Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Kennedy vs. Cuomo in New York?
Kennedy vs. Cuomo in New York?

By John F. Harris and Dan Balz

Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page A06

Two of the most famous last names in U.S. politics may be on a collision course in New York. If the collision happens, the normally obscure race for state attorney general will instantly transform into a campaign headliner -- with a soap opera subtext.

Environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the son of a late senator and Democratic legend. Former federal housing secretary Andrew M. Cuomo is the son of a former governor who in his day was a Democratic legend. One other thing: They used to be brothers-in-law, until the breakup of Cuomo's marriage to Kennedy's sister.

Cuomo has been a leading contender -- in a crowded field of interested Democrats -- for the party's nomination to replace Eliot L. Spitzer, who is running for governor. This week, several New York news organizations reported that Kennedy has been exploring his options for the A.G. race. Since the new year, he's chatted about his ambitions with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (who holds the seat once held by Kennedy's father), among others.

People familiar with the conversation said it was clear Kennedy is serious, not merely stirring the pot. His family fame, presumed access to campaign funds, as well as generally good reviews for his longtime work helping fight pollution in the Hudson River Valley, would make him a formidable candidate, New York political observers said yesterday.

In interviews yesterday, Kennedy confirmed his interest but said he would not welcome the personal speculation and intrigue a race would produce. "If I run, it's to talk about issues, not to become tabloid fodder," he told New York 1, an all-news cable channel.

Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant in New York who is not committed in the attorney general's race, noted that the first question about a possible Kennedy candidacy is whether it shoos anyone else out of the race. "Does anyone blink?"

There's really no reason they should, he said, at least for a while. After all, the nomination won't be decided until a primary contest in far-off September 2006. In the meantime, for New York political reporters, Sheinkopf said that "it's the best day they've had in a long time."
Endorsements in DNC Race Announced

The past week has produced a flurry of endorsements for candidates running for chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), but former Vermont governor Howard Dean may have produced the most significant by rolling out an announcement that he has been endorsed by state party leaders in Florida, Mississippi, Utah, Washington and Vermont.

"He's got the leadership skills we need to move the party into the next step," Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox said yesterday. "He brings energy, enthusiasm, new people and a new way of doing business, and I think that's what's needed."

Dean delivered on a pledge to produce support from party leaders from all regions in hopes of answering criticism that he is too liberal to lead the party and that he would alienate Democrats in the South and other conservative areas.

Maddox said competence, not ideology, should be the key to picking the party leader. Noting that Dean comes from the moderate-to-conservative wing of the party, owns a gun and watches NASCAR races, Maddox said: "I'm perfectly comfortable with Governor Dean's leadership skills and think he will be a fine chairman for the party."

One of Dean's rivals, former Texas representative Martin Frost, rolled out an endorsement yesterday from House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) to add to support from former DNC chairman and fellow Texan Robert S. Strauss. Another former party chairman, Joe Andrew, has endorsed Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network, while former defense secretary William J. Perry has endorsed strategist Donnie Fowler.

"Mr. President, congratulations. Democrats are eager to work with you. But make no mistake: We will not abandon our long-held principles. On Social Security, we will not let you undermine its fundamental guarantee."

-- Democratic National Committee ad marking President Bush's second inauguration.