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John Kerry's (New) Political Guru

Since losing the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry has largely kept intact the political team that guided him in that race. But a new face has emerged as an influential strategist in Kerry's universe -- Ed Reilly, a polling and communications specialist with deep experience working for Democratic candidates in national campaigns.

The addition of Reilly to Kerry's political cabinet is yet another sign that the 2004 presidential nominee is seriously weighing another run in 2008. Kerry has used his Keeping America's Promise PAC to dole out campaign contributions to candidates and party committees across the country, and he has emerged as one of his party's leading voices on the need for an American withdrawal from Iraq.

Reilly lives in Pennsylvania and works in New York City, but he spent much of his professional career in Massachusetts where he developed relationships with Kerry confidants Ron Rosenblith and David Thorne, the senator's former brother-in-law. Kerry, himself, began to notice Reilly during the latter's role in defending the military record of former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey in 2001. Reilly coordinated the push-back campaign with high school classmate Tommy Vallely -- a personal friend of Kerry's who had taken up the cause of defending the senator's military record throughout his political career.

David Wade, a spokesman for Kerry, said Reilly and his boss "have plenty of shared history and friends in common in the rough and tumble of campaigns in Massachusetts, and it doesn't hurt in our former Navy Lieutenant's eyes that Ed was a Marine."

Although he is a newcomer to Kerry's inner circle, Reilly is not new to presidential politics. He polled for ex-Rep. Richard Gephardt's (Mo.) presidential bids in 1988 and 2004 (after Gephardt dropped from the '88 race, Reilly handled survey research for Gov. Michael Dukakis), and he advised ex-New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley's race in 2000.

Reilly has founded and sold two consulting companies. In the early 1990s he sold KRC Research -- a polling firm -- to communications consulting giant Saywer Miller. Last year, Reilly sold Westhill Partners -- a communications consulting and polling firm he started in 1998 -- to Financial Dynamics.

If Kerry makes another run, Reilly would be working with an established team. Two of the lead strategists during the 2004 campaign -- field guru Michael Whouley and John Sasso -- would be on board for another Kerry run, though neither is particularly involved in the candidate's political positioning at the moment.

One consultant who will not be back if Kerry runs again is Bob Shrum, who served as the lead strategist during the '04 race. Shrum says he has retired from American politics and currently serves as a senior fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.

Read my latest assessment of Kerry's chances in 2008.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 22, 2006; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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