WASHINGTON -- Two years after President Bush's re election victory, former Democratic honcho and Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe is airing his frustrations with John Kerry's campaign in a revealing and waggish memoir.
Unlike other political autobiographies that read like pollster-approved campaign material, McAuliffe doesn't pull his punches in writing about his rise from a scrappy Irish kid from Syracuse, N.Y., to chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Some of his harshest criticism focuses on the 2004 campaign that he was once responsible for defending. McAuliffe calls the Kerry campaign gun-shy, incompetent, and distracted from the mission of defeating a more organized Bush campaign.
McAuliffe said the Massachusetts senator's presidential campaign was so afraid of offending swing voters that it didn't defend his record and backed away from criticizing Bush at critical turns.
"I thought the decision of the Kerry campaign to back off any real criticism of Bush was one of the biggest acts of political malpractice in the history of American politics," McAuliffe wrote.
The book, "What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals ," goes on sale Jan. 23, but copies have already shown up in some bookstores.
McAuliffe is close to Bill and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and will support her presidential bid if the New York senator runs in 2008. McAuliffe's book could serve as the opening salvo against a potential Clinton rival as Kerry weighs another bid.
However, McAuliffe has kind words for other possible candidates, such as Sens. Barack Obama and Chris Dodd and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
McAuliffe plans a 25-city tour to promote the memoir and two parties to celebrate its publication -- Jan. 22 in New York City hosted by Bill Clinton and Feb. 8 in Washington hosted by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The book is full of comical revelations from McAuliffe's years among the power elite -- getting a startling leg rub from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a dinner, watching Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow smooching during a showing of "Good Will Hunting" at Camp David, and being chastised by president George H. W. Bush during the 2000 election for treating his son with "disgrace."
He had an insider's look at the Clintons' marriage during the Monica Lewinsky scandal -- going along on a chilly Clinton family vacation to Utah a month after the impeachment vote and watching Hillary Clinton silently click through channel after channel reporting on her husband's infidelities before settling on ESPN. He wrote that the president described the period to him as "an absolute living hell."
McAuliffe was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005, although he says Kerry's aides wanted to oust him once the Massachusetts senator secured the nomination.
McAuliffe said he was never invited to a single meeting at Kerry headquarters.
Kerry spokesman David Wade said that although many people wish the outcome of the 2004 election had been different, Kerry is proud of the hard work of his campaign staff and McAuliffe's efforts as party chairman. "It's time to look forward, not backwards," Wade said.
McAuliffe said Kerry's aides muzzled him from assailing Bush's military record. He said the campaign also ordered speeches at the Democratic National Convention to be scrubbed of any mention of Bush's name or his record -- although McAuliffe privately encouraged firebrand Al Sharpton to go ahead with his attacks on the president in his crowd-pleasing speech.
Meanwhile, Republicans went on a sharp tirade against Kerry at their convention.