September 19, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ Kathleen Kurth

'It's too soon to judge what Clinton's record will be'

Kathleen Kurth Kathleen Kurth makes sure to point out that she is not Al Gore's campaign manager. "I am just a volunteer in the Democrat campaign," says the CEO of Kurth and Lampe, a political consulting and public relations firm.

Having worked in the 1992 presidential election for the Clinton-Gore ticket, she presently works on certain campaign events for Gore, the US vice-president and Democratic contender to succeed his boss.

Passing through Mumbai on an invitation by the American Centre, she spoke to Features Editor (News) Archana Masih about the run-up to Campaign 2000.

I understand you are the CEO of Kurth and Lampe, an organisation working for governmental, corporate and non profit organisations -- what is the kind of work your firm is involved in?

My firm is a public relations and political consulting firm. We work for candidates from local level office to national office, also with a variety of non profit groups on women's issues, environmental issues, labour unions and some corporates. We do public relations, consulting, media relations and political consulting.

How long have you been doing this?

Close to 20 years.

How hectic is your role during this campaign?

Over the years we have done advance and press events for Al Gore since He has been vice-president. We help in campaign events in Illinois and other states. I worked at the national Democratic convention in Los Angeles in August. I was working with the speakers and the podium operations team.

The conventions are very busy and after Labour Day campaigns began in full earnest. I won't be working full time on Gore's campaign, I will be doing some events for him. The last two weeks in August were the calm before the storm.

How have you seen Gore's fortunes change? After having trailed his rival, George W Bush, he has now gained lost ground.

He was trailing before the Republican convention. Since the Republican and Democratic conventions -- the polls after the Democratic convention showed him ahead of Bush.

You work for the Democrats, is it possible for you to remove yourself from that sentiment and give us a picture of how you see the electoral scene at present?

I am a Democrat, but I'll try. I think Al Gore will win. I think Bush has got as high as he can be. Undecided voters -- as the issues begin to clarify in their mind -- will swing towards Gore.

Most American voters -- if they are not already convinced that they are going to vote Democrat or Republican-- will decide in the last three weeks before the election.

The choice of Senator Joseph Lieberman as Gore's running mate has generated much interest, because he is the first Jew to be nominated thus. Will this initial euphoria last, or will it wear out before Election Day?

Senator Joseph Lieberman He is very well known in the US as a man of honesty and integrity. I think if he didn't have a strong background in the Senate, in addition to being a Jewish candidate, it might wear off, but I think for who he is as a person will help him immensely.

There was similar euphoria when Walter Mondale nominated Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in 1984, the first woman to be accorded the honour. But we saw what happened soon enough.

I think part of what she didn't have and what he (Lieberman) has is history. She had just been in Congress one or two terms and frankly she got in trouble with the business dealings her husband had and that was her big problem.

Lieberman definitely has much more of a history.

After being the first Democratic senator to speak out against President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair, Senator Lieberman did not vote to impeach Mr Clinton...

I don't know if it has been publicised over here, but he and President Clinton have a long relationship. When Bill Clinton was in law school he worked on Joe Lieberman's first campaign for state senate in Connecticut. So Clinton and Lieberman have known one another for 30 years and have been friends for 30 years. As a friend and colleague of the president, he was very hurt by Clinton's actions.

When we know that our friends have done something stupid it makes us mad. I think he was very upset about the president's actions, but did not feel they were impeachable offences. He was still mad at them.

In many ways, Bill Clinton is one of America's most successful presidents. He leaves the country far more prosperous than he inherited it and leaves it more secure. How would you compare him to say a president like Ronald Reagan who steered America during an era that saw the end of Communism?

Bill Clinton I am a history major and I think it is too soon to judge overall what his record will be. I think with the economy and the peace and prosperity that we have had in the eight years that he has been president he will be looked on very kindly despite his personal problems. It's too soon to tell. We can't say what history will be until we take a few steps back.

As far as Clinton's legacy goes, he seems to have brought American politics much to the centre?

Yes, that's true.

