SAN FRANCISCO – Call them the latest political odd couple: Arianna Huffington, the chic, wealthy, Republican-turned-populist pundit, and Joe Trippi, the rumpled, tobacco-chewing, Internet-savvy steward of Howard Dean’s upstart presidential campaign.
Together, they have launched an Internet petition calling on Democratic candidate John Kerry to inspire more voters by bringing “hope and soul” back to political discourse.
“Instead of adopting the familiar – and failed – Republican-lite swing voter strategy, you can reach out to and inspire the 50 percent of eligible voters who have given up on voting,” reads the petition on Huffington’s Web site. “If you do, you will win not in a toss-up but a landslide.”
Trippi, the force behind many of Dean’s blistering attacks on Kerry during the Democratic primary, said the petition drive wasn’t intended to be a critique of Kerry but a plea for him to do a better job of engaging voters in his campaign against President Bush.
“I think too many people run campaigns that say, ‘Look at me, I’m amazing.’ Kerry needs to say to people, ‘Look at you, you’re amazing,’ ”Trippi said.
Huffington tasted life on the campaign trail last year when she ran as an independent in California’s gubernatorial recall election, then dropped out after polls showed her with just single-digit support. The experience taught her that trashing an opponent only goes so far, and that candidates win only when they project a vision for the future.
“I realized that an attack on Bush, however justified, would not take Kerry over the finish line,” Huffington said. “We want to be inspired, we want to hear big things. People are asking him to be all that he can be.”
Trippi, who was fired as Dean’s campaign manager in February, decided to join Huffington after reading her book “Fanatics and Fools” while vacationing in Mexico. Huffington professes to be a longtime Trippi fan.
Both say electing Kerry is their top political priority this year and are trying to tamp down Ralph Nader’s popularity among disaffected voters who have not yet warmed to Kerry’s message.
“I tell my Green Party and Naderite friends that when the house is on fire, it’s not time to talk about remodeling,” Huffington said. “You put the fire out first.”
On Friday, President Bush was in Bridgeton, Mo., bringing in $2.2 million for the GOP’s get-out-the-vote “Victory” fund and defending his handling of the war in Iraq amid polls showing his voter approval ratings at the lowest level of his presidency.
Since February, Bush, Vice President Cheney and first lady Laura Bush have helped the Republican National Committee pull in at least $17 million at “Victory” events around the nation.
The president has amassed some $200 million for his own re-election.