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Harold Ickes riseth again

WASHINGTON

The midterm elections usually focus on the domestic economy. But this year the Bush administration believes that, as in the Connecticut primary, these elections will serve as a referendum on a number of international issues.

As each issue has a multiplicity of facets on which people of goodwill disagree, we face serious problems when those with malice toward some enter the discussion. In 2006, there certainly is an abundance of malice in the Democratic Party.

Two power centers divide the Democratic National Committee. One is headed by Howard Dean, who, since he captured the DNC from Terry McAuliffe in 2005, has done his best to eradicate -- or attempt to control -- the Clinton loyalists. Dean's quest for political power is based on his own ambition to occupy the White House, his dislike for the Clintons and their support for the Iraq war, his support from the hard left in the party and his self-believed ability to control the segment of the party that is against the war and for peace at any price.

If Dean, who has the power and support of the DNC, could raise money and campaign entirely through the Internet, at which he is no slouch, many believe he would attempt a palace revolution and run for the presidency.

The other power center, the Clintonistas through Hillary, believe they have an edge not only on her re-election to the Senate but on making her America's first female president. If that is to happen, she needs the support of two men.

The first is her husband, Bill, who last month joined the "grumpy old men" when he quietly celebrated his 60th birthday. The second is the brain of the Clinton duo, Harold Ickes, a New York City lawyer who now manages his firm's Washington office.

Scion of a political family whose father was Franklin Roosevelt's point man for the New Deal, Harold McEwan Ickes will be 67 on Monday. His credentials as a Freedom Rider and a New Left activist date back to the 1960s and have been enhanced by a reputation for ruthlessness and vengeance. He campaigned for Eugene McCarthy and met Bill Clinton in 1972, when they were both campaigning against the Vietnam War.

There was the usual Bill Clinton love-hate relationship with Ickes, who joined the White House in 1994 as a presidential assistant before becoming deputy chief of staff. He presided over or became very aware of many scandals involving the president and labor unions, fundraising and "diplomatic" offerings to China.

In 1996, Bill Clinton fired Ickes as a believed liability, which lasted two years until the Senate voted on the Clinton impeachment. On that day, Harold and Hillary met for four hours, after which Ickes became her unofficial campaign chief and, three years later, head of the Democrat Shadow Party.

Ickes co-founded the Democrat Shadow Party by launching core groups, such as America Coming Together, the Joint Victory Fund and The Media Fund in association with his friend George Soros.

But Harold Ickes is not campaigning for the presidency himself; there are others who may challenge Hillary. Perhaps chief among them is John Edwards, 53, who has a number of attributes that will endear him to Democrats, including a plan for universal health coverage.

Edwards works hard at campaigning, has a JFK-type of charisma and may be the Harold Ickes stalking horse.

And unless the Republicans can find stronger candidates than Mitt Romney and John McCain, we may find Harold Ickes as White House chief of staff.

Dateline D.C. is written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer.

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