WASHINGTON – John Kerry (search), seizing control of his party Friday, tapped Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign manager to represent his interests at the Democratic National Committee.
John Sasso (search), 56, was named general election manager of the DNC, a position created by the Kerry campaign and the DNC staff to give the nominee-in-waiting control of the party without upsetting the current structure.
Sasso will work with Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe to oversee presidential election activities at the party, officials said.
"I welcome him here at the DNC because I know his energy and experience will make us stronger," McAuliffe said in a statement released by the campaign.
McAuliffe is the party's best fund-raiser, credited with taking the DNC out of debt and updating its political technology. He is not a strategist or tactician -- Sasso's strengths, and the appointment was privately welcomed by DNC staffers who said they needed more direction from Kerry.
"Chairman McAuliffe has worked for three years to get the party ready, we are in the best shape ever," Sasso said in the statement. "We are on our way to taking back the White House, and putting America back on track."
Sasso is the latest in a long string of Boston associates and allies of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who have joined the campaign since late last year, when Kerry's political fortunes looked grim. His hiring came amid tensions inside the Kerry campaign: A key part of his ad-making team, Jim Margolis, gave up his position as a senior adviser over a financial dispute. Bob Shrum, who shared ad-making duties, has gained full control.
Sasso, a longtime confidant of Dukakis, organized and ran the Massachusetts governor's presidential run in its earliest stages. He was forced to step down in September 1987 after acknowledging that he had given reporters a videotape that showed rival Joe Biden using the oratory of a British politician without attribution. The revelation set off further disclosures, including charges of plagiarism in law school, that forced the Delaware senator from the race.
Dukakis rehired Sasso a year later, when his campaign against then-President Bush was languishing under criticism from Republicans while Democrats were demanding a tougher response.
Sasso is president of Advanced Strategies (search), a business consulting firm specializing in government affairs and communications. He will stop working as a lobbyist, officials said.
In 1993, President Clinton appointed Sasso to the Fannie Mae Board of Directors. Sasso currently serves on the boards of the Fannie Mae Foundation (search) and the Heller School of Social Policy at Brandeis University (search).
Kerry was in Boston recovering from shoulder surgery. He met with economic advisers Friday and taped the Democrats' weekly radio address.
The surgery was the latest break from public campaigning for Kerry, who vacationed for six days in mid-March after effectively claiming the Democratic nomination.
Some Democrats have expressed concern that Kerry has stepped back from the public debate at a crucial juncture in the campaign. As soon as Kerry seized the nomination, Bush launched $40 million of radio and television commercials touting his record and criticizing Kerry, double what the Democrats have spent.
Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter rejected that argument, pointing to a string of public polls showing the race tight and competitive at the beginning of April.
A CBS News poll out Friday showed Kerry at 48 percent and Bush at 43 percent in a head-to-head matchup. Other polls that include Ralph Nader show Kerry and Bush essentially tied, with Nader getting about 5 percent.
More troubling for Bush was a decline in support for his efforts to combat terrorism, with approval ratings that have slipped to the mid-50s, down from the high 60s in most polls.