The Candidate: Behind John Kerry's Remarkable Run for the White House

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In 2002, Paul Alexander wrote a piece for Rolling Stone that now seems prophetic: he named Kerry as the candidate who would emerge as the Democratic front-runner in 2004, and identified the reasons why -- more than a year before Kerry even announced his candidacy. Alexander has been following the campaign - often from a privileged position on the inside - for over two years, and so is uniquely poised to deliver an instant book on the inner workings of Senator John Kerry's run for the presidency. In this book we ...
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Overview

In 2002, Paul Alexander wrote a piece for Rolling Stone that now seems prophetic: he named Kerry as the candidate who would emerge as the Democratic front-runner in 2004, and identified the reasons why -- more than a year before Kerry even announced his candidacy. Alexander has been following the campaign - often from a privileged position on the inside - for over two years, and so is uniquely poised to deliver an instant book on the inner workings of Senator John Kerry's run for the presidency. In this book we will learn who calls the shots, any potential weak spots, how the Kerry campaign engineered a thorough turnaround that began with the Iowa victory. Alexander has been granted unprecedented access to the staff, the strategy meetings, the candidate, and his wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573222938
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 7/22/2004
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Read an Excerpt

1

"MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!"

T

The S-3B Viking jet descended from the cobalt-blue sky at somewhere between 125 and 150 miles per hour and approached the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. On its way home to Everett, Washington, after an almost ten-month-long tour of duty as part of the operations in Iraq, the aircraft carrier was positioned in the Pacific Ocean thirty miles off the coast of California near San Diego. The pilot of the snub-nosed, 53-foot-long four-seater, Commander John Lussier-a "mature" flyer, to quote a navy colleague-was known for his smooth landings. Carefully, Lussier guided the jet in its descent until it touched down, still zooming ahead at full speed, onto the flight deck, catching its tailhook on a metal cable stretched across the deck and coming to a dead stop so abruptly that it produced a g-force twice that of gravity. The local time at touchdown was 12:16 p.m. The date was May 1, 2003.

Today's flight was no ordinary mission. There were clues to its unique status on the aircraft itself. navy 1 was painted on its rear. Just underneath the cockpit window, george w. bush, commander-in-chief was painted in script. The two seats behind Lussier were occupied by a Secret Service agent and a spare pilot, and sitting beside Lussier in the copilot seat was the President of the United States himself, dressed in a regulation flight suit topped off with a white helmet. Earlier in the day, Bush had flown on Air Force One from Washington, D.C., to the Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, where he had replaced his civilian clothes with the green flight suit, undergone training for a possible emergency landing on water, and boarded the Viking jet that would fly him from San Diego to the Abraham Lincoln. According to press reports, Bush, a trained pilot who had served in the Texas Air National Guard in the Vietnam era, flew the jet himself for about one-third of the trip. This could have been why he appeared exuberant and confident as he climbed out of the cockpit and jumped down onto the deck, helmet tucked under one arm. The image was striking. The moment was historic. It was the first time a sitting president had flown in a jet that landed on an aircraft carrier.

Bush shook hands with the sailors who approached him on the flight deck. "Thank you," he would say, or "_'preciate it." When a group of reporters asked if he had flown the jet himself, he answered, "Yes, I flew it. Yeah, of course, I liked it." Before long, crewmen were posing for pictures with Bush, who gladly complied, often throwing one arm around the sailor's shoulder or slapping him on the back. "Good job," Bush said, smiling broadly. He meant, one must presume, the crew's participation in the military operations in Iraq. For, hovering above the scene as it was broadcast live on television-a shot that would be replayed on the news that evening and in the days and weeks to come-was a massive banner that read mission accomplished!

That night, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, Bush was on television again, this time to deliver a speech that marked the end of principal military action in Iraq. Dressed in civilian clothes, Bush stood at a podium and spoke to an audience of officers and crewmen from the Abraham Lincoln, who often interrupted him with applause. "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," Bush announced. "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." Applause! Listing those allies as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland, Bush thanked the Iraqi citizens "who welcomed our troops and joined in the liberation of their own country" before he declared: "We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. . . . And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people." Applause! Then he added: "We have removed an ally of al Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more." Applause! Finally, Bush summed up the Iraqi mission with a quote from the prophet Isaiah: "To the captives, come out; and to those in darkness, be free."

The speech stood as a remarkable moment in the Bush presidency-and was more than slightly ironic, given future developments-but the event of May 1 that would remain truly memorable was Bush's tailhook landing on the aircraft carrier. In his office in the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney watched the landing on television and, as it was later reported, could not help but break into a big smile, according to an aide. Many in the Republican Party were pleased that day. Bush enthusiasts agreed that the tailhook landing was a spectacular piece of presidential theater. "There he was, slapping officers on the back, posing for pictures, joking with sailors and aviators," journalist Gleaves Whitney would write in the National Review a week later. "You can bet your bottom dollar these images will be used during the 2004 campaign-they'll make Bush harder to beat."

