WASHINGTON – Former Democratic Party boss and Clinton friend Terry McAuliffe is lambasting John Kerry's unsuccessful presidential campaign, calling his effort to unseat President Bush "one of the biggest acts of political malpractice in the history of American politics."
In his scrappy memoir, McAuliffe criticizes the 2004 campaign that he was responsible for defending but ultimately lost to what he describes as a more organized Republican machine. McAuliffe calls the Kerry campaign gun-shy, distracted and incompetent.
McAuliffe is close to Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and will support her presidential bid if the New York senator runs in 2008. McAuliffe's book, published by Thomas Dunne Books, could serve as the opening salvo against a potential Clinton rival as Kerry weighs another bid. However, McAuliffe has kind words for other possible candidates, such as Sens. Barack Obama and Chris Dodd and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
The book, "What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals," goes on sale Jan. 23, but copies have already shown up in some bookstores.
McAuliffe plans a 25-city tour to promote the memoir and parties to celebrate its publication — Feb. 8 in Washington hosted by Mrs. Clinton and Jan. 22 in New York City hosted by former President Clinton.
The book is full of revelations from McAuliffe's years among the power elite — getting a startling leg rub from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a dinner, watching movie stars Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow smooching during a showing of "Good Will Hunting" at Camp David and being chastised by former President George H.W. Bush during the 2000 election for treating his son with such "disgrace."
He had an insider's look at the Clintons' marriage during the Monica Lewinsky scandal — going along on a chilly Clinton family vacation to Utah a month after the impeachment vote and watching Mrs. Clinton silently click through channel after channel reporting on her husband's infidelities before settling on ESPN. He wrote that the president described the period to him as "an absolute living hell."
McAuliffe served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005, although he says Kerry's aides wanted to oust him once the Massachusetts senator secured the nomination. He said he was never invited to a single meeting at Kerry headquarters.
Kerry spokesman David Wade said although many people wish the outcome of the 2004 election had been different, Kerry is proud of the hard work of his campaign staff and McAuliffe's efforts as party chairman. "It's time to look forward, not backwards," Wade said.
McAuliffe said Kerry's camp was so afraid of offending swing voters that it didn't defend his record or criticize Bush. He said he was muzzled by Kerry's aides from assailing Bush's military record.
He said the campaign also ordered speeches at the Democratic National Convention to be scrubbed of any mention of Bush's name or his record — although McAuliffe privately encouraged firebrand Al Sharpton to go ahead with his attacks on the president in his crowd-pleasing speech.
"I thought the decision of the Kerry campaign to back off any real criticism of Bush was one of the biggest acts of political malpractice in the history of American politics," he said.
Meanwhile, Republicans went on a sharp tirade against Kerry at their convention. But when Bush said in an interview on the first day that he didn't think the U.S. could win the war on terror, Kerry did not respond. The Massachusetts senator was windsurfing off Nantucket, unaware of the president's comments.
McAuliffe said Kerry later told him that was one of the biggest mistakes of his campaign. "I should have gotten off the island," McAuliffe quotes Kerry as saying.
McAuliffe said he was "flabbergasted" to learn after the election that Kerry had $15 million left that he could have spent in the final push. "It was gross incompetence to hoard that money when the race was bound to be so close," McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe said Republicans told him they were shocked that Kerry just took the attacks on his military record, but also were overjoyed. He said Bush called President Clinton while he was recovering from his heart attack in September 2004 and said, "The Kerry campaign is the most inept group I have ever seen in politics. Don't let them ruin your reputation."
He said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., asked him why Kerry wasn't fighting back more. "My guy (Bush) is no great shakes, but your guy (Kerry) looks like a wimp," McAuliffe quotes McCain as saying.
Kerry's former running mate, John Edwards, also was frustrated with the campaign, according to McAuliffe. McAuliffe said Edwards was angered that the campaign wouldn't let him go after Bush, but Kerry disputed Edwards' claim and said he was frustrated his vice presidential pick wasn't campaigning harder.