Clinton's criticism

Robert Novak

12/25/2004 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton, who has refrained from publicly second-guessing the 2004 presidential election, in private sharply criticizes John Kerry's aides and particularly campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill.

 Talking recently to a close associate, the former president compared Cahill with Karl Rove, President Bush's powerful political chief. "That's all you have to know," Clinton said.

 Former Clinton operatives who joined the Kerry campaign three months before the election clashed repeatedly with Cahill on tactics and strategy. She has been publicly criticized by James Carville, Clinton's 1992 campaign strategist who informally advised Kerry in 2004.

BUSH'S BLOOPER

 Although Rudy Giuliani may suffer politically because of the Bernard Kerik fiasco, it was George W. Bush who insisted on naming the former New York City police commissioner as secretary of Homeland Security despite derogatory information about him.

 The White House vetting process did not uncover all of Kerik's problems, but it did discover a few embarrassing difficulties that were called to President Bush's attention. According to sources close to Bush, he was so fascinated by Giuliani's right-hand man that he brushed off this information.

 Nevertheless, Republican insiders feel Giuliani was damaged by the Kerik episode. The former New York mayor would face an uphill climb for the Republican presidential nomination, and his sponsorship of Kerik makes the ascent even steeper.

WASHINGTON COMEBACK

 Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, facing a potentially difficult 2006 second term election in the state of Washington, may have mixed reactions to Republican State Sen. Dino Rossi apparently being counted out in the 2004 election for governor.

 Democratic State Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire was an overwhelming favorite for governor, but Rossi was ahead in the recount until court rulings favored the Democrats. The only proven statewide candidate for the Republicans, Rossi would be the GOP's best Senate bet against Cantwell.

 Cantwell goes into the 2006 campaign in poor financial shape. According to federal filings, Cantwell's campaign committee on Sept. 30 was $2.5 million in debt with $264,000 cash on hand. She was elected to the Senate in 2000 by 2,229 votes, personally giving or lending $10.3 million out of her $11.5 million total campaign expenditures. Cantwell's personal net worth of over $40 million was devastated by a falling stock market.

RISING STAR

 The selection of rising star Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as keynote speaker for the 2005 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington has raised speculation about him making a Senate bid in 2006.

 Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, the multi-millionaire owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team who self-finances his campaigns, has been considered unbeatable. However, there is no certainty that Kohl will seek a fourth term. Now 69, he is 35 years older than Ryan.

 The keynote address at CPAC is usually delivered by somebody older and at a higher position in politics than Ryan, who at age 34 has served six years in Congress. (Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey was the 2004 keynoter.) A former protege of Jack Kemp, Ryan is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and the leading supply-sider in the House.

LOBBYIST GAMES

 The elation by a partner in the powerful Washington lawyer-lobbyist firm of Covington and Burling that he soon would be associated with retiring Republican Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma almost killed the deal.

 The lawyer e-mailed selected friends to tell them that Nickles would be associated with Covington and Burling beginning in 2005, describing it as a coup. When the e-mail leaked, Nickles's alliance with the firm was broadcast on CNN even though the arrangement had not been finalized.

 A furious Nickles said the leak killed the deal, but he was talked into calming down. He actually is starting his own lobbying firm but would be associated with Covington and Burling for special projects. Nickles has just finished a hitch as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and before that was Senate majority whip.