Contrast that with the scene that unfolded on February 23, at a closed-door meeting between Kerry and some of the city’s most influential fund-raisers. Many had been top financial backers of Clark: Alan and Susan Patricof, Victor and Sarah Kovner, Sally Minard. But now they wanted it made very clear that they were fully behind Kerry. To underscore the point, they promised to raise a quick $1 million.
The reason for this shift—surprise—is that Kerry is almost certainly going to win. He’s taken eighteen of twenty contests and is expected to romp on Tuesday. Although Edwards has proved himself a strong finisher in other states, the polls at press time showed Kerry beating him here by over 40 points. Faced with these numbers, the Edwards camp’s pitch to potential supporters (the rapidly dwindling pool of them) goes like this: Establishment backing has meant zip in this campaign, and voters have consistently made so-called political smart money look, well, stupid. And, they say, voters just like Edwards better than Kerry: Edwards events are packed, while Kerry ones are dotted with empty chairs.
They also make much of their candidate’s appeal to a constituency that appears up for grabs: disillusioned rank-and-file Deaniacs. Edwards has been making an overt pitch for these voters, staging lively events with young people, while his supporters talk up the idea that Dean supporters despise Kerry. Hard-core Deaniacs, the line goes, see Kerry as a political assassin who killed off their beloved leader, and they’ll support Edwards en masse on March 2.
But these arguments are falling flat for at least some onetime Dean supporters. As of press time, Dean’s most prominent congressional backer, Jerrold Nadler, was set to join Kerry. And Ethan Geto, the former head of Dean’s New York operation, all but predicted Edwards’s end.
“Just a couple months back, the New York democratic establishment wrote off Kerry as a dead pol walking.”
“The New York primary is Kerry’s to lose,” says Geto. “He has the bulk of the political leadership, and he has national momentum. It will be very tough for Edwards or anyone else to overcome his advantages.”
At bottom, the rush to john Kerry has been an effort by New York City’s political elite to matter again.
Steadily flummoxed by the race’s surprising twists and turns, New York politicos backed the wrong candidates with unerring consistency. They were forced to eat crow and clamber aboard with the front-runner-of-the-moment not once but twice—Dean last fall, and now Kerry. The result has been that the New York Establishment, which likes to think it has great sway over national affairs, has had almost no impact on Campaign 2004.
Of course, the general election will give New York pols and power brokers another chance to make their mark. By raising massive amounts of cash, or sending troops to swing states, they hope to ensure themselves access to a future Kerry administration and prove to colleagues and constituents that yes, they do have the clout to influence a national race.
Kerry, for his part, is reaching out to just about everybody, anticipating the onslaught of up to $200 million in attack ads from Bush. To fend off the incoming barrage, “Kerry will need the New York political Establishment working for him full bore,” says former Nebraska senator and current New School president Bob Kerrey. “It will give New Yorkers a chance to assert their relevance again.”