Voters 'couldn't find' Kerry, says Hollings

There’s an unwritten rule in politics not to kick somebody when they’re down.

But Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) — who has made a point of speaking his mind during nearly four decades in the Senate — is willing to do just that by criticizing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for his failed campaign for president.

“He wasn’t himself,” Hollings told The Hill after delivering his farewell speech Nov. 16. “He had political peripheral vision.”

Hollings, who noted that he himself failed to capture the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, said Kerry “had no [applause] line” on the stump. “The people were looking at him head-on and couldn’t find him.”

However, consistent with senatorial courtesy, Hollings placed the blame mostly on Kerry’s advisers and consultants. “He was overcoached,” he said. “They ruined him.”

Hollings also disputed the notion, widely reported in the media, that President Bush’s top political adviser is some kind of a political genius. “Everyone is going, ‘Karl Rove is the architect,” he said. “Hell no! He made every mistake you can make.”

Hollings also disputed interpretations of the election, based largely on exit-polling data, that Republicans had an advantage on “moral issues,” pointing to Democratic efforts on healthcare and education. “My morals are way better than the greed of the other crowd,” he said.

Hollings, who is departing after 38 years and will be succeeded by Republican Rep. Jim DeMint, offered no opinion on whether Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) will run for president. But he said the fundraising requirements for public office have gotten out of hand.

“You gotta start six years ahead of time,” he said, noting that he had to raise $36,000 a week for his 1998 Senate race. “You miss Christmas or New Year’s week, you’re $100,000 in the hole.”