WASHINGTON – When Mary Beth Cahill (search) replaced John Kerry's (search) fired campaign manager, she told shocked and angry staff members that they were welcome to stay, but if they wanted to go, there's the door. "Decide now," she said.
That first staff meeting put Kerry aides on notice that they were dealing with a steady, no-nonsense boss. She is part of a wide circle of Kerry advisers whose nerves and judgment will be put to the test if the four-term Massachusetts senator cements the Democratic presidential nomination.
Kerry's brain trust consists of longtime associates from Boston and newly minted advisers hired expressly for the presidential run. Typical of political campaigns, there is some tension between the camps, but winning has a way of papering over any differences.
The brain trust includes:
— Cahill, who was chief of staff to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., for nearly three years and before that worked in the Clinton White House. She imposed strict discipline on both the staff and Kerry, insisting that aides go through her to talk to the candidate and inform her when he comes to them. One of her first decisions was to focus Kerry and his campaign on winning Iowa, where a solid foundation had been laid by state director John Norris. She dispatched Michael Whouley to Iowa, where he had helped then-Vice President Al Gore win the 2000 caucuses.
— Kennedy, a lion of the Senate, may soon watch his junior partner in politics claim the presidential nomination denied to him in 1980. If there is any jealousy, aides deny seeing it. Kennedy talks to Kerry two or three times a week, offering advice and guidance. "Hey, Ted!" Kerry chortled into his cell phone during a campaign trip in Michigan. "There's a bunch of people on the bus who want to talk to you." Kerry then passed the phone among Michigan's bemused congressional delegation.
— Bob Shrum, a longtime Kennedy adviser and master speechwriter, clashed with Cahill's predecessor, Jim Jordan. Shrum focuses on message and tone, not as much on tactics. Shrum pushed Kerry to remain positive and presidential-looking against Howard Dean as the former Vermont governor climbed in polls last year. Kerry heeded the advice at times, ignored it at others.
— Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen helped Kerry win her state's primary, though his momentum coming out of Iowa had more to do with the victory than anything else. Kerry still turns to her for advice. Shaheen takes part in the campaign's daily 7:30 a.m. conference call, along with a slew of other strategists.
— Mike Donilon, a Shrum partner, also participates in the conference call as a general strategist. He and Jim Margolis help craft Kerry's ads.
— Pollsters Mark Mellman and Tom Kiley give Kerry two distinctly different perspectives. Kiley has known Kerry for years, thus filters his data through a personal prism — quick to see the senator's assets as a Vietnam veteran, athlete and outdoorsman. When Kerry is in a jam, he asks, "What does Kiley think?" Mellman is more data-driven, a national strategist known for his ability to target voters.
— Ron Rosenblith ran the Senate campaign committee in the 1980s and worked with Kerry on his first Senate race. He sits at the table with Kerry's top strategists and is a mentor of Whouley's.
— John Marttila, another longtime Kerry ally from Massachusetts, spent a lot of time in campaign headquarters during the Iowa and New Hampshire races.
— Tad Devine, another Shrum partner, and Jack Corrigan, of Boston, are the architects of Kerry's general election planning. They are both experts in how to reach the coveted 270 electoral votes. Devine pushed Gore to focus on Florida in 2000, even when it meant pulling money from other critical states.
— Jill Alper, former political director at the Democratic National Committee, works with Whouley. She helped Kerry lay the groundwork for his presidential run well before the race went public. She engineered Kerry's victory in Michigan and the endorsement of Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
— Cam Kerry, the senator's brother, helps court superdelegates and country chairs. Aides say he is less of a meddler, having learned to give staff the benefit of the doubt when he hears complaints from his brother's supporters.
— Several staff members take part in the morning conference call, including deputy campaign managers Steve Elmendorf and Marcus Jodotte; communications director Stephanie Cutter, adviser Michael Meehan, spokesman David Wade and rapid response expert Chad Clanton.
David Morehouse will be a senior adviser on the campaign plane, not a role for a shrinking violet. It was Morehouse who, upon hearing from headquarters in the early morning hours of Nov. 8, 2000 that George W. Bush's lead had evaporated, threw himself in front of Gore and told him not to concede.
"The Florida count is wrong," he told Gore a few feet from the stage, his voice steady and firm.
"Everything's going to be OK."