WASHINGTON, D.C.—Joe Lockhart, White House spokesman under President Clinton and currently a partner with public affairs firm The Glover Park Group, has joined the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign as a senior advisor. His first priority will be leading the campaign’s response to recent attacks on Kerry’s service in Vietnam.
Lockhart served as chief spokesman for President Clinton from 1998 to 2000, conducting daily press conferences for White House reporters and briefing the president and senior members of his administration on all press matters. Before joining the White House in 1997, he was national press secretary for the Clinton-Gore 96 re-election campaign. He also worked on the Dukakis/Bentsen campaign in 1988 and the Mondale-Ferraro campaign in 1984.
He will be assisted in his new role by Joel Johnson, who is joining the Kerry-Edwards campaign as director of rapid response. Johnson is co-founder and managing director of public affairs firm The Harbour Group, and was previously President Clinton’s senior advisor for policy and communications, charged with coordinating the message and communications strategies designed to promote the administration’s legislative and policy goals.
The changes come as the campaign is being criticized by many Democrats for what they see as a slow and somewhat tepid response to charges by a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that has challenged the U.S. military’s account of events that earned John Kerry various medals for his service in Vietnam.
According to a report by Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt, “Leading Democrats describe a command structure often frozen—or at least tempered—by too many chefs, a too-heavy reliance on polls or focus groups and an aversion to risks. As a result, the message often is muddled and the reaction to hard-hitting attacks from Republicans often is slow and unconvincing.
“The response to the supposedly independent Swift Boat Veterans attacking Sen. Kerry’s war record has been particularly ineffective.”
Separately, Karen Finney has been named communications director for Elizabeth Edwards, wife of the vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Finney was most recently director of business development at Scholastic in New York. She is a veteran of the 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign and of the Clinton White House.