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Contrary to most media reports, negative campaigning is actually in decline, but our political system is no better off for it. Or so believes Washington Post political writer Dana Milbank, whose campaign book Smashmