Senior Kerry advisers quit his presidential campaign

Two resign to protest firing of manager amid rising challenge by Dean

November 12, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PHOENIX - Two senior advisers to John Kerry resigned yesterday to protest Kerry's firing of his campaign manager even as the candidate hoped an in-house political shake-up would sharpen his message that he is the best Democrat to beat President Bush next fall.

The loss of aides close to ousted manager Jim Jordan was not unexpected, yet it seemed to increase the air of uncertainty around the Massachusetts senator's White House bid.

In a week when front-runner Howard Dean is expected to rack up two major union endorsements, Kerry is reconfiguring a political operation that until now had been seen as one of his major strengths.

In the midst of this campaign upheaval, Kerry is launching new, pointed offensives against both Dean and Bush. Advisers say he is planning to intensify his attacks on Dean's electability - and in doing so, try to flip more Dean voters to his camp.

He also began airing this week the first television advertisement to use footage of Bush's visit in May to an aircraft carrier where the president declared the end of major fighting in Iraq.

Promising that the campaign shake-up will lead to a new momentum and a "fresh start" for his candidacy, Kerry has also raised expectations that he will now change the course of the Democratic nominating contest.

At the same time, he must decide whether to match Dean's move Saturday to break state-by-state spending caps and use his personal funds to flood the airwaves with paid media ads championing his electability.

This campaign finance decision comes at a difficult time because of the political turmoil within his operation, several Kerry advisers and outside political strategists say: Kerry must determine whether it is worth spending his own money - and perhaps having his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, tap her family fortune - on a campaign that seems in disarray and has fallen behind Dean in the two earliest nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire.

"This is a huge moment for Kerry: Does he spend his own money or not, and does he start using negative ads to get the attention off his campaign and onto Howard Dean?" said one Democratic strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It will be very hard to convince voters that Kerry is running a strong, new campaign and also has the best shot against Bush if all they're seeing on TV are ads for Dean."

With the loss of press secretary Robert Gibbs and deputy finance director Carl Chidlow, following the ouster of Jordan by 36 hours, the campaign shake-up continued to overshadow Kerry's own campaign message of electability.

On Monday, Kerry appointed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's chief of staff, Mary Beth Cahill, to replace Jordan, and yesterday the campaign announced that a former Kennedy press secretary, Stephanie Cutter, would leave her post as communications director for the Democrats' 2004 convention in Boston to help sharpen Kerry's message.

Yesterday, Kerry declined to comment on the question of further staff changes. Instead, he sought to play to his presidential strengths in appearances here with veterans, a core base of voters who admire Kerry's record as a decorated Vietnam War veteran and long-time champion of veterans' benefits in the Senate.

At a rally before marching in a Veterans Day parade, Kerry attacked the Bush administration for allowing veterans' pensions to be used to cover disability costs when those veterans need medical care.

He also blasted the White House for barring the media from taking pictures of war dead being brought home from Iraq. "Shame on the administration for trying to hide the consequences of war from the people," he said.

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