For Democratic Advisers, A Season of Tough Choices
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Rep. Rahm Emanuel considers Sen. Barack Obama a close friend. The Illinois Democrats had dinner just last week. They are both from Chicago and socialize together with their wives. But Emanuel got his big break in national politics from Bill Clinton and worked for him in the White House. And now his worst-case scenario has come true -- both Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are running for president and want his support.
Emanuel was widely credited with engineering his party's takeover of the House in November. Now fellow White House veterans are pressing him to take a senior position in the former first lady's campaign. Meanwhile, Chicago allies, led by the powerful Daley family, are pressing him to take a senior position in his Illinois colleague's campaign.
Torn by conflicting loyalties, Emanuel is ducking. "Maybe the witness protection program," he joked. "Or maybe I'll just stop answering the phone."
They still have Iowa and New Hampshire to conquer, but Clinton, Obama and the other Democratic presidential contenders already are squaring off in what might be called the Rahm Primary, an early contest to win over the movers and shakers from the only Democratic administration in the last quarter-century.
As Clinton kicks off a bid to follow in her husband's footsteps to the White House, she is trying to reconstitute much of his old team.
While it might seem like a simple loyalty test, loyalty in politics is not always defined in terms of who hired someone first or who someone worked for longest. Politics breeds complicated relationships. They are partly personal, partly ideological and partly transactional.
"It creates a dilemma for a lot of people," said Joe Lockhart, a former White House press secretary now at the Glover Park Group, a communications and lobbying firm with close ties to Hillary Clinton. "It would be easy if you had worked for a person who you knew wasn't up to the job, but that's not the case this year. It takes a little soul-searching on what you want to do."
Many familiar figures from the 1990s, such as Lockhart, are back in the Clinton corner formally or informally -- political advisers, fundraisers and policy aides such as James Carville, Harold Ickes, Mark Penn, Mandy Grunwald, Ann Lewis, Maggie Williams, Bruce Reed, John D. Podesta, Patti Solis Doyle and Terence R. McAuliffe.
But others are signing up with Obama or other candidates or staying on the sidelines, out of estrangement from the Clintons, skepticism about her chances, fealty to other patrons or some combination.
Former treasury secretary Robert E. Rubin, widely considered his party's economic wise man, has refused to sign up with Hillary Clinton or any of the other candidates. So has House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), who first recruited Hillary Clinton to run for Senate from New York in 2000 but who lately has encouraged Obama to run for president.
"I don't know who the rest of the candidates are," Rangel said with a wry arch of an eyebrow last week when asked whether he would prefer Obama or Clinton.
Former commerce secretary William M. Daley, like his brother Richard M. Daley, the mayor of Chicago, is backing Obama, and so are former national security adviser Anthony Lake and former assistant secretary of state Susan E. Rice. A handful of junior Clinton White House aides are working for the Obama campaign as well.