A Battle For The Soul Of The Dnc

When word leaked just before Christmas that fund-raising maven Terence R. McAuliffe would become chairman of the Democratic National Committee--ousting Joe Andrew--theories flew. It was a power play by outgoing President Clinton, who wants to remain a party kingpin, many said. No, the coup was the work of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who needs her favorite Mr. Moneybags to pave the way for a future Presidential bid, others declared. Or, some posited, it was orchestrated by disgruntled Dems who believe Vice-President Al Gore ran a rotten campaign and can't be trusted to win back the White House.

They could all be correct, but the real reason for the McAuliffe Mutiny is simpler: The Democratic Party is about to become the green party--as in greenback. McAuliffe raised some $75 million in earlier fund-raising roles, including chairman of last summer's party convention and finance chairman for the '96 Clinton/Gore reelection. His new assignment: Raise bundles of cash to help Dems win control of Congress in 2002 and take back the White House in 2004.

OLD SCANDALS. Fund-raising prowess or no, McAuliffe is in for a fight. Ex-Atlanta Mayor Maynard H. Jackson says he is challenging McAuliffe, alleging he presented his candidacy to black leaders as a done deal without consulting them. Jackson also claims that McAuliffe, with his Clinton ties, cannot "offer new leadership and fresh ideas."

McAuliffe isn't likely to lose, but the racial aspect of the tiff could heighten intraparty divisions. "The Democratic Party is about more than just fund-raising," says the party's Georgia chairman, David J. Worley, a Jackson ally. "We need a spokesman who can broaden the base."

The counterinsurgents are hoping to convince most of the DNC's 451 voting members, who will meet in Washington on Feb. 2, that the taint from past fund-raising scandals should disqualify McAuliffe. Indeed, McAuliffe, 43, dreamed up those infamous White House sleepovers and coffees. But his backers point out that he was not involved in the DNC's stickiest legal problem--the millions in large checks that came illegally from Chinese and other foreign donors in '96.

The powerful Teamsters union has its own gripe with McAuliffe. Aides to President James P. Hoffa allege that McAuliffe and the DNC were briefly involved in a scheme to divert union funds into the '96 reelection campaign of then-union chief Ron Carey. Hoffa eventually won the election after Carey aides pled guilty and government overseers barred Carey from office. Hoffa recently warned other AFL-CIO leaders that supporting McAuliffe might prove embarrassing if the Bush Administration revives a federal probe of the incident. McAuliffe supporters say raising such allegations is dirty pool: While he has testified to a grand jury on the matter, he was never a target. "There's nothing there," says McAuliffe spokeswoman Jennifer Backus.

Still, the flap allows Jackson backers to depict a McAuliffe candidacy as a mistake, especially at a time when Dems are again pushing campaign-finance reform. "It certainly fuzzies up the issue," says Worley.

But to Jackson, the core point is more basic. He says he, not McAuliffe, can define a new party vision and expand its appeal in fast-growing Southern and Western states. Jackson was especially incensed at Gore's halfhearted campaigning in Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas--states Bush won but that Gore could have taken, according to Jackson. "To write off Georgia, the third-blackest state in the nation, didn't make any sense," he says.

McAuliffe doesn't want to fight. Party sources say he'll offer Jackson a vice-chairmanship or other high post if he withdraws, but Jackson says he'll accept nothing but the top job. This battle could leave the Greenback Party black and blue.

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