorsed Kerry's candidacy.

This is Kerry's second attempt to bolster his campaign, illustrating the frustration in his camp over his failure to overtake Dean. In September, Kerry's communications director, Chris Lehane, resigned amid staff disputes over how aggressively to attack Dean. Lehane and Jordan believed Kerry needed to attack Dean directly. Others argued that Kerry needed to take the high road and promote his policy ideas and personal history, fearing that attacking Dean would only boost Dean's grass-roots support.

Kerry explained Jordan's firing this way:

"I wanted to change the dynamic of the campaign. I wanted to move the campaign forward. That's what we're doing. Watch over the next week - you'll see it." Asked repeatedly what that means, Kerry used the phrase "change the dynamic of the campaign" nine times in two minutes but never defined it.

Stu Rothenberg, an independent political analyst in Washington, said Kerry's firing of Jordan reveals a bigger problem.

"It reflects his unwillingness to accept his own failures as a candidate. The problem is two things. One, Kerry has never offered a nice, neat, understandable explanation of why he's running. And second, he hasn't connected personally to voters. It's hard to accept that Jim Jordan is responsible for this. ... Can it change things? Only if somehow Kerry can somehow start to personally connect. John Kerry has to be the one to change. Not the manager."

For all his troubles, Kerry has raised the second-biggest Democratic campaign war chest after Dean, totaling about $20 million through September. He is running second to Dean in New Hampshire, site of the first primary, among nine candidates. Kerry enjoys broad support among elected Democrats nationwide but has yet to ignite notable public enthusiasm.

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