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Loss Leader

With the Kerry campaign consumed by problems after the convention, though, several leading Democrats have pointedly criticized Shrum in recent weeks. Bill Clinton adviser and CNN commentator James Carville harpooned Shrum relentlessly to reporters at the Republican convention last week. Clinton himself was critical of the campaign's reluctance to attack Bush -- a position Shrum had advocated -- in a phone call to Kerry while he awaited surgery in a New York hospital, according to a source with knowledge of the call. Shrum's brand of old-style liberalism -- steeped in the tradition of his political patron, Ted Kennedy -- is anathema to the centrist, New Democrat ethic that got Clinton elected twice.

Clinton used to call Shrum occasionally for help with speeches. Shrum wrote a remorseful speech that Clinton was supposed to give on the night of his testimony before a grand jury, in which he admitted to his affair with Monica Lewinsky. But Clinton went with a more defiant tone instead. And when Clinton's speech was panned, he took offense at Shrum's public discussion of the speech not given. Shrum still keeps a draft of it framed in his office.

John Kerry, loose after his win in January's New Hampshire Democratic primary, tosses a football around his campaign plane as adviser Bob Shrum looks on. (Kevin Lamarque -- Reuters)

As part of a shake-up of his campaign, Kerry last week elevated the role of John Sasso, a Massachusetts operative with long ties to Kerry. Sasso will now serve as Kerry's chief adviser on the road, a role that, unofficially, had been Shrum's. Kerry's expanding team also includes former Clinton aides Joe Lockhart and Joel Johnson, and increasingly, Carville and Paul Begala. There is a belief among people close to Kerry that the "Clintonistas," as they are sometimes called, will provide a fresh blast of energy for a campaign that had become inert.

The Clintonistas also bring credibility that no one in Kerry's immediate circle -- including Shrum -- can match. "You tend to listen extra hard to Clinton people," says a mid-level Kerry aide who didn't want to be identified because he's not an official spokesman. "They've actually won one of these."

Depending on who is talking, Shrum is either in Kerry's doghouse, or his influence has been diffused by the high-level additions. Ultimately, though, campaign sources say, Shrum is a survivor. He has, for example, worked strenuously to cultivate Lockhart, with whom he had clashed in the past.

Kerry, meanwhile, does feel loyalty to Shrum, who helped him win reelection to the Senate in 1996 in what many consider the toughest race of Kerry's political career.

Shrum and Kerry have been frequent social companions. Shrum was with Kerry last week on Nantucket, a short hop from Shrum's vacation house on Cape Cod. Teresa Heinz Kerry is friends with his wife, Mary Louise Oates, a former society columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Like many people of Shrum's acquaintance, Kerry calls him "Shrummy." As a duo, he and his wife are known as "Oatsey and Shrummy.")

Shrum's tastes and quirks are a common topic of conversation in political circles. He does not drive, a fact his friends attribute to his horrifying skills behind the wheel. It is common to see him in the back seat of a car driven by a young aide, an image that reinforces a somewhat regal bearing. He loves gourmet food and fine wines and has his suits handmade by a Georgetown tailor.

His manner can be strikingly brusque. He will sit quietly in a meeting for several minutes, chewing nicotine gum, sometimes removing it from his mouth and stretching it around the rim of a can of Diet Coke. He will then jump in and express his opinion with utter self-assurance.

"Shrum has an air of sounding as if his arguments are not only the best arguments, but they are the only arguments," says Dan Payne, a Boston media consultant who worked for Kerry in 1996 until he was replaced by Shrum.

"He's someone who puts things on the table, and ultimately that is helpful in the heat of battle," says Alan H. Fleischmann, the chief of staff for former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who worked closely with Shrum on her unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2002.

People who have worked with Shrum over the years marvel at his mastery of "capture the candidate," the art of winning and keeping the ear of the principal while circumventing -- or eliminating -- competitors within the campaign structure.

Last fall, Kerry was trailing badly in the polls and fired his campaign manager, Jim Jordan, a persistent Shrum rival. In a conference call with his staff, Kerry had to dampen the perception that Shrum's dominion had been enhanced with Jordan's departure. One person on the call asked Kerry, "Is Bob Shrum running the campaign now?" To which Kerry said, "Bob Shrum is a speechwriter."

'The Hope Still Lives'

The speechwriter occupies a special place in a presidential campaign. "Politicians always put a greater importance on what they say in speeches than in their ads," says Democratic consultant Bill Carrick. Carrick, who worked with Shrum in Ted Kennedy's 1980 presidential campaign and later in his Senate office, calls Shrum "probably the best political wordsmith of my generation."

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