The Washington Monthly's Who's Who
November 2003

The weekend before the California recall, Gov. Gray Davis's campaign appealed to several Democratic presidential candidates--including Wesley Clark, John Kerry, Howard Dean, and Dick Gephardt--to come to Los Angeles for a unity rally, scheduled for the Monday before election day. Davis's aides promised the candidates that the governor's poll numbers were tightening up, and that a show of support from the presidential contenders would push him over the edge. But a little research revealed that Davis's new poll had been taken on Friday and Saturday, a notoriously unreliable period in which to do surveys. None of the candidates showed up.

Bush's decision last month to transfer responsibility over postwar Iraq from the Defense Department to the National Security Council was widely (and rightly) seen as a rebuke to Donald Rumsfeld and a validation of the president's faith in Condoleezza Rice. Whether that faith proves justified will largely be determined by the skills of the four people on the NSC staff who will be essentially running the country through the new "Iraqi Stabilization Group." On the plus side, there's Gary Edson, who will be in charge of the Iraqi economy. Edson is known as a master of working the interagency process to come up with creative policy ideas; Bush's merit-based foreign-aid program, for instance, came out of Edson's office. Frances F. Townsend will be running counter-terrorism operations at the new group; a career bureaucrat and former advisor to Attorney General Janet Reno during the Clinton administration, Townsend is considered super-smart, low key, and non-ideological. Robert Blackwill, who will be overseeing the creation of Iraqi political institutions, is a career diplomat who worked in Bush's father's NSC. By most accounts, the problem is going to be Anna Perez, who will handle communications for the new effort. "She's the perfect Bushie," says one member of the White House press corps. "Fiercely loyal and closed-minded to a farcical degree." One White House insider notes that Perez worked for Barbara Bush and describes her as "tart, not terribly creative, very efficient, with a very good feel for seeing what the big story is going to be. She's so on-message that, even in unguarded moments, she refuses to admit the critics ever have a point"--precisely the kind of thinking, in other words, that got the Bush administration's Iraq effort into trouble in the first place.

Is there something in the water out in Oklahoma? Former Republican congressmen Steve Largent and J.C. Watts, Jr never quite lived up to expectations during their brief Washington careers. Former Democratic Sen. David Boren managed to get Oklahoma State University to name its veterinary college after him, only to retire soon thereafter to become president of OSU's main rival, the University of Oklahoma. Now Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), the GOP whip--who was once so sure of a bright Washington future that he no longer even owns a home in Oklahoma--has decided to retire rather than continue to vie for power with Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the recently-anointed Senate Majority Leader. Nickles's announcement--and the unexpected decision of Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) to take himself out of the running to replace him--gives Democrats a shot at the seat. Oklahoma recently elected a Democratic governor, and the party already has a majority in the state legislature. Rep. Brad Carson (D-Okla.) is already gathering endorsements and money for a campaign.

Can Democratic interest groups unite to oust Bush? The evidence so far does not inspire confidence. Months of squabbling within the labor community over organization and campaign strategy have produced at least two competing groups aimed at raising soft money for grassroots mobilization and independent expenditures. Former AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal and EMILY's List president Ellen Malcolm are key players in Americans Coming Together, a PAC funded in part by the Service Employees International Union and financier George Soros, which hopes to raise up to $80 million for next year's election. But they'll be competing for cash and influence with another labor-oriented group known as Voices for Working Families, launched by Gerald McEntee, head of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The latter group hopes to raise about $25 million for get-out-the-vote work; its board includes Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), former New York gubernatorial candidate Carl McCall, former NAACP chairman Myrlie Evers, former Congresswoman and vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, and AFL-CIO Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, and it will focus on mobilizing more black and Latino voters in key states.

The outing by senior administration officials of Valerie Plame, an undercover C.I.A. counter-terrorism expert and wife of Bush critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson, is undoubtedly the signature example of contemporary GOP vindictiveness. But there are others. For instance, there is Eric Massa, until recently on the majority staff of the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). Massa was a lifelong Republican whose first taste of politics was serving as a page to candidate Ronald Reagan during the 1976 presidential race. But before joining the committee staff, Massa had served in the armed forces, where, among other things, he was a top aide to Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.) during Clark's tenure as NATO supreme commander. The two were close, so when Clark came to Washington in early October to meet with Democratic congressional leaders at a private residence a few blocks from the Capitol, Massa walked over to say hello. But as the former comrades-in-arms greeted each other warmly on the street just outside the event--Massa never went inside, say other attendees--Republican operatives stationed nearby noticed his presence, and reported back to his staff director, Robert Rangel. Soon after, sources tell "Who's Who," Hunter and Rangel repeatedly told Massa that, given his friendship with Clark, he could no longer work at the committee, but when reporters from a few big-name newspapers heard the story and began calling around, Hunter claimed that Massa had never actually been fired. Fed-up, Massa resigned. No one from Hunter's office was available for comment. Contacted by WW, Massa commented, "I don't hold ill will for anybody. This is about issues, and Clark the man, and I'm going to do everything I can to get him elected."



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