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NY'ER Auletta on Shrum
Sun Sep 12 2004 12:13:35 ET

Robert Shrum, a senior adviser to John Kerry, tells Ken Auletta that despite the drop in his candidate's national standing after the airing of attack ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, "I believe the campaign responded in a timely fashion to the Swift Boat attacks. And I believe the public believes that Bush is behind the attacks and that they are not true." Shrum, who talks to Auletta extensively in "Kerry's Brain," in the September 20, 2004, issue of The New Yorker, also says , "I think we did see the negatives coming. I think we were fully prepared. My thought is that personal stuff like the Swift Boat stuff doesn't work, but a negative campaign based on issues people think are relevant does work." Shrum adds that at the time the ads were broadcast, "not one person in the Democratic Party called to say we should respond sooner. And, by the way, no one said, 'Don't talk about Vietnam.' " Of rumors that Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, will soon be replaced, Shrum says, "Mary Beth is doing a superb job. She is going to run this campaign. And we will win this campaign." Auletta also asks Shrum about rumors that Shrum himself might be pushed aside. "It's all bullshit," Shrum says. Auletta notes that "media advisers in the Kerry camp had a financial incentive to recommend more advertising" for the campaign, and reports that "they will divide among themselves about eight million dollars of the advertising budget-with Shrum" and his partners "getting about five million dollars." Auletta also reveals that:

* In June, after reporters travelling with the Kerry campaign complained to the candidate that his communications director was overextended and that dealing with his press office was like calling the D.M.V., Kerry asked Michael McCurry, formerly Clinton's press secretary, to oversee public relations. McCurry declined, but he offered to help, and Debra DeShong, who was the communications director at the Democratic National Committee, began to report that month to Stephanie Cutter, the campaign's communications director. Complaints persisted, though, particularly on the road, and in late August, Joe Lockhart, who succeeded McCurry in the Clinton White House, joined the campaign. Several other advisers have also been added recently, resulting in a "polyphony of advice," Auletta writes, which one former Kerry aide says threatens to divide the campaign "into postwar Berlin with four zones." Shrum, detractors point out, has never worked on a winning Presidential campaign.

* Because of his long-standing ties with the Kennedy family, Shrum has written speeches for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I helped write his inaugural address," Shrum says. "He's an old friend of mine."

* A senior Kerry adviser suggests to Auletta that "the campaign has a clear message, but the candidate sometimes doesn't." Democrats outside the campaign are very critical of the campaign itself, too. John Podesta, a chief of staff during the Clinton Administration, says that no one is better than Shrum "at writing a speech that sings, but that is a very different thing from driving a simple, clear, and coherent message about where Kerry would take the country."

* Hamilton Jordan, a strategist for Jimmy Carter, says, "If you look at the last several months, and you look at the Abu Ghraib scandal, and the war in Iraq not going well, and a sluggish economy, and job losses in swing states like Michigan and Ohio-you'd say Kerry should be ten points ahead now." A senior official from the Gore campaign who asked to remain anonymous tells Auletta that Shrum is part of the problem. "Look at every campaign that he's involved with. There are body bags."

* Patrick Cadell, whose partnership with Shrum dissolved bitterly decades ago, says, "Saying he's 'chief strategist' is a joke. It's like me saying I'm a musician!... Both campaigns illustrate this, but it was most apparent at the Democratic Convention. Instead of talking about issues, they said, 'Oh, we're going to make John Kerry look strong on defense by repeating it again and again.' This is emblematic of what Shrum does. It's about words, which is what a debater or a speechwriter thinks."

* Former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey, whose 1992 Presidential campaign Shrum worked on, says that Shrum is "fortunate to be working for a candidate he knows very well and who is capable of taking charge and remaining calm down the stretch." But he points out that Shrum's successes have been in state-wide races, not national campaigns. "Managing a campaign on the national stage-especially in a rapidly changing technological environment-coupled with the temporarily silenced tensions in the Democratic Party, is orders of magnitude more difficult."