Kerry demands secrecy amid VP search

Friday, June 18, 2004

WASHINGTON -- John Kerry sought to curb rampant speculation Thursday about his vice presidential search, taking issue with leaks from campaign aides "who don't know what they're talking about."

"I'm the only person who knows when I will" announce a running mate "or what even direction I might take. And I intend to keep it that way," the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said as fresh clues about his intentions emerged.

Kerry, a four-term senator with a history of publicly chastising his staff, smiled and chuckled as he recalled that he "read with amusement about aides who don't know what they're talking about with respect to my schedule" for announcing a running mate. A day earlier, his meeting with Rep. Dick Gephardt became public despite efforts to keep it under wraps.

Gephardt, a former House minority leader from Missouri, is believed to be a top candidate for the Kerry ticket.

Even as Kerry clamped down against leaks, a senior Democratic official said the senator's team was promoting the prospects of Gephardt and a handful of other "safe" picks as Kerry intensified his deliberations.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid angering Kerry, said the campaign is feeling confident enough about the senator's prospects against President Bush that there may no longer be a need to nominate a little-known or unconventional candidate just to spark a Kerry comeback.

Polls show the race is a dead heat.

And the worst fears of Kerry aides -- fund-raising problems and a lack of party unity -- never materialized. Thus, a top campaign priority is to nominate somebody whose personal background and performance on the campaign trail will not detract from Kerry's post-convention message, the official said.

The official was relating recent conversations with two senior Kerry advisers, one of whom talks almost daily with the candidate about his running-mate search. He said both advisers mentioned Gephardt and Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Evan Bayh of Indiana as the type of "safe" candidates getting strong consideration.

Another party official closely aligned with the campaign said Sen. Bob Graham discussed the vice presidency with Kerry two weeks ago in West Palm Beach, Fla. Kerry was in Graham's home state for an anti-terorrism address.

It was not known whether any of these candidates were on Kerry's short list -- or even how short the list might be.

Kerry must make his selection before the Democratic National Convention, which begins July 26, and is not expected to complete the search this month.

Until he announces his pick, the top-secret process will draw an avalanche of speculation -- most of it ill-informed, because neither Kerry or his tiny inner circle have lifted the veil on his deliberations.

"I'm on the short list!" joked Al Sharpton, a former primary season rival who flew with Kerry to a campaign event in Detroit on Thursday.

Turning serious, Sharpton said he was offering Kerry advice. "I think it must be somebody that can energize voters and then represent where the American public is right now," he said.

In an interview with American Urban Radio Networks, Kerry took exception with aides anonymously making predictions about his announcement plans.

"Nobody on my staff knows anything about any date. I have not made a decision about when I'm going to make an announcement," he said. He also declined to confirm the Gephardt meeting.

"I'm the only one who knows what I was doing yesterday," the Massachusetts senator said. "I was doing work I had to do up on the Hill, and I met with a number of colleagues. But I'm not talking about" the search process.

In Detroit, he said there's a reason for his discretion.

"I have great respect for the interest that obviously exists with respect to the choice that I'm privileged to make. And it is a privilege. And I want to take it seriously and respect it in that way," Kerry told reporters.

"I look forward to offering America a team that has the ability to provide the kind of leadership that the country deserves to cut our deficit, put our people back to work, to make America stronger and most importantly to restore our respect and our credibility in the world," he said.

"I want to restore trust and credibility to the White House, and I hope that the person that I choose is going to be somebody who matches the expectations of the country about the kind of leadership that people want," Kerry said.

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Kerry campaign: http://www.johnkerry.com

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