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Help Me, Howard

The embattled Kerry campaign enlists Hillary Clinton strategist Howard Wolfson.

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Finding himself in the underdog position yet again, John Kerry has brought in Clintonites like Howard Wolfson, architect of Hillary’s Senate victory. Since the consultant’s arrival in D.C. last week, the Kerry camp has gone on the attack, accusing the president of being awol during his National Guard duty. Jada Yuan spoke to Wolfson by phone.

So, when did the campaign approach you?
I got a call from the communications director, Stephanie Cutter, two weeks ago while I was having dinner in Nantucket, on vacation, asking me to come onboard. And then from somebody who had worked at the Clinton White House.

What did they say to convince you?
Nothing. They had me at hello.

How much are you getting paid?
Umm, TBD. To be determined. It’s not something you do for the money.

So you’re not at Kerry’s headquarters?
I’m at the DNC. I visit the offices from time to time. But there’s a lot of instant messaging. I love IM. I live my life on IM.

What time do you get up for work?
Five-thirty. Six. My wife [Terri McCullough, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s chief of staff] and I have a place on Capitol Hill, so I can roll out of bed and be at the office in fifteen minutes.

And how much time have you spent with Kerry? In the past week?
He’s been on the road, so none.

In general?
I’ve met him. It was positive, you know. But brief. I met him at a naral event, and I basically just said hello. I don’t remember if he recognized me. But he was very friendly.

What’s the first thing you recommended Kerry do?
I have not recommended anything. I’m just here to be helpful.

Do you think Kerry should have counterattacked faster after the Swift Boat ads?
I’m not in a position to know what the campaign was doing or thinking.

What are you in a position to do now?
This week, we’ve been holding George Bush accountable for his lies over his National Guard service, and we’ve been very aggressive about that. I make no apologies for that.

Is it disappointing to know that you have to go negative?
Well, no. John Kerry is out there talking about health care and the future. About how we’ll do a better job on Iraq. I mean, he is focused on a positive message.

The Republicans’ negative campaigning often seems more effective. Are Democrats too nice for their own good?
I don’t think I’m too nice.

Then what are you?
Focused.

Besides Kerry, what do you focus on the most?
How much I miss New York.

But you’ve only been gone for ten days.
It feels like a lifetime. I was begging a friend to Delta DASH me pizza from Joe’s. Which never arrived.

I heard you lost a lot of weight off Atkins.
Not Atkins! Not true! No offense to the Atkins family, but a diet that tells you not to eat green vegetables is suspect.

How did you lose it?
Reducing the amount of carbs and a lot of exercise. Also, not being on a campaign for two years was helpful.

How much did you lose?
Umm, 75 pounds.

Do you worry about gaining it back on the campaign?
I do, actually. Which is why I brought my little frozen diet meals to work so I can have them for lunch.

You’re a Yankee fan. Any parallels in their problems and the campaign’s?
I don’t think we have problems. Also, the Yankees are in first place.


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