Clinton's soft soap

Robert Novak

10/11/2003 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton recently told Sen. John Kerry privately that it

now looked as though he and Gen. Wesley Clark were the only Democrats who could beat George W. Bush in the general election.

The former president based that assessment on the Gallup Poll, but made it appear it was his own opinion as well. That boosted the spirits of Kerry, who has slipped from his former front-running status for the Democratic nomination. However, Kerry lieutenants consider it to be Clinton soft soap that he probably is dispensing to other Democratic presidential aspirants.

A footnote: Kerry supporters are counting on Clark to take away enough votes in New Hampshire from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to enable the Massachusetts senator to win a primary election he cannot afford to lose.

ARNOLD'S TEAM

California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger was so impressed by his Washington-based campaign consultant Mike Murphy that he has asked him to be his chief of staff in Sacramento. Murphy, who handled media and overall strategy, declined.

During the recall election campaign, Schwarzenegger often conferred with Murphy and Rep. David Dreier, chairman of the U.S. House Rules Committee. Dreier, who was Schwarzenegger's most effective campaign spokesman, heads the governor-elect's transition team.

A footnote: Conservative Republican State Sen. Tom McClintock did not end up on good terms with Schwarzenegger after finishing third in the election. Chances of a warm relationship between them in Sacramento faded when McClintock credited late, unsubstantiated reports that Schwarzenegger had been pro-Hitler by saying the actor should drop out of the campaign if those allegations were accurate.

NUCLEAR POLITICS

Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic Whip who is becoming a master political broker, has pulled off a massive backroom deal. He won an aide's selection to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in return for releasing his previous blocks on nominations by President Bush.

The nuclear industry, which has contributed heavily to Bush's re-election campaign, was enraged by the president's selection of anti-nuclear physicist Gregory Jaczko. The White House had turned down Jaczko earlier in the year, but Reid asserted that he then would stop confirmation of all the president's nominations. Nuclear issues are important in Reid's state of Nevada, which has fought the administration's plans for a nuclear waste repository 100 miles from Las Vegas.

Once the White House agreed to Jaczko, Reid released the holds he had placed on close to 40 nominees. The Senate immediately confirmed a dozen previously stalled nominations -- including ambassadors to the Czech Republic, El Salvador and Ireland, and the U.S. attorney for Oregon.

HEALTHFUL PORK

The House conservative economy bloc's pessimism over controlling federal spending deepened Tuesday when Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson granted $1 million to start a national health museum.

President Bill Clinton got the ball rolling for the museum by authorizing $500,000 in 1997. So far, only $10 million has been raised for the $200 million project.

High-spending Republican chairmen of the Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittees -- Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and former Rep. Jon Porter of Illinois -- for years sought museum money against conservative economizers. In joining the appropriators, Thompson said visitors to the museum would be educated on how to live a healthier life.

DINNER WITH CHENEY

Republican "Eagles," the party's high rollers, were brought into Washington Tuesday and Wednesday for the Republican National Committee's (RNC) "2003 Presidential Gala" and enjoyed a rare treat: a private dinner with Dick Cheney.

An Eagle qualified for a seat at the Wednesday night "gala" addressed by President Bush, along with two breakfasts, a lunch and a post-dinner reception. But the biggest benefit was a relatively intimate dinner Tuesday night at the Willard Hotel addressed by the usually reclusive vice president.

The price for being an Eagle is $15,000 annually. That fee qualifies the contributor for two major RNC events a year, including Wednesday's "gala."