In his office in the Russell Building, John Kerry, the senator from Massachusetts who was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, could hardly believe what he was seeing. "This is amazing," he said to no one in particular as he and members of his staff watched the landing.

When Bush got out of the cockpit and walked underneath the mission accomplished! sign, Kerry decided that the event, so clearly staged for the media, represented a shocking example of hubris. Kerry didn't have a problem with Bush thanking the troops for what they had gone through in Iraq. In the late 1960s, Kerry himself had been a young member of the American military fighting a war thousands of miles away from the homeland. So Kerry understood-even appreciated-the importance of Bush's gesture: it is appropriate for a president, the commander in chief, to recognize the efforts of his troops after a successful conflict. What offended Kerry was Bush's willingness to make himself-as opposed to the troops-the center of attention. That took a kind of arrogance to which a seasoned military officer would never succumb. Any officer worth respect knows that the troops themselves, not the officers, deserve all of the praise.

While Kerry sat in his office that day, his aides coming and going as the television played, he resolved to keep his feelings private. It would be inappropriate, he concluded, to release a statement or make comments to the press that were critical of Bush. If he were to go public and call Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier what it was-a publicity stunt-it would only serve to distract from Bush's thanking of the troops. So he would keep quiet.

As the rest of the afternoon passed, Kerry could not help but remember how differently the nation had treated the Vietnam veterans, of which he was one, when they returned home in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There were no parades, no marching bands, no welcome-home celebrations. President Nixon did not seize the media spotlight, on the deck of an aircraft carrier or anywhere else, to thank the troops for what they had gone through in Southeast Asia. Even so, for reasons of his own, Kerry decided to let Bush have his fleeting flash of glory, miscalculated as it was, and remain silent about it.

Two days later, however, Kerry was in South Carolina at an event honoring veterans. In the middle of the proceedings, a veteran stood up and addressed Kerry. "You're the only guy running for president," he said, "who doesn't need to play dress-up to know what this war is all about." Kerry understood what the man meant, but he focused on the word choice-play dress-up. There was the opinion in some ranks of the American military that Bush, who in 1968 had chosen to join the National Guard instead of answering the draft-the Guard commonly seen at that time as the organization one entered to avoid military service-did not have the training, the experience, or the credentials to call himself a veteran, much less the commander in chief.

Kerry filed away the phrase-play dress-up-to be used at a later time.

A

A little more than two months later, on July 2, President Bush had just finished making a policy announcement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House when he decided to take questions from reporters. In the weeks since he had given his "Mission Accomplished" speech on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, the formal military action in Iraq may have come to a halt, but the killing of U.S. servicemen had not. Since May 1, according to information released by the Pentagon, more than twenty servicemen had been killed due to "hostile" fire. The attacks were being executed, the Bush Administration said, by Iraqi militants. Only yesterday Bush had said that the rebuilding of Iraq would be a "massive and long-term undertaking," meaning that, regardless of the deadly strikes being carried out-no matter who the attackers were-the United States would not pull troops out of Iraq in the foreseeable future.

So now, having agreed to speak with reporters after making an announcement concerning efforts to fight AIDS in Africa, Bush suspected that he might be asked about his resolve to keep troops in Iraq in the face of an ongoing series of guerrilla attacks. When the first question about those attacks came, he was clearly prepared: "Anybody who wants to harm American troops will be found and brought to justice," Bush said. "There are some that feel like if they attack us that we may decide to leave prematurely. They don't understand what they are talking about if that is the case." When reporters interrupted, Bush cut them off. "Let me finish," he said. Then he delivered the line he had readied for the occasion. "There are some," he said, "who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation."

Hundreds of miles away, in Manchester, New Hampshire, John Kerry was riding in a minivan from one campaign event to another when he heard news of Bush's taunting of the Iraqi militants. As he sat in the van, his tall frame squeezed into the cramped backseat, he was flabbergasted. "No one who has ever seen combat would say something like that when our kids are in danger," he said to the aides traveling with him. "It's disrespectful to the troops. McCain and Hagel would never say anything like that." Kerry was referring, of course, to Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, both Republicans, both Vietnam veterans. Kerry finally got so mad that he took out his cell phone and called Max Cleland, the former Democratic senator from Georgia and Vietnam veteran who, one day in April of 1968, had lost an arm and both legs in an explosion while conducting a reconnaissance mission. "It wasn't just reckless or irresponsible for Bush to do what he did," Kerry fumed to Cleland on the phone. "It was just plain wrong."

That night, while taking questions from reporters, Kerry tried to raise the topic of Bush's remarks. But the reporters weren't interested in what he had to say about Bush. Every question dealt with Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who was now in the process of eclipsing Kerry as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. One reporter even suggested that Kerry's outrage over Bush's comments might just be a ploy to make himself look more like the "angry man," the persona Dean had used to catapult himself to the front of the Democratic pack. Kerry was unable to explain to the reporters-maybe he didn't even try very hard-that his anger at George W. Bush had absolutely nothing to do with Howard Dean. Members of the press corps would have to figure that out on their own in the months ahead.

