By E.J. Kessler

Published September 26, 2003, issue of September 26, 2003.
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Hello, Goodbye: Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is welcoming retired general Wesley Clark into the Democratic presidential race even as he is insisting that in at least one way, former Vermont governor Howard Dean is outside the Democratic Party.

During a conference call September 19 with reporters from Jewish publications, a relaxed-sounding Lieberman had kind words for Clark, a newly minted Democrat and foe of the Iraq war who announced his candidacy last week. “I welcome Wesley Clark into the race,” Lieberman said during the call. “He’s got a lifetime of service and experience that will add to the race and help us as we debate.” Although Lieberman said he was “surprised” by a remark in which Clark seemed to flip-flop on his opposition to the Iraq war.

In contrast to his warm words for Clark, however, Lieberman pressed his feud with Dean over Dean’s remark that the United States “ought not to take sides” in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“Howard Dean’s position is not the Democratic Party’s position,” Lieberman said. “It is not the position of the other Democratic presidential candidates…. It is a strong Democratic Party position in fact to take sides [with Israel].”

As he has many times since challenging Dean at a debate of the candidates in Baltimore two weeks ago, Lieberman said Dean’s remark “sends a message of weakness and ambivalence” and represents a “retreat” from the historic American pro-Israel position. “I’ve been troubled that Howard Dean has not acknowledged a mistake,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman began the call by asking the reporters to convey his wishes that the Jewish community have a “happy, healthy and peaceful new year,” adding that the greeting came from his wife as well.

In other Lieberman news, a fundraiser he held last week in heavily Orthodox Monsey, N.Y., brought in $35,000, a source said.

* * *

Money War: Clark’s entrance into the race complicates the money primary for the rest of the candidates, several Democratic money-watchers are saying. Could the general mop up $5 million in the slightly less than three weeks from when he announced his candidacy until the September 30 filings are due? It looks possible. According to several strategists, Lieberman is expected to bring in more than $5 million — not a bad quarter for him, and enough to keep him in. But it’s not a great showing considering the tyro he’s competing against. Buzz on the street is that Dean, who ran away with the money chase last quarter, will amply fulfill his campaign manager Joe Trippi’s boasts by blowing the field away with more than $15 million. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is looking at a $6 million quarter — he’s got to do better than $5 million, or the buzzards will start circling — while North Carolina Senator John Edwards probably will see between $4 million and $5 million. The camp of Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt is being tight-lipped after its disappointing performance last time. Expectations are that Florida Senator Bob Graham will bring in only about $2 million, fueling speculation, in the words of one operative, that “Graham’s out in a couple of weeks.”

As many have noted, Dean’s Internet bonanza has changed the political fundraising landscape dramatically, causing the field to ramp up their Web presences big time.

“We had a ‘Manhattan Project’ after we saw what Dean had accomplished,” Kerry’s campaign treasurer, Robert Farmer, said of the campaign’s efforts to fix Kerry’s “not very good” fundraising Web site.

Farmer told the Forward that the campaign’s Internet operation had done “better this quarter than last,” and he sounded bullish on his man: “In terms of traditional fundraising, John Kerry is leading the pack nicely,” he said. “We set a business plan a year ago August and exceeded it every quarter. We expect to exceed it this quarter.”

But he cautioned: “Obviously, Dean’s fundraising is going to change the dynamics somewhat, particularly if he opts out of federal matching funds. If they have the numbers I’m hearing, they’ll have at least as much money, if not more cash on hand, as we do at this point in the game.”

* * *

Blast From the Past?: The presidential campaign of Reverend Al Sharpton better get a handle on its supporters in Louisiana. A group down there advertising a Sharpton appearance in Alexandria to speak about “the Shreveport police murder of Marquise Hudspeth and the state’s failure to investigate” sent out an e-mail bulletin with a freelance “Sharpton President” logo. It was not, shall we say, the “new Al,” the peacemaker of the Democratic debates. No, it was decidedly the “old Al,” picturing a rather hirsute Sharpton over the protest slogan “No Justice! No Peace!” — a rallying cry that (let’s be frank here) scares the bejesus out of many white Americans. Not to worry, however. While the slogan still is often heard at Sharpton street rallies, it is not the official image of the campaign, which shows Sharpton against the backdrop of the preamble of the Constitution and contains words about fighting for rights and for “a more perfect union.” Sharpton campaign manager Frank Watkins chalked up the ersatz logo to a “local” effort.

* * *

Organizational Spats: Some pro-Israel Democrats are saying a Jewish intracommunal squabble may be one of the factors behind the dustup between Dean and Lieberman. They connect the spat to the rivalry between the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the more dovish Israel Policy Forum. In their reckoning, Lieberman is a proxy for the Aipac view and Dean a proxy for the IPF. As evidence, they cite a letter from the IPF’s executive director applauding Dean’s support for a two-state solution that his campaign gave the Forward last week.

Other evidence: Dean’s policy director Jeremy Ben-Ami once worked for the New Israel Fund, a left-leaning group, and Dean counts among his supporters Clinton administration Oslo dove Sara Ehrman. One Democrat sees Dean as being “whipsawed” between those two and his national campaign co-chairman, former Aipac president Steve Grossman.

Ben-Ami nixes such talk. “This campaign is completely unified on the issue of Israel,” he told the Forward. “There is absolutely no conflicting advice given to the governor.”

But here’s a twist: Among Lieberman’s finance co-chairmen are three major IPF supporters: Marvin Lender, Michael Sonnenfeldt and Peter Joseph. “It’s puzzling,” said one pro-Israel Dem, noting the strangeness of Lieberman attacking Dean when his own money-men’s group was praising him. The Democrat and several others wondered whether the fundraisers’ allegiance would affect the money chase. Sonnenfeldt did not return calls for comment.

In a related matter, other communal observers are questioning the motives of the putatively liberal American Jewish Congress, which issued two press releases bludgeoning Dean for his statements. Some liberal Democrats wondered whether those sallies were a bid by AJCongress president Jack Rosen, a Clintonite Democratic donor, to build up his right-wing bona fides before switching to the Republicans. Indeed, Rosen told Roll Call’s Morton Kondracke last week that he is supporting President Bush. But AJCongress spokesman David Twersky said the missives were meant to point out that Dean was wrong, both on the substance of his comments and his assertion that he was following the line of Bill Clinton. In fact, Dean’s position is closer to Jimmy Carter’s, Twersky said. What’s more, AJCongress has nothing against Dean: It wrote him a letter praising him for pointing out the connection between the overdependence on Middle East oil and terrorism.

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