Hillary Desparately Needs Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 03/18/2008 - 4:53pm.

Gov. Ed Rendell clearly isn't working from a script, at least not one written by Sen. Hillary Clinton, the candidate he's laboring so hard to promote in PA these days.

First, Rendell criticized her campaign's strategy. Then he kicked up a controversy by saying some white Pennsylvania conservatives wouldn't vote for Barack Obama. Then came a string of generous comments about Obama, including a prediction that he could win Pennsylvania as the Democratic nominee -- not exactly in harmony with the Clinton party line.

But that's the way it goes with Rendell, the hearty, loquacious Pennsylvania political marvel who has managed a 30-year public career without numbing the impulse to speak his mind. Rendell, a former district attorney and
Philadelphia mayor, has an everyman style that can make him seem like a combination of union boss and bartender.

But while he may be off-message, he's rarely off-base, as his successful political career proves. So while Rendell is not a predictable member of the team, he is an indispensable field general for Clinton when the moment couldn't be more critical.

"My main value comes from imparting to them knowledge of the state," he said with a shrug, "where to go, what to do, what to say, what to emphasize."

And, he says, from analyzing things as he sees them.

Hillary Clinton isn't the first Democrat to experience that personally. As chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential race, Rendell once defended
George Bush for failing a foreign policy pop quiz from a member of the Boston press corps. He also critiqued the campaign of Democratic nominee Al Gore from time to time.

But he inspired fury from many in his party when he called on Gore to concede the contested race to Bush immediately after the Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

"You don't want to be in a foxhole with Ed Rendell," former Clinton adviser Paul Begala said shortly afterward. "He's a brilliant politician, but he's loyal to Ed and to no one and nothing else."

Over time, Democrats have gotten over their dismay. Donna Brazile, who served as Gore's campaign manager, speaks admiringly of Rendell's influence, predicting that he will "lock up Pennsylvania" for Clinton.

"Ed Rendell is a prolific fundraiser, an indefatigable campaigner and someone who keeps his finger on the pulse of the public's mood," she said. "His army of volunteers, donors and street fighters from his days as mayor will not sleep until every voter has been delivered."

No one is more hopeful of that than Clinton, who is leaning heavily on Rendell in her campaign to win the April 22 Pennsylvania primary.

A solid performance there could bolster the argument that she stands a better chance of winning such key states in the fall election and therefore of beating presumptive Republican nominee
Sen. John McCain.

President Bill Clinton calls the governor regularly. Rendell not only appears publicly with the candidate but also is coordinating Democratic troops on her behalf, or "quarterbacking" it, in the words of the state Democratic Party chairman.

Rendell's 'sales pitch'

"There is no more popular elected official in the commonwealth than Gov. Rendell," said Chairman
T.J. Rooney. "No more prolific fundraiser, nobody who has worked harder to build an infrastructure. All of that has been turned over to Hillary Clinton."

The entire state party isn't going to follow him "lockstep," Rendell said one recent day as he toured the capital stumping for a different project, this one to beef up the nation's public transit systems.

But, he said, party leaders will at least give him an attentive audience.

"If I ask a county executive to be for Sen. Clinton, he's got to think of two things," Rendell said. "One, does he want to be for Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama? And two, does he want to tick off the governor who's responsible for sending a lot of funding into his county?"

He'd never phrase it that way in his sales pitch, Rendell says, but he's willing to state the obvious: "It's in the thought process."

For Clinton, the state is almost do-or-die, but most analysts think she has a strong advantage. The state has one of the oldest populations in the nation, a portion of the electorate that skews her way. The state has a strong blue-collar character, which tends to favor Clinton.

"The Clintons were omnipresent in southeast Pennsylvania," Rendell said. "More Latinos and African-Americans were lifted out of poverty in the eight years of the Clinton administration than in the four administrations before. ... People remember and respect that."

When he talked with Bill Clinton the other day about how to deploy forces, Rendell said he argued for scheduling the former president and daughter Chelsea all over the state -- especially the rural areas, where a little attention goes a long way.

"The rural areas of Pennsylvania in presidential politics feel totally neglected," Rendell said. "The magic of President Clinton is that he's had the gift of being able to relate to urban voters and rural voters."

Voters like his candor

At the same time, Rendell says he's mindful of what Obama can accomplish when he has time to campaign.

"Give him six weeks," said Rendell, "and he's going to be a challenge."

Students of Pennsylvania politics say it's unwise to underestimate Rendell.

"On the one hand, the press reports what he says, and some of it can be almost beyond imagination," said G. Terry
Madonna, professor of public affairs and director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

"But it doesn't seem to affect his relationship with the press or the voters," he said. "What people like about him is that he's candid. He just says what he thinks, and he is brutally honest that way. A lot of people find it refreshing."

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 03/18/2008 - 4:53pm.