—from The Candidate by Paul Alexander, copyright © 2004 Paul Alexander, published by Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

1 "Mission Accomplished!" 3
2 "Bring It On!" 11
3 The Next President of the United States 31
4 The Turnaround 71
5 Iowa 89
6 The Secret Weapon 139
7 New Hampshire 149
8 Super Tuesday 167
9 The Candidate 211
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Paul Alexander

Barnes & Noble.com: The Candidate is a revealing inside look at the presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry. How were you able to get such close access to the Kerry camp?

Paul Alexander: In the fall of 2001, I started following Kerry around in anticipation of writing a profile of him and Teresa Heinz for Talk magazine. When that magazine went out of business, I took my idea to Rolling Stone, the magazine for which I have written most often over the last five or six years. The resulting piece, "Ready for His Close-Up," appeared in April 2002. Because I was there first, I suppose you could say I have had a special seat from which to watch the Kerry campaign develop.

B&N.com: In fall 2003, it looked like Kerry's candidacy was dead in the water, and that Howard Dean of Vermont would be the nominee. Was Kerry's eventual comeback a surprise to you, or did you see it coming?

PA: Believe it or not, I never suspected, even at the height of the hoopla surrounding Dean, that the voters of Iowa would go for him. I have an M.F.A. from The Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and lived near Iowa City for two years, so I had some sense of how the voters in Iowa might react to the candidates. I just never thought they would warm up to Dean, and they didn't. And if Dean lost Iowa, I felt he would have trouble in New Hampshire and beyond. That's exactly what happened.

B&N.com: Who was the key figure responsible for Kerry's rebound?

PA: Kerry himself, since he makes all of the final decisions. But it would be hard to overstate how important it was for Kerry to bring in a new campaign manager in November in the person of Mary Beth Cahill. She gave the campaign the structure and orderliness it needed to allow Kerry to become the candidate he had the potential of becoming.

B&N.com: You've directed a documentary about Kerry's Vietnam service. What do you make of the claims on the right that the Kerry campaign is overplaying the Vietnam combat angle?

PA: The name of my film is Brothers in Arms, which tells the story of the men of the crew of PCF 94, the last swift boat Kerry commanded. After September 11th, the military experience of the president has become a vital issue, since that experience will play directly into the president's ability to handle national security matters. Therefore, I think it was absolutely appropriate for the Kerry campaign to highlight his military experience. I felt the issue was so important I made a film about it.

B&N.com: What did you make of Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention?

PA: He had to make the speech of a lifetime, and he did.

B&N.com: Why do you think the media keeps referring to Kerry as "distant" and "aloof"? Are these fair characterizations, in your opinion?

PA: For three years now, I have covered the senator. I have had numerous conversations with him, both in formal interview situations and informally, and it is my opinion that he is anything but distant and aloof. In fact, one of the interesting developments to take place as this campaign has gone along is this, the media seems to be less inclined to describe him with those negative phrases. It's been my experience that Kerry is funny, charming, and personable, although, like any person in this position, when he has to be he can be absolutely focused and determined.

B&N.com: How big a role has Teresa Heinz Kerry played in her husband's campaign?

PA: Enormous. She is one of only a handful of people who can give Kerry honest and unvarnished advice. In the rough-and-tumble of a campaign, Teresa Heinz Kerry often can see what's "really" going on in a way few can. Her political instincts are formidable, and became abundantly clear to some observers during the career of her first husband, Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania, who was killed in an airplane crash in 1991. In his first race for Congress, Heinz broke his leg and was unable to campaign, so Teresa took over the campaigning, and he won. One might argue that John Heinz's political career would have been quite different had he not had the considerable help of his wife.

B&N.com: You've also written about Senator John McCain (Man of the People). Do you think Kerry ever actually offered McCain the VP slot?

PA: Yes, I think he did, but Senator McCain, a Republican, did not want to run on a split ticket.

B&N.com: If Kerry wins the election, whom would you expect to see playing key roles in his administration?

PA: Richard Holbrooke is a name often mentioned for secretary of state. Max Cleland will obviously have an important role in the cabinet; he is been an extremely valuable asset to the Kerry campaign. In addition, look for Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, the former governor who has played a vital role in the campaign as well, and Bob Kerrey, the former senator who has distinguished himself on the 9/11 Commission. Obviously, Richard Gephardt will be under consideration; he could make an excellent secretary of labor. Finally, I'm sure Kerry would like to have Tom Vilsack, if he can convince the Iowa governor to leave his state for D.C.

Some staffers will follow Kerry to the White House: Mary Beth Cahill (the campaign manager), Stephanie Cutter (the communications director), David McKean (Kerry's Senate chief of staff), and David Wade (Kerry's chief spokesperson) are all sure things.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2004

    The Kerry You Should Know

    A very timely book which will acquaint the voters with information needed to make an informed selection of president on November 2, 2004.

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