Kerry, Edwards made tempting choices for a time

By Jill Zuckman and Glen Johnson, Globe Staff, 8/8/2000

ASHVILLE - The hour was late, and Vice President Al Gore had been in meetings since the afternoon, conferring with small groups of advisers who shuttled in and out of his 10th floor suite at the Loew's Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel.

With just 36 hours until he was scheduled to parade his running mate before the world, the question was this: Should he pick Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, or Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts?

By Sunday night, Kerry had fallen off the radar screen, despite his status as one of the finalists and despite support from Gore consultants who had worked for Kerry in Massachusetts elections, according to campaign and Democratic sources. He was viewed by some in the campaign as too easily typecast as a liberal, the sources said.

Gore was less concerned about the liberal tag, the sources said, and was impressed by Kerry's war record and his cast of mind. Still, little was said by Gore or any of his advisers about Kerry throughout the evening, as attention focused on the other two.

Still, it wasn't clear to the campaign staff which way Gore was leaning.

''He has totally not made up his mind,'' one adviser said as he left one of the discussions. ''It's really shocking.''

Also a suprise was Gore's mood. With such a critical choice looming and with the election potentially at stake, the vice president was chipper as he grilled his advisers on each of the candidates, cracking jokes and asking for recommendations.

Then, close to midnight, as Gore and his wife, Tipper, were about to retire to their bedroom, the vice president informed William M. Daley, his campaign chairman; Warren Christopher, the head of his search committee; and Frank Hunger, his brother-in-law, that he wanted Lieberman for his partner on the ticket.

''I have to go with my gut,'' Gore told Kerry by phone the next day, Democratic sources said.

Aides to Gore said the vice president hoped to underscore his own New Democrat political philosophy with a Democrat considered to be a centrist and a bridge-builder between the parties. They also said Gore was most comfortable with Lieberman personally and excited about making history by selecting the first Jewish vice presidential candidate.

If there was a single person who had captured the imaginations of campaign insiders, however, it was Edwards, the young, charismatic senator who had served fewer than 18 months in public office after a career as a trial attorney.

First elected in 1998, Edwards, 47, had ties to many Gore staff members and political consultants. Those people, including campaign consultants Bob Shrum and Tad Devine and the campaign research director, David Ginsberg, all touted Edwards.

Gore also seemed tempted by the idea of tapping someone younger, who was fresh to the national scene, someone who had built his reputation as a trial lawyer in Raleigh who took on hard cases and made millions in legal battles for the little guy. Shrum's wife, the author Mary Louise Oates, even took Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, shopping for new clothes on Sunday, just in case the call from Gore came.

In the end, the vice president did not believe that Edwards was a realistic choice. Edwards's resume would crowd out attention to his natural charm, intelligence, and ability to connect on the campaign trail, the reasoning went.

''Gore's point was, `We know it, but how do we get the country to know it?''' said one insider. The source said Gore believed he would have been betting his campaign on how the public and press responded in the first 48 hours after an Edwards pick.

''Everybody basically wanted him, but realized it was a huge hurdle,'' said another person in attendance.

Missing from the Sunday night meetings was the candidate's most trusted adviser, his wife, Tipper, whose flight from Washington to Nashville was delayed by thunderstorms.

Shortly after Gore arrived here from a breakfast fund-raiser in the Hamptons, on New York's Long Island, he spent an hour and forty-five minutes talking with Christopher, Daley, and Hunger. He then called his wife at the airport and his daughter, Karenna, in New York City.

The talks, which took place over soft drinks and bottled water, resumed when Tipper Gore arrived about 10:30 p.m., said Chris Lehane, the campaign press secretary. They were free-wheeling, Lehane said.

''People were talking about different people from their own perspectives,'' said one official who attended the meeting. ''It was all very positive. There was no, `This is not a good idea because of this.'''

For Kerry, the vetting process began three weeks ago, when Christopher called him to ask whether he would like to proceed to the next level of scrutiny.

Kerry agreed, and thus began a process that included interviews with him, his wife, their staffs, and friends, as well as the submission of every legislative bill he had ever filed, every speech he had made, every book and article that he had written or that had been written about him.

The senator also met with lawyers from a Washington firm, who culled through the material and spoke with him for hours over three occasions. Among the subjects covered were his past use of marijuana and about his social life when he was a divorcee.

''They asked a couple of questions from the period when I was single, and I gave them an explanation,'' he said over lunch yesterday. ''Three-quarters of the stories that were written when I was single were not accurate.''

Kerry said he also had to submit not only his tax records and financial information, but that of his wealthy wife. She agreed, but only after the lawyers pledged confidentiality.

Kerry finally met with Gore for breakfast early on July 25, the same day he would host the vice president at his home for a Democratic Party fund-raiser. The pair talked about the job, about issues, and about expectations.

The final Gore deliberations were conducted over a weekend that clearly wore on Kerry as he jetted from Idaho to Washington to Boston and back to Washington again. From Saturday through Monday, he wore a cell phone on his belt, its green light flashing a reminder.

Kerry was sleeping at 6:52 a.m. yesterday when an Associated Press bulletin announced Lieberman's selection. The news would be relayed to him through a phone call that jarred him from his sleep. On the other end of the line was Jeffrey R. Lewis, chief of staff to Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz.

The call from Gore did not come until 1:20 p.m.

''He just expressed it was a very personal kind of choice, expressed admiration and gratitude for my going through this,'' Kerry told reporters after taking Gore's call. ''He asked me to be involved, and I obviously will continue to be involved.''

One Gore aide noted that Kerry had been a strong candidate. ''He had a lot of support and a lot of friends, including the vice president, who was very, very comfortable with him,'' said Tad Devine, who is in charge of running the day-to-day campaign operation. ''Absolutely no one felt he wouldn't be up to it or wouldn't do a great job in that capacity and recognized the obvious strengths he brought to the table.''

When Kerry's name was on the table, advisers worried that he would be painted as too far to the left because he represents Massachusetts.

''We all said he'd be viewed as a liberal, but [Gore] didn't seem overly concerned,'' said one aide. The vice president liked Kerry's service in Vietnam and the possibility of running an all-veteran ticket against Governor George W. Bush of Texas and Dick Cheney, neither of whom saw active duty during the Vietnam War.

But in the end, Kerry's turn in the national spotlight did not come to pass.