... And there is a perception that this election has no ideological issues for the Democrats or the Republicans?

I think this is a very wrong perception. I have got questions about this everywhere. I think that is something you hear, maybe, even from US political pundits, but it is very wrong. The Democratic and Republican parties are extremely far apart on most domestic issues.

As a Democrat, I think the parties are farther apart on many issues than they have ever been. On gun control -- George Bush favours the ability of people to carry and conceal hand guns, Al Gore is for stricter regulations of hand guns.

George Bush thinks that women should not have the right to choose on reproductive rights issues, Al Gore is for choice. I understand why I got the question because I hear this when I listen to the national pundits talk on what we call our Sunday morning shows and on CNN, I hear pundits say that the two parties are so much alike but I think that is a very, very superficial analysis. I disagree with it completely.

Surely, there must be reasons for such a perception.

Because I think these pundits who talk on the Sunday morning shows are very lazy and don't do their homework. There is a thing called conventional wisdom. If someone says something on the talk show then the other guys says it and the other guy says it and the other guy says it. All of a sudden people think it's true. I certainly don't agree with this.

You must have worked with Al Gore before. How is he to work with, how open is he to suggestions?

In the years that I have worked with him I have found him to be very strong, honest. He is a very good listener. In meetings with different constituency groups he really listens to what people have to say and he thinks about people's concern. He is very, very smart. He frequently knows more about issues than the people who are giving him information. He is a very hard worker.

How is it to work with him on an election campaign?

He is a very hard working, energetic campaigner. He always wants to be on the move, meeting more people and talking to more people.

The fund raising allegations that came Gore's way left him ruffled. In many ways that affected him more than President Clinton's impeachment issue.

I can't speak for the VP, but I know he has always been very honest, a man of integrity. I think there were a lot of things that happened in that situation that were not explained fully in the press.

Going back to fund raising which remains a crucial part of any election campaign, this one has so far come across as a cleaner campaign. Do you think it will remain this way or will it become murkier down the way?

I think Gore has tried very hard to institute some campaign finance reforms. As you know, our system is very different from the system over here, every bit of the money that comes into a campaign has to be disclosed and has to be recorded and there is a great deal of transparency.

I think this is going to be a campaign on the issues important to the future of America.

What do you think are the respective strengths/weaknesses of the Gore-Lieberman, Bush-Cheney tickets?

The strength that Gore and Lieberman bring is experience. Al Gore has been vice-president for eight years. He does not need any on the job training. He can step right in as president. Lieberman has great experience in the Senate.

Cheney... Cheney was a respected Congressman. Bush ... I'm trying very hard to say something good about him and I don't think he's a bad man. I just disagree with the way he has governed Texas. For example, in most states in the United States, we have universal kindergarten and when they tried doing this in Texas, George Bush voted against it. I think this is wrong. On issues of environment, he does not take the side of those protecting the environment.

What kind of work will you be involved in when you return to America?

Kathleen Kurth We have clients other than the presidential clients, we have Congressional clients, candidates for the Supreme Court and local level races, so we will be working with them to get their message out to the voters through having press conferences on different issues and setting up campaign events for them and writing brochures that will be mailed to voters.

When Gore comes to Chicago we will help organise whatever campaign event. We will work with the national campaign to create successful campaign events.

Apart from Chicago, what other likely interaction will you have with Al Gore?

Al Gore It depends on time and availability. I own my firm with my husband and one of us will probably be travelling to help execute campaign events with the vice-president in different cities across the country.

How much in advance do you begin work on a campaign?

It varies on every campaign. On some campaigns we are hired a year in advance, some six months in advance. We also have a primary election system where Democratic candidates vie with other Democrats for the nomination. Republicans vie with other Republican candidates. Sometimes we are hired by a candidate for the primary, and if that candidate is victorious we continue working with them till the general election process.

When was the last time you met Al Gore?

The last time I saw him was at the Democratic convention. I waved and that was it. He was in Chicago sometime in spring and he gave a great speech at that time.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda/ The Al Gore official election site

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