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Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2002 / 7 Teves, 5763

George Will

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Free agent for favorite sons | Donna Brazile, in her hometown of New Orleans last week helping Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana's Saturday runoff, asked a labor union for drivers for vans to tour black neighborhoods. They sent white drivers. So she called some of her eight siblings, and others, and got blacks who knew the neighborhoods to ride along, a tableau of black-white solidarity.

Landrieu won, in spite of an onslaught led by a popular president and other national Republican luminaries. Now Brazile, who in 2000 worked for Al Gore as the first black woman to manage a presidential campaign, is planning to apply some lessons of the Louisiana success to 2004, and not on Gore's behalf.

As last Saturday approached, the conventional wisdom was that black turnout would be decisive, Louisiana having the nation's second-highest percentage of blacks (32.5, second to Mississippi's 36.3). And the morning after her victory, Landrieu declared, "The soul of our party is the African American community." However, Brazile says one Louisiana lesson is "we" -- meaning Democrats -- "need whites. Blacks can't keep pulling you out of this mess."

President Bush's campaign appearance for Landrieu's opponent temporarily cut Landrieu's share of Louisiana's white vote from 43 percent to 26 percent. So a second, and related, lesson is "we need an edge" -- something that makes populism "visible" and appealing to whites and blacks alike.

In Louisiana the edge came from sugar -- a single and inaccurate mention in a Mexican newspaper that the Bush administration had consummated a deal to sharply increase imports of Mexican sugar. The Landrieu campaign helped flood the radio program of Republican Gov. Mike Foster with calls charging that the deal -- which the White House would not confirm -- would devastate Louisiana sugar growers. Hence Landrieu's surprising support in some rural areas.

Landrieu carried the port areas as well, partly because of resentment of the president's tariff on imported steel. The sacking, on the day before the runoff, of two leaders of the president's economic team helped quicken economic anxiety. And by refusing campaign appearances by national Democratic luminaries, the Landrieu campaign strengthened its message: We support the president on the war, but we look out for Louisiana, too.

Sen. Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat, says his party has a problem when its last president and last presidential nominee cannot effectively campaign in one third of the country, the South. "He's right," says Brazile, who is impatient with the ideological purists in her party.

She says Emily's List, which bundles contributions for women candidates, would not give "a dime" to Landrieu because she, although basically pro-choice, opposes partial-birth abortion. Brazile disgustedly says that feminists "are going to do the same thing to Blanche" -- Arkansas's freshman Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who is up for reelection in 2004. And she blames liberals for conservative dominance of talk radio: "It's beneath liberals to talk to real people about real issues."

Brazile says that although Democrats in the South need whites, they also need to increase black participation in elections. She has a plan to simultaneously do that and prevent the rabble-rousing Rev. Al Sharpton from having a catastrophic effect on the Democrats' 2004 primaries.

Brazile, who made history with her managerial role in 2000, might support none of the major candidates in 2004. Instead, she might try to find blacks to run as favorite sons in various states' presidential primaries -- say, Rep. Jim Clyburn in South Carolina, Rep. Harold Ford in Tennessee, Detroit's Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in Michigan, former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial in Louisiana.

Who, she asks, is more apt to move young Tennessee blacks to be active Democrats -- white candidates such as North Carolina Sen. John Edwards or Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, or Rep. Ford? And absent black candidates, various primaries could be hijacked by Sharpton. "Kerry's going to surge and then sink," says Brazile, who in 1988 worked for Rep. Dick Gephardt. "Edwards just lost North Carolina. Elizabeth Dole" -- elected senator, in spite of Edwards's strenuous opposition -- "beat him."

Brazile says that although Michigan's electorate is 17 percent black, the black turnout in Michigan primaries can be more than double that. Delaware's electorate is 15 percent black, its black primary turnout sometimes more than double that. She imagines Sharpton, without black competition, winning in South Carolina, where the black primary turnout can approach 40 percent, in Delaware and Michigan, and in various southern states on Super Tuesday.

It is early, and Brazile, a free agent, may yet be signed by some candidate. But increasing black turnout by using black favorite-son presidential candidates, while simultaneously increasing Democrats' white support, will be challenge enough.

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