Democratic strategist handicaps ‘08 presidential campaign

[12 June 2007]

By Steven Thomma

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Bob Shrum

Bob Shrum

WASHINGTON—For 35 years, ambitious Democrats hired Bob Shrum to help them win the presidency. And for 35 years, they lost.

There were Ed Muskie and then George McGovern in 1972. Shrum wrote McGovern’s “Come Home America” convention speech.

There was Ted Kennedy in 1980. Shrum wrote Kennedy’s “the dream shall never die” speech, one of the most eloquent in modern times.

Then Dick Gephardt and Mike Dukakis in 1988, Bob Kerrey in 1992, Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.

Now Shrum’s retired, pitching his memoir, “No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner,” sitting out the 2008 campaign and offering his free and unsolicited handicapping of the race.

“Somebody asked me if I regretted having retired now that the Democrats have a chance,” he said over a recent breakfast with reporters. “Some of my critics probably think one has something to do with the other.”

Win or lose, Shrum’s been around presidential politics a long time. Here are some of his comments on the current campaign:

On the Democrats having an edge:

“Democrats who are running around saying this election is easy are wrong. Partly, our judgment is obscured by the hatred of Bush. ... The country is still ... very divided.”

On Hillary Clinton’s refusal to admit a mistake in voting to authorize the Iraq war:

“I’ve heard people in her campaign say she wants to show she has strength. ... I’m not sure that kind of refusal is an asset. In fact, I’m sure it’s not, in a Democratic primary.”

On why Clinton can’t pull away from Barack Obama:

“There’s something the voters are resisting. ... There’s this huge desire for change out there. That’s what she’s running up against.”

On Obama’s rapid rise:

“He gets into the Senate, he’s there two years and he’s suddenly one of the two front-runners for the Democratic nomination. ... There’s got to be a huge desire for change out there.”

On John Edwards in Iowa, the site of the first caucuses:

“He’s in the Dick Gephardt trap and ... the Dick Gephardt catbird’s seat. ... If he wins, he’s off to the races. The trap is, if he loses Iowa, he’s out of the race.”

On Bill Richardson:

“I don’t think he’s had a very good couple of weeks. The `Meet the Press’ performance was not impressive. ... It looked to me like he didn’t prepare for it.”

On Joe Biden:

“Joe Biden has been very impressive in both debates. (But) he’s not raising any money.”

On Al Gore:

“Al Gore is conducting the greatest noncampaign campaign we have ever seen in this country. ... I have no idea whether he’ll run, but he’s certainly in a position to enter late if he wants and be a very powerful candidate. ...

“He’s having an impact on one of the biggest issues of all time, maybe more impact than some presidents. If he runs and loses, I think that goes away. It’s obviously magnified if he wins.”

On Rudy Giuliani:

“First, I don’t think he can be nominated. ... If Giuliani IS the Republican nominee, he’s a threat in New York, he’s a threat in Connecticut, he’s a threat in Pennsylvania. ... He would change the electoral landscape.”

On former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his Mormon faith and religious conservatives:

“He gets away with flipflops in primaries because I think his Mormonism actually helps him. ... They believe that he actually believed in the flip not the flop, that he believes in what he’s saying now and the other stuff was just to get elected in Massachusetts. ...

“Mormonism is a very conservative faith on issues like abortion and gay rights. ... I think a lot of conservative Republicans ... take that as proof that he’s kind of with them and sincere on these big fundamental social issues.”

On John McCain:

“I still think you have to bet on John McCain. ... Who the hell else you got? ... Romney’s going to have his problems, Giuliani has his problems. Fred Thompson may not be all he’s cracked up to be.”

On Fred Thompson:

“The Thompson phenomenon says how much they’re worried and dissatisfied with the field they have.”


(Steven Thomma is chief political correspondent for the McClatchy Washington bureau. Write to him at sthomma AT

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