Long-time Democratic Campaign Strategist Tells All

After decades with major Democratic campaigns, Bob Shrum airs the dirty laundry.

By May 24, 2007 — -- There was a time when everyone wanted to be his friend.

Back in the early days of the 2004 presidential race, reporters dubbed it the "Shrum primary" -- because every candidate seemed to want to hire Democratic consultant Bob Shrum to provide strategy and guidance.

But after losing that campaign with Sen. John Kerry -- and with more than a half dozen previous races with losing Democratic presidential candidates -- Shrum said he knew he'd be forever known as "the black cat of American politics."

No surprise then that this time around, Shrum is working for no one. And he isn't holding back in criticizing a former client -- former Sen. John Edwards.

In a three-inch thick tome being published in June, "No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner," Shrum recounts his time with George McGovern, Ted Kennedy, Richard Gephardt, Bob Kerrey, Al Gore and John Kerry.

Shrum calls Gore and Kerry "complex figures" who would have been good presidents. But it's the thrashing he gives John Edwards that really stands out.

Shrum writes that when he first met Edwards in 1998, when he was running for the U.S. Senate, he had "seldom encountered anyone with as many innate political gifts." He agreed to work on Edwards' Senate bid.

But he also says Edwards "didn't know much about the issues" and later in the book he calls Edwards "a Clinton who hadn't read the books."

Shrum also writes that he was troubled by an exchange he had with Edwards about homosexuals.

"What is your position, Mr. Edwards, on gay rights?" Shrum says he asked Edwards in 1998. Edwards' reply, according to Shrum, was: "I'm not comfortable around those people."

Shrum says he advised Edwards not to say that in public and to come up with a better answer, "a kind of generalized opposition to discrimination -- that he said he could live with in the state, while not undermining his future as a 'national' Democrat."

John Edwards' team disputes that account as an inaccurate representation of the conversation and a mischaracterization of Edwards' feelings about gay rights.

Harrison Hickman, Edwards' pollster, was also in the room for that conversation and does not recall Edwards saying he was "not comfortable" around gays. Edwards himself has repeatedly described an evolution of his views -- from growing up in the South, where he was not exposed to openly gay lifestyles, to becoming vocal about gay rights.

During a campaign speech in New Hampshire earlier this year, Edwards told the crowd that he supports antidiscrimination measures to protect gay men and women's rights, and while he supports civil unions, gay marriage is "something that I struggle with."

A spokesman for Edwards says much of what Shrum writes in the book about Edwards is taken from secondhand accounts or is patently false.

"Anyone who knows Bob Shrum knows that he has a very casual relationship with the truth, and it's not surprising that when he's trying to stay relevant and write some books, he would make things up," spokesman Mark Kornblau tells ABC News.

Shrum writes about incidents that make Edwards appear less than truthful. Shrum claims that before choosing Edwards as his running mate in 2004, Kerry asked Edwards for some reassurance. He asked Edwards to pledge that if their ticket lost in '04, Edwards would not run against Kerry in 2008. But Edwards, of course, did launch a 2008 bid.

And Shrum writes that Edwards once told Kerry a story about the death of his son Wade and began by saying he had never told anyone the story before, even though Kerry recalled hearing the story years earlier (with the same never-told-a-soul preface).

But the story Shrum references about Edwards' son had also appeared in newspaper and print accounts, making it seem unlikely that Edwards would have prefaced the account with "I've never told anyone this before."

After the loss in 2004, Shrum writes that Kerry regretted ever having asked Edwards to join the ticket. "Kerry said that he wished he'd never picked Edwards, that he should have gone with his gut."

Clearly, there is no love lost between Shrum and Edwards. When Shrum chose to work for Kerry and not Edwards in the initial months of the 2004 campaign, when both men were competing for the Democratic nomination, he recalls Edwards getting angry and saying: "I can't believe you would do this to me and my family. I will never, ever forget it, even on my deathbed."

Near the end of his 494-page book, Shrum twists the knife once more. "To know and write about political leaders candidly is to reveal their jagged edges," he writes. "Even the best of them are flawed heroes."

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