Parallels Between Liz Cheney, RFK Glossed Over by Dem Strategist

Longtime Democrat strategist Bob Shrum's churlish advice for Senate candidate Liz Cheney -- how dare you act like a Kennedy.

Yet more mush from Shrum, this time about Cheney announcing that she's challenging incumbent Republican Mike Enzi in Wyoming. Cheney has taken her share of flak over this in the last week and here it crosses the line to laughable. (Audio after the jump)

Shrum couldn't help but step in it on Friday while appearing on Ed Schultz's radio show (audio) --

SHRUM: It's one of the most naked power moves I've seen in a long time. She talks about needing a true conservative voice in Washington. Mike Enzi is a conservative, happens to be a decent guy by the way, and has worked with Democrats on occasion. But he's very, very conservative. This is about someone who lives in Virginia, has lived there for years, kids go to school in Virginia, suddenly deciding to decamp to Wyoming and say, well, 'cause of my dad I want that Senate seat.

SCHULTZ: Well, speaking of that, is she going to have residency issues? I mean, I don't even know what the residency requirement is in the state of Wyoming. You have to file taxes there one year? Do you have to be a resident a certain amount of time? In some states you have to be a resident (crosstalk), go ahead.

SHRUM: States can't regulate the residence of people running for federal office.

SCHULTZ: OK.

SHRUM: Uh, that's why Robert Kennedy, for example, was able to go to New York and run for that Senate seat. Uh, but this is a whole different situation than that. There's an incumbent Republican who is very popular, who knows I suspect half the people who live in the state, and she just decided to try to muscle him out of the race.

Cheney running for Senate in Wyoming is a "whole different situation" than RFK running in New York back in 1964, Shrum claims. Problem is, his own words belie this. His take on Cheney -- "someone who lives in Virginia, has lived there for years, kids go to school in Virginia" -- neatly describes Robert Kennedy in 1964, following his brother's assassination, when he decided to "decamp" to New York to campaign for Senate.

Here's how it was described by Evan Thomas in his largely sympathetic biography, "Robert Kennedy: His Life," published in 2000 --

He was immediately branded a carpetbagger, a label that stuck when he took a busload of reporters to look at his old homestead in Bronxville and got lost. Never having hung from a subway strap, he had difficulty posing as the friend of the workingman. (Unaware that a token was required, he nearly impaled himself on the turnstile the first time her ventured underground).

Ah, but this time it's different, Shrum further claims, since Cheney is challenging someone within her own party. And it's true that RFK did not do this when he ran for Senate in 1964. Instead, he waited all of four years before doing so, announcing in March 1968 that he was running for president against fellow Democrat Lyndon Johnson. Several weeks earlier, Kennedy had emphatically ruled out running that year. Two events in the interim made him reconsider -- the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and Eugene McCarthy nearly beating Johnson in the New Hampshire primary.

Though largely forgotten today, Kennedy's entry in the race exacerbated simmering tensions within the Democratic Party. After he was gunned down by an assassin in June 1968, badly divided Democrats settled on Hubert Humphrey as their nominee at a chaotic national convention surrounded by violent protests. Humphrey barely lost against Richard Nixon that November.

Turns out this wasn't the only time a Kennedy challenged an incumbent from his own party -- which Shrum condemns Cheney for doing now -- with disastrous results. Ted Kennedy, aided by a speechwriter named Shrum, did likewise against Jimmy Carter in 1980, with a similar outcome -- a weakened Carter won the Democratic nomination but lost to Ronald Reagan.

Shrum also alleges that Cheney is running for Senate " 'cause of my dad" -- much as Robert Kennedy, and JFK before him, were pushed hard by an equally ambitious, politically savvy father.

Come to think of it, I don't recall much in the way of outrage on the left when a carpetbagger named Hillary Clinton elbowed aside New Yorker and Democrat House member Nita Lowey to run for Senate in New York back in 2000.

Cheney taking on Enzi for Senate, Shrum pontificates, is "one of the most naked power moves I've seen in a long time." It's only a question of how far back he's willing to look -- the race for Senate in New York in 2000, or the last two Kennedy campaigns for president.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts