Clinton, Gore step into fight over next Democratic chairman
Fund-raiser McAuliffe likely to win top DNC post
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton helped clear the path Friday for fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe to become the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, several administration and party sources tell CNN.
The intervention came after steps by the current DNC chairman, Joe Andrew, that White House officials and other Democrats interpreted as a bid by Andrew to stay on for another term. Vice President Al Gore has also been asked to throw his clout behind McAuliffe, party and White House officials told CNN on Friday.
According to several sources, Andrew was floating a proposal that would keep him on as the party's national chairman while Energy Secretary Bill Richardson would take the post of general chairman. The plan means that Richardson would effectively serve as the party's lead spokesman as a Republican president takes power and the Democrats prepare for the 2002 midterm elections.
Senior White House officials voiced their displeasure to Andrew, and the president was prepared to do so personally if top aides deemed it necessary to persuade Andrew to step down at the end of his term.
With backing from Clinton, first lady and now Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, McAuliffe quickly emerged as the overwhelming favorite. McAuliffe also has the backing of several key labor leaders.
McAuliffe also paid a call on Gore at the vice president's residence seeking to win his backing as well. One top Gore adviser predicted the vice president would line up behind the political fund-raiser, but another said Gore wanted assurances McAuliffe would not openly support a Gephardt presidential candidacy in 2004.
McAuliffe and Gore have a good relationship, but McAuliffe raised money for Gephardt before signing on with Clinton in 1992.
Among the other names that have been mentioned for the top DNC post are Richardson, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and DNC official Don Sweitzer. Sources said Herman has already thrown her support behind McAuliffe.
Andrew was elected national chairman of the DNC in March 1999 after being recruited by Gore. Prior to that, he chaired the Indiana Democratic Party.
Andrew publicly clashed with DNC General Chairman Ed Rendell on Tuesday in the wake of the Supreme Court's Florida recount decision. After Rendell called for Gore to concede, Andrew claimed that the general chairman did not speak for the party. That squabble has prompted renewed calls from Democrats for a return to a single DNC chairman.
McAuliffe is one of the president's closest friends, and has raised several million dollars for Democrats before and during Clinton's presidency. He has led the effort to raise money for Clinton's Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, and helped the first lady raise money for her Senate campaign in New York.
In August, he chaired the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Though McAuliffe lives in the Washington area, he considers his Florida home-building business his main occupation.