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Several Clinton Alumni Staking Political Claims

Government: Former Atty. Gen. Janet Reno is among the familiar faces running for office in upcoming elections.

January 12, 2002|NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Love him or hate him, you won't find Bill Clinton's name on the ballot anywhere this year. But plenty of folks who worked for the 42nd president are lining up to fill that void.

Several veterans of the Clinton Cabinet are running for governor in campaigns across the country, including former Atty. Gen. Janet Reno in Florida.

Today, former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is expected to formally announce his gubernatorial bid in New Mexico. Former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich earlier this week kicked off his bid to govern Massachusetts. And Andrew Cuomo, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is running in New York.

Another batch of former White House aides and others with posts in the last administration are aiming to join the former first lady, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), in Congress.

The prospect of renewed political life for these Clinton acolytes is sure to torment those Republicans who despised Clinton from the day he entered the White House to the day he left it.

But at heart, the phenomenon appears to be a typical show of political ambition by former public servants who believe their careers are far from over, even if the Clinton presidency is.

One virtual certainty is that any candidate this year with a resume link to the Clinton administration will attract extra attention.

"The day people stop being somewhat obsessed with Bill Clinton, I'll have a party at my house," said former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart. "Everybody's invited. But I'm not calling the caterer yet."

Lockhart, who is not running for office, said he's gotten a number of letters from his former colleagues in search of cash for their campaigns. "It's getting expensive for me."

For Republicans, there are pluses and minuses to the boomlet of Clinton-connected candidates. On one hand, many of them get lots of free press and some will be able to raise lots of money, making them potentially formidable opponents. On the other, the GOP is well-schooled in the art of attacking all things Clinton.

"Apparently these former Clinton staffers share a great deal of the love for the limelight that their old boss certainly enjoyed," said Rudy Fernandez, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "That apparently was an addictive thing running through the Clinton administration. They're having trouble accepting the role of regular citizens."

Warming to the subject, Fernandez added: "I have great faith in the American voters, and most people are not going to want to return to the Clinton era, which was plagued by scandals."

The candidates are tied to Clinton in varying degrees.

Reich, for instance, was a longtime Clinton friend and his first Labor secretary. But he left the administration after its first term, clearly disenchanted that Clinton had not pursued various liberal initiatives. The memoir on his service was titled "Locked in the Cabinet." He now is waging an underdog candidacy to win the Democratic nomination to oppose acting Gov. Jane Swift, a Republican.

Reno, running for the Democratic nomination to oppose Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, was the administration's only attorney general. Although White House aides sometimes were frustrated by Reno's independence, Republican critics charged that she protected the White House by refusing to investigate alleged campaign finance abuses.

Richardson, seeking an open governor's seat, had a political life before Clinton. He was an eight-term congressman from New Mexico before Clinton elevated him to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1997 and then to Energy secretary. He is attempting to resurrect his political fortunes after controversies tarred that agency.

Cuomo, running for the Democratic nod to challenge Gov. George Pataki, is himself the son of a former New York governor, Mario M. Cuomo. The younger Cuomo was HUD secretary from 1997 to 2001.

Bill Curry, a onetime aide in the Clinton White House, is competing in Connecticut to take on incumbent Republican Gov. John Rowland.

Other candidates with greater and lesser ties to Clinton are vying for Senate and House seats. Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff when the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal erupted, is the leading Democratic candidate for an open Senate seat in North Carolina.

The leading Republican contender is Elizabeth Hanford Dole, wife of Clinton's opponent in the 1996 presidential race, Bob Dole.

In Chicago, former Clinton White House advisor Rahm Emanuel is running in a crowded Democratic field for an open House seat. The winner of a March primary, in the heavily Democratic district, likely will be elected in November.

Another former White House aide, Fred DuVal, is running for an open House seat in Arizona.

One factor behind the Clinton-linked candidates is that many were relatively young when they served in the Clinton administration.

"Those guys were barely shaving" when Clinton took office, said Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report in Washington. "They were young, ambitious folks. Now they're at 'that age.' "

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