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Senator John F. Kerry waved to a group of photographers at the rim of the Grand Canyon on Aug. 9.
Senator John F. Kerry waved to a group of photographers at the rim of the Grand Canyon on Aug. 9. (Globe Staff Photo / Dina Rudick)

On the trail of Kerry's failed dream

Page 7 of 16 -- Begala, knowing the senator was a former prosecutor, asked the candidate to present his case to voters to hire Kerry and fire Bush. Kerry responded by naming six issues, according to Begala's notes of the conversation: Jobs, taxes, fiscal policy, healthcare, energy, and education.

This was a list, not a "case," Begala fretted.

Eager to help but reluctant to drop his TV career to join the campaign, Begala in May gave a private briefing to Kerry's campaign staff members about their failings. He took out a whiteboard and, according to notes provided to the Globe, listed 12 ways to define and defeat Bush:

"Over his head/incompetent," he wrote. "For the rich/special interests.

"Ideological/stubborn/rigid. Out of touch. Ignores problems. Can only to do one thing at a time. Liar/broken promises. Wrong Priorities. No plan for the future. Divider. You're on your own. Ignores middle class."

Pick one, Begala urged Kerry's staff, and then hammer it until Election Day.

But as June dragged on, Begala saw no change. His friends, including longtime associate James Carville, pressured him to quit CNN and take up Kerry's offer. Carville also talked to Kerry, and believed the senator had committed to giving Begala a key position. Begala now convinced himself; he had to join the Kerry campaign for the good of the party.

So in mid-June, Begala met with campaign manager Cahill at Kerry's campaign headquarters in Washington and said he had changed his mind; he would quit CNN and join Kerry.

The reaction was not what he anticipated. What are you talking about? Cahill asked, according to Begala.

"It seems obvious you don't have a message or strategy-driven campaign," Begala said he replied.

Again, Cahill asked what Begala was talking about. Begala remembers that she looked "like I was going to perform open-heart surgery on her. She said: 'I need to think about this. Give me a couple of days to set that up.' From that day to now, I never heard another word from her. And you know, I was pretty angry. I'm still pretty angry."

Cahill says she regrets leaving Begala up in the air. " I made a mistake by not calling him back," Cahill said, adding that she was already in discussions about the message with numerous outside advisers.

His secret deliberations
As a politician, Kerry tends to be cautious and deliberate. He is also adept at keeping secrets, even from his staff.

So when it came time to choose a running mate, Kerry set up a search operation headed by James A. Johnson, a friend and financier known for his discretion. But it was Kerry alone who settled on a choice and then kept the news under wraps, even from Johnson.   Continued...

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