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'Laggard' Kerry turns to Clinton for advice

September 06, 2004 13:52 IST

Battered in opinion polls by President George W Bush, Democratic challenger John Kerry is now turning to former President Bill Clinton, considered among the best campaigners, for advice on how to reinvigorate his sagging campaign.

Clinton, now awaiting heart bypass surgery, offered the advice Saturday to Kerry during their 90-minute conversation -- to take on Bush over his domestic agenda including job loss and healthcare and to slow down on his Vietnam record, a media report said.

The conversation with the former President came even as Kerry enlisted more Clinton advisors to help shape his strategy for the remaining period of the campaign, the New York Times reported. People close to Kerry, the Times said, noted that Clinton and his strategists were architects of the only winning Democratic presidential drives since 1976.

Even so, some of Kerry's aides insisted that their seeking help from Clinton was not a reflection of flaws in their campaign.

In their conversation from his hospital room, Clinton told Kerry that he should move away from talking about Vietnam, the central theme of his candidacy, and focus instead on drawing contrasts with President Bush on job creation and healthcare polices, the Times quoted officials with knowledge of conversation as saying.

The talk and the recruitment of old Clinton hands came amid rising concern among Democrats about the state of Kerry's campaign and criticism that he had been too slow to respond to attacks on his military record or to engage Bush on domestic policy.

Among the better-known former Clinton aides who are expected to play an increasingly prominent role are James Carville, Paul Begala and Stanley Greenberg, the Times reported quoting campaign officials. The paper said Kerry's aides emphasised that this was an expansion of the staff for the fall campaign and did not represent another upheaval of the Kerry campaign.

Still, several Democrats outside the campaign said the influence of Clinton and his advisers could be seen over the past few days in Kerry's attacks on Bush's domestic policies. They said the Clinton team had been pressing Kerry to turn up the intensity of his attacks on those policies after a month spent largely avoiding engaging the President, the report said.

The installation of former Clinton lieutenants, the paper said, is creating two distinct camps at Kerry's campaign headquarters. Howard Wolfson, a former chief of staff to New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, joined the campaign Saturday.

Officials with knowledge of the Clinton conversation were quoted as saying that it came after Kerry called Clinton at the Columbia-Presbyterian Center of the New York Presbyterian Hospital on Friday to wish him well. Clinton, who was described by advisers as being concerned by the direction of the Kerry campaign, thanked him and suggested that the two men talk over the weekend about the campaign, which they did Saturday night.

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