Kerry weighs in on DNC pick, putting down marker for '08

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is vetting the leading candidates to be the next Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, and asking them to remain neutral in the presidential selection process in 2008. It is the latest indication that Kerry is putting down markers to run again for the party’s presidential nomination in 2008.Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is vetting the leading candidates to be the next Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, and asking them to remain neutral in the presidential selection process in 2008. It is the latest indication that Kerry is putting down markers to run again for the party’s presidential nomination in 2008.

His outreach to DNC candidates also marks his return to the fray after Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, that candidate he was backing for chairman, ruled himself out of contention in November. The DNC contest is exposing the presidential ambitions of a number of Democratic politicians. In addition to Kerry, other potential 2008 presidential candidates have also contacted — or been contacted by — the several DNC aspirants, providing an early list of who is sending clear signals within the party that they will run for the Democratic nomination.

Over the past six weeks, Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y,), New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Kerry have been in touch with former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, said Webb and Blanchard — the two DNC candidates who agreed to speak on the record on this issue. Those are the same names that several other DNC candidates, or their campaigns, have privately said they contacted.

Former Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards (D-N.C.) has had limited contact with the DNC field, several campaigns said.

But Kerry appears to be the only potential candidate in ’08 to maintain an open line of communication with the DNC candidates and has further set himself apart by requesting that the next DNC chairman remain neutral three years hence, when the Democratic selection process begins anew. Last week, Kerry asked former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.), whose home-state Democratic senator, Bayh, may run, to remain neutral.

“Kerry wanted to make sure that Roemer would be neutral,” a source close to Roemer said. “I’ve talked to a host of different party leaders, including people that have run for president and people that want to run for president and I have benefited from their advice, but I don’t want to get into specifics,” Roemer told The Hill.

As a member of the Sept. 11 commission, Roemer was not permitted to endorse a Democrat in the 2004 cycle, and he vowed that he would remain neutral in 2008 if he becomes the next DNC chairman.

Kerry has also been trading phone calls with the man who ran his presidential campaign in Michigan, Donnie Fowler. Kerry’s conversations with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean have increased in frequency.

Former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) declined to comment on any private conversations he was having with presidential candidates. “I don’t want to name any individuals, but I have had some conversations,” Frost said. “I have been very clear that I am absolutely neutral,” he said. Dean’s office also declined to comment on the specifics of his conversations with his onetime rival, Kerry, but Dean spokeswoman Laura Gross said their communications have increased of late. “It has probably been a little more frequent than what it’s usually been,” Gross said. “Of course Governor Dean would remain neutral in the presidential primary or caucus,” she said. Kerry’s office did not respond to calls seeking confirmation by deadline. Kerry has not recently contacted the New Democrat Network’s Simon Rosenberg, Blanchard, Webb or former Ohio state party Chairman David Leland.

Meanwhile, Dean, who formally announced yesterday, is emerging as the clear front-runner in the race, according to strategists for the other campaigns.

The vote will take place Feb. 12, and, much like House leadership races, every declared candidate will be on the first ballot, with the list winnowing by one with each round of balloting.

Several of the campaigns said that Dean is all but a shoo-in to be on the final ballot, with all of the other candidates scrambling to be among the last two or three standing.

“Dean has the highest floor and the lowest ceiling,” a strategist for one of the rival campaigns said. Blanchard, who did not attend the first regional gathering of DNC delegates in Atlanta, said, “I do believe Howard deserves a second chance. I don’t know if this is the position for him, and this is not an endorsement, but he deserves a second look.”

Blanchard’s interest in being chairman appears to be on the wane, and a source close to him said his initial interest was sparked by Kerry and Clinton. “When people close to Senator Kerry and Senator Clinton say, ‘You should take a look at this,’ you take a look at it.”

However, Blanchard said that he now believes it is a “two person” job and that he would only be interested in the position if there were “two tiers,” with an operational arm divided from the chairman’s office.

The candidates are continuing to contact the 447 DNC members who have a vote, with several candidates claiming to have spoken with more than 200.