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K Street still makes a difference, and it’s not because George Clooney has a new television series. As the field for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination rounds out to 10 with retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s recent announcement, plenty of candidates — even those who seek the mantle of political outsider — are looking to well-connected D.C. lawyers and lobbyists to help them raise funds and develop policy positions. Many influential Democrats haven’t taken sides yet, to be sure. After all, the first primaries are still several months away. But one by one, a good many high-profile advocates and former Clinton administration officials are signing up with one or another of the hopefuls. Howard Dean’s candidacy, which picked up steam this summer and has been touted by many supporters as an insurgent movement, now boasts plenty of insiders among its ranks. Every two weeks, Nikki Heidepriem, a health care lobbyist at Heidepriem & Mager, hosts a meeting of Dean supporters in her downtown office to discuss policy and to figure out how to win “super-delegates” — elected officials and other party loyalists — to the Dean cause. “Message and money are the focus for us,” says Heidepriem. Other insiders working for the Vermonter include former Clinton White House Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste; her husband, Harvard Law professor Christopher Edley; Hogan & Hartson partner and former Federal Trade Commission member Christine Varney; and Holland & Knight senior adviser Lynn Cutler. “Dean has to go from zero to 100 miles per hour in a very short time,” says Echaveste, who is doing political strategy and helping develop positions for the candidate on immigration and economic issues. “He’s now being asked for his positions on a large number of issues, like water in California. As a Vermont governor, he never had to think about that before.” Zuckerman Spaeder partner Ronald Weich, a former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel, spent six weeks with the Dean campaign in Vermont and has reduced his partnership draw by 50 percent so that he can work half-time for the candidate. “In October 2004, the guy you want in the debate against Bush is Howard Dean,” says Weich, who is helping Dean on issues like judicial nominations, civil rights, labor, education and crime. One reason Dean is picking up support on K Street is his rapid rise in the polls. Echaveste and other Democrats say that their first priority is to defeat President George W. Bush — and that the candidate to back is the one who has the best chance of doing that. “I think Wesley Clark is interesting,” says Echaveste, “but he was taking so long to decide whether or not to run. At this point, the more, the merrier. The primaries will test the candidates and will produce the best candidate who can take on George Bush.” Last spring, Susan Ness, a Bill Clinton appointee to the Federal Communications Commission, hosted a series of dinners to introduce the various candidates to D.C. movers and shakers, with as many as 50 people present at each gathering. “The idea was to make people available to help any of the candidates,” says Ness, now a private consultant after she left the FCC in 2001. “Some people were able to pick a candidate, some did not.” Over the summer, Ness herself signed on with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, whom she is helping with communications policy issues and fund raising. She is continuing the dinners this fall, now featuring talks by policy types like former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. Also on the Kerry team is Ivan Schlager, a partner at the D.C. office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “I do whatever the senator wants,” says Schlager, a former chief counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee. “It could be telecom, trade, economic policy. We hosted a breakfast for Kerry earlier this year. I just think he’s the right guy to lead the Democrats to victory against Bush.” Other Kerry supporters include John Merrigan of Piper Rudnick; William Kolasky of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering; and Daniel Spiegel of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Clark, the retired four-star general who entered the race earlier this month, has already amassed his share of Democratic insiders as well. A leading Clark supporter is Ronald Klain, a partner in the D.C. office of O’Melveny & Myers. Klain, a former Al Gore strategist, helped Clark prepare for the Sept. 25 debate among the 10 candidates in New York City. “I’m simply trying to help Clark get off the ground,” says Klain. “I don’t plan to take a permanent role in the campaign.” Joe Reeder, managing partner of the D.C. office of Greenberg Traurig who was undersecretary of the Army in the Clinton years, is another prominent Clark backer. Other insiders on Clark’s team include former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, now a D.C. partner at Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, and Mark Gitenstein, a former Senate Judiciary counsel who is also a Mayer, Brown partner. Veteran election lawyer William Oldaker of D.C.’s Oldaker, Biden & Belair is serving as campaign counsel to Clark. Other Democratic aspirants also have supporters in the legal and lobbying world. Joel Jankowsky, influential head of Akin Gump’s public policy practice, stands firmly in the camp of Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri. “I’m doing whatever Gephardt needs,” says Jankowsky. “I give a broad measure of policy advice, I do fund raising. I supported him in [his presidential race in] 1988, and I think he’d make a great president.” Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut enjoys support from insiders like Lanny Davis of Patton Boggs and Howard Vine of Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky. “I have known Joe Lieberman for 33 years,” says Davis, who was special counsel to President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 1998. “I have advised Joe to remember that he is a progressive Democrat, not a centrist, and that he has to remind people of his progressive record. He has to run as a John F. Kennedy-Bill Clinton Democrat.” Vine, a longtime Democratic operative and former Greenberg Traurig partner who worked on the Clinton-Gore transition team in 1993, says his primary focus for Lieberman is on fund raising. “Right now, at this stage, it’s all about the money,” Vine says. One candidate with little visible support on K Street is Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who has pledged not to accept campaign donations from lobbyists. “Edwards’ connections are mainly among trial lawyers, not people in our circles,” says one leading lobbyist who declines to be named. Nor does there seem to be major support in the city for candidates such as Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, or the Rev. Al Sharpton. Leslie Thornton, who was chief of staff to Clinton Education Secretary Richard Riley, has not committed to any candidate, but has watched the campaign closely. Says Thornton, now a Patton Boggs partner: “There seems to be growing excitement among the K Streeters about the Democratic candidates. More of us than folks may think have made their choices and been working enthusiastically and hard for their candidates, and Clark’s announcement has energized people even further.” Jonathan Groner is editor at large at Legal Times , a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

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