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Of Rising And Stalling Careers

By Stan Simpson, The Hartford Courant, 18 November 2002

WASHINGTON -- Terry McAuliffe dodged my question on how he'd handicap the damaged post-election stock of Joltin' Joe Lieberman, Connecticut's presidential hopeful.

Instead, McAuliffe, the Democratic national chairman, offered a prediction on Al Gore - who is looking like he wants to be the Dems' new Comeback Kid.

My best guesstimate is that Al Gore will run [for president], McAuliffe says, and that Joe Lieberman will not run. I think he will honor that pledge not to run if Gore does.

Gore certainly acts like a man fixin' for a rematch with George Bush. Last week alone, the former vice president was on Barbara Walters' special, David Letterman's show, and was the centerpiece of a Washington Post Sunday Magazine feature, Mr. Resident. He's scheduled to be on NBC's Today show this morning.

Meanwhile, Joltin' Joe's not getting around on the fastball like he used to. With the new Republican-led Congress, Lieberman is expected to lose his government affairs committee chairmanship. A homeland security bill he authored was hijacked by Republicans, who added to the bill a bunch of unnecessary amendments.

A recent Quinnipiac University national poll shows only 8 percent wanted to see Lieberman nominated for president, tying him for fourth behind senators Tom Daschle and Hillary Clinton. Gore was the top choice at 32 percent. The same poll showed Lieberman getting trounced by Bush 54 percent to 37 percent in a one-on-one race.

In separate interviews at their respective downtown D.C. headquarters, McAuliffe and his Republican counterpart Marc Racicot spoke to the Trotter Group, a national association of African American newspaper columnists. The two gave their spin about the recent election, the new Republican majority in Congress and the 2004 presidential election.

Since I inquired about Lieberman's stock, it was only fair to ask Racicot, the former Montana governor, about the political prospects of his friend John Rowland. Once the nation's youngest governor, Rowland, 45, has built a fairly impressive resume and established a national profile. As chairman of the powerful Republican Governors Association, which raised a ton of money for the GOP, Rowland is Connecticut's first three-term governor in over 80 years. And, of course, he's a close friend of George W.

If Rowland can steer clear of scandal in this term, he could be a very appealing Republican asset. He's young, moderate, experienced, a prolific fund-raiser and a tough campaigner. To say the man could elevate to vice presidential or - gulp - even presidential consideration at some point is not a stretch.

It's unquestionable that he's a national leader, that's why he's chair of the Republican Governors Association Racicot says. He has the capacity to provide strong, steady leadership. I expect him to be very active. He'll drive a lot of policy issues, and I expect him to be on the cutting edge of those discussions.

McAuliffe and Racicot agreed the new Republican power in D.C. is attributed to Bush's popularity and the Democrats' inability to craft a cogent message.

The two party chairmen are polar opposites. McAuliffe, a dynamic fund-raiser and former investment banker, is animated and wise-cracking, a fast-talking friend of Bill Clinton. Racicot is measured in his responses, thoughtful and easygoing. A one-time prosecutor, he has a rich history in public service.

While McAuliffe complained that the Republicans outspent Democrats 3-to-1, both said the slim Republican margins in the House and Senate are by no means a mandate. Democrats gained four new governors.

It was a close election across the country, Racicot says. I think what [Republicans] have here is an opportunity. A request was made by a credible leader and by good candidates talking about a specific agenda to the American people. They were granted that request. Now, they have an opportunity. That opportunity has to be seized.

McAuliffe says even he was impressed by the Republicans' adeptness at raising money.

I'm telling ya, I've never seen the money like we saw this year, he says. These independent groups, these pharmaceutical companies that were running these [GOP] ads - I mean, goodness gracious, I didn't know Art Linkletter was still alive. Everywhere I turned on TV, there was Art Linkletter.

Both parties touted their recruiting of the African American vote and say that will be a continued strategy in 2004. McAuliffe and Racicot also agreed that a Republican majority in D.C. means Bush has to deliver. The 2004 elections will be a referendum on whether he did.

I'm very encouraged about '04, McAuliffe says. Because George Bush now cannot blame us anymore. He has the Senate. He has the House. He now has to lead.

If George Bush falters, Al Gore most likely will be looking for redemption—and maybe Joe Lieberman will be breaking out of his slump.