Sunday, January 21, 2007
Political and Personal Loyalties Put to the Test for Democratic Advisers
(Great story in the WAPO today about Obama and Clinton courting Rep. Rahm Emanuel, and others. The story gets at the underlying issue of loyalty, opportunity, and personal relationships in politics. This is true at the national level, and probably more so on the state and local levels where relationship circles are even smaller and tighter.)
For Democratic Advisers, A Season of Tough Choices
By Shailagh Murray and Peter Baker Washington Post Staff Writers Sunday, January 21, 2007;
Rep. Rahm Emanuel considers Sen. Barack Obama a close friend. The Illinois Democrats had dinner just last week. They are both from Chicago and socialize together with their wives. But Emanuel got his big break in national politics from Bill Clinton and worked for him in the White House. And now his worst-case scenario has come true -- both Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are running for president and want his support.
Emanuel was widely credited with engineering his party's takeover of the House in November. Now fellow White House veterans are pressing him to take a senior position in the former first lady's campaign. Meanwhile, Chicago allies, led by the powerful Daley family, are pressing him to take a senior position in his Illinois colleague's campaign.
Torn by conflicting loyalties, Emanuel is ducking. "Maybe the witness protection program," he joked. "Or maybe I'll just stop answering the phone.
They still have Iowa and New Hampshire to conquer, but Clinton, Obama and the other Democratic presidential contenders already are squaring off in what might be called the Rahm Primary, an early contest to win over the movers and shakers from the only Democratic administration in the last quarter-century.
As Clinton kicks off a bid to follow in her husband's footsteps to the White House, she is trying to reconstitute much of his old team.
While it might seem like a simple loyalty test, loyalty in politics is not always defined in terms of who hired someone first or who someone worked for longest. Politics breeds complicated relationships. They are partly personal, partly ideological and partly transactional.
"It creates a dilemma for a lot of people," said Joe Lockhart, a former White House press secretary now at the Glover Park Group, a communications and lobbying firm with close ties to Hillary Clinton. "It would be easy if you had worked for a person who you knew wasn't up to the job, but that's not the case this year. It takes a little soul-searching on what you want to do."
Many familiar figures from the 1990s, such as Lockhart, are back in the Clinton corner formally or informally -- political advisers, fundraisers and policy aides such as James Carville, Harold Ickes, Mark Penn, Mandy Grunwald, Ann Lewis, Maggie Williams, Bruce Reed, John D. Podesta, Patti Solis Doyle and Terence R. McAuliffe.
But others are signing up with Obama or other candidates or staying on the sidelines, out of estrangement from the Clintons, skepticism about her chances, fealty to other patrons or some combination.
Former treasury secretary Robert E. Rubin, widely considered his party's economic wise man, has refused to sign up with Hillary Clinton or any of the other candidates. So has House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), who first recruited Hillary Clinton to run for Senate from New York in 2000 but who lately has encouraged Obama to run for president.
"I don't know who the rest of the candidates are," Rangel said with a wry arch of an eyebrow last week when asked whether he would prefer Obama or Clinton.
Former commerce secretary William M. Daley, like his brother Richard M. Daley, the mayor of Chicago, is backing Obama, and so are former national security adviser Anthony Lake and former assistant secretary of state Susan E. Rice. A handful of junior Clinton White House aides are working for the Obama campaign as well.
Former White House political director Douglas B. Sosnik and Clinton pollster Stanley Greenberg are with Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.). Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) has Clinton administration veterans Ronald A. Klain, Antony Blinken and Evan Ryan. Jennifer Palmieri, a former White House spokeswoman, is helping former senator John Edwards (N.C.). And one former Clinton Cabinet member, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, is running against his former boss's wife himself.
"Most Democratic political professionals over the age of 25 who came to Washington passed through the Clinton administration at some point unless they spent their entire career on the Hill," said Reed, Bill Clinton's domestic policy adviser and now president of the Democratic Leadership Council. "It would be hard to fill a campaign without some people who had the '90s on their resumes."
For some, the choice was not that hard. "The Clintons, for me and for many of us who worked for him, we owe them our loyalty," said Steve Ricchetti, who was deputy White House chief of staff. "They have been very generous personally and gave me my biggest opportunities in public service. It's not something you forget."
Yet others have not forgotten the personal slights, policy struggles and turf battles; after eight years, the Clinton White House was left with its share of scar tissue. Hillary Clinton inspired deep affection and loyalty among her own staff, but she could be demanding, and her temper sometimes singed those outside her inner circle.
For that matter, her husband could be tough to work for as well. Some who served in the West Wing emerged bruised by the experience, disenchanted with the conduct that led to his impeachment and leery of returning for Clinton the Sequel.
They do not couch their decisions this year in those terms, though, at least not publicly. They explain their neutrality or affiliations by the complex rules of political allegiance -- an old boss who came calling, a new job that prevents partisan activity, more recent involvement with another candidate, the sorts of word-of-mouth encounters that can bring teams together by happenstance more than by design.
Sosnik and Greenberg went back to Dodd, their original sponsor in politics. Dodd was Greenberg's first client. Sosnik drove Dodd in his 1980 campaign and became his chief of staff. "I first worked for Chris Dodd over 25 years ago and have always considered him my mentor," Sosnik said. "He taught me that there is nothing more important in life as well as in politics than being loyal to your friends."
Others calculated that another candidate would be more likely to win or would be a better president than Hillary Clinton. Lake said he was impressed with Obama. "This is the first time I've been excited by somebody since 1992, when I was doing foreign policy with Bill Clinton," he said. As for Hillary Clinton, he said: "I think highly of her. It's not that I'm trying to help somebody run against her. I'm helping somebody I think can be a great president."
Under other circumstances, Emanuel would be a natural for the Obama camp. But Emanuel was a rambunctious 31-year-old when he joined Clinton's campaign in 1991 as one of the original members of the Little Rock war room and followed the candidate to the White House. Although he was demoted at one point -- reportedly at the instigation of the first lady -- he eventually became one of the president's closest aides.
Emanuel declared on television early last year that he was supporting Clinton, but that was before Obama expressed interest in running. Now he is officially neutral. And both sides are lobbying him to take a top campaign post. "I'm going to call Rahm and talk the issue through with him and see what he thinks," said Mickey Kantor, who chaired Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992 and is now backing Hillary Clinton.
Obama has been calling, too. He had dinner with Emanuel on Thursday, which the congressman called a longstanding personal engagement. Asked where Emanuel will come down in the 2008 race, Obama recently told the Chicago Tribune: "Rahm knows the right thing to do."
If he does, he is not saying what the right thing is. "I have two friends in this. I just got off a two-year national campaign. It took everything out of me," Emanuel said. "There's a time for governing and a time for campaigning, and I'm in the governing mode right now."
As for picking sides, he said: "There will be an appropriate time. But now is not the appropriate time."
Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut contributed to this report.