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Kerry Might Want to Borrow a Page from the Gipper's Playbook

In 1976, Ronald Reagan was fighting a losing battle in trying to wrest the Republican Presidential Nomination from incumbent Gerald Ford. He knew that if he wanted to both catch lightening in a bottle, and take the edge off the image of being an extremist that he had been painted with, he had to do something dramatic. He did just that, by announcing a month before the Republican Convention that he had already selected a running mate Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker, a liberal Republican. The move didn't change the outcome for Reagan, but considering his competitive situation at the time, it was a worthwhile ploy.

Today, John Kerry's campaign finds itself in the position of having to spend the Fall playing catch up to Howard Dean's anti-war fueled effort, or having to adopt positions that might please the typical Democratic primary voter, but make it much harder to win the battle against Bush in November 2004. Kerry might want to consider taking a page from the Gipper's playbook, and reach out to the former Supreme Commander of NATO, Wesley Clark, in advance of the General's expected announcement for President.

General Wesley Clark represents a tremendous asset to the Democratic Party. His experience and expertise in military and national security matters give him the credibility of a figure like Colin Powell. But Clark is inexperienced in the political arena, and that lack of experience is very likely to prove his Achilles Heel with regard to winning the Presidential nomination in 2004. That said, he is by far the most attractive Vice-Presidential candidate on the scene today.

A Kerry-Clark coupling is in our view the Democratic dream ticket for 2004 in a time of war, two men with impeccable military and foreign policy credentials, a record of true service and sacrifice for the nation, and a center-left orientation on domestic policy. Unlike the Reagan scenario in 1976, it would not represent an attempt to bring together two people of widely divergent views as were the future President, the original neo-con, and Schweiker, a Rockefeller Republican. A Kerry-Clark ticket would be Karl Rove's worst nightmare. It would also dramatically shift the dynamic within the Democratic Primary process itself, lead to a quicker winnowing of the current candidates, and eventually lead to a greater focus on the deeply questionable actions and polices of the current Administration which, in the context of this new era of preemption, seems far preferable to a long, painful process of Democrats attacking other Democrats, only to face an incumbent President later.

John Kerry will be officially launching his campaign for the Presidency in a few weeks, in South Carolina. We think a backdrop of an aircraft carrier and an American General would make it the announcement of this Presidential Primary season.

Matthew Carnicelli © 2003. All rights reserved.

Originally published August 24, 2003.