CHICAGO — At the center of Carol Moseley Braun's presidential bid are two documents. The first is the broad resume of the only African American woman ever elected to the Senate. The second is a half-inch-thick yellow binder that seeks to rebut "the nasties" -- numerous allegations of malfeasance and poor judgment that helped lead to her fall from political power in 1998.
The binder full of government investigative findings suggests that many of the ghosts from Moseley Braun's political past, including alleged misuse of campaign funds, were either benign specters or explicable mistakes rather than malicious or illegal misdeeds.
That her campaign for the Democratic nomination is already focused as much on defending her past as promoting her future as a leader, however, gives some indication of the incline of her campaign trail ahead.
The former federal prosecutor, county official and state legislator was elected to the Senate in 1992. Charmed by her beam of a smile and natural eloquence, many Americans believed they were witnessing, in a single election, a quantum leap for women and minorities in politics.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 24, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Moseley Braun profile -- Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, a Democratic presidential candidate, was based in Wellington, New Zealand's capital, when she served as U.S. ambassador. An article in Sunday's Section A incorrectly implied that she was based in Christchurch.
Six scandal-addled years later, Moseley Braun lost her reelection bid and was dispatched to the far fringes of foreign relations, as ambassador to New Zealand, where her duties also included diplomatic oversight of Antarctica.
With most pundits doubting that she could win a City Council seat here, let alone her old Senate seat, she is seeking the nation's highest office. At recent events and during interviews in Chicago and Milwaukee, Moseley Braun has seemed a bit humbler than in the past -- certainly wiser, she says. Her zeal, however, has not waned.
"Nobody ever thought I would win an election -- not at the county level, not at the state level, not to the Senate," said Moseley Braun, 55. "But mine is the face of the American dream -- it's just black and female."
Her emerging platform is built around a handful of issues: more federal funding for schools while maintaining local oversight, universal health care, reducing the national debt and balancing the budget.
The key to her run, however, is a pledge to restore individual rights and a sense of American pride and common purpose -- ideals lost, she said, by a Bush administration that has exploited American fears after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to drive "an extreme agenda, dangerous and divisive."
"These people have such a cynical agenda," Moseley Braun said. "They're using 9/11 to take away our civil liberties. Your librarian now has to turn you in if you check out the wrong book. It ought to be enough to get [President Bush] out of office."
Moseley Braun has released no comprehensive policy papers, and during appearances at Democratic forums she has spent little time on specific policy initiatives, instead competing with the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and others to portray herself as the candidate most unlike Bush.
She has criticized the president for largely ignoring the United Nations in going to war in Iraq, the Congress for "abdicating its constitutional role" in allowing Bush to proceed, and various initiatives by Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to broaden the powers of law enforcement.
In a field of nine Democratic hopefuls, Moseley Braun is considered to be among the longest of the longshots.
In the second quarter, she doubled her campaign take from the first -- but that is still meager: $145,000, up from $72,000. By comparison, Dean took in $7.6 million to lead the Democrats.
Moseley Braun's press secretary quit in early summer and she had no campaign manager until July 1, when she hired veteran Illinois political consultant Patrick Botterman. With consultants in Boston and small groups of mostly volunteer workers in Chicago and Washington, D.C., Moseley Braun's operation has listed badly.
She recently decided to consolidate most of her operation in Chicago, though her campaign headquarters contains mostly empty cubicles. Her immediate focus is to secure $5,000 in contributions in each of 20 states to qualify for federal matching funds.
"That will send a signal that the campaign is organized," Botterman said.
Moseley Braun departed New Zealand when Bush took office, planning to leave politics behind and grow peonies and pecans on the Alabama farm of her late great-grandfather. Then came the terrorist attacks and Bush's response.
Charles Cook, an independent Washington-based political analyst who had been tough on Moseley Braun in the past, acknowledged softening his stance after a recent meeting with her and a close look at the yellow binder.
"She's saying some things that need to be said," Cook said. She is also "looking for some vindication, and the vindication is not in winning but in getting some votes. She never defended herself against all these accusations, so they were just left to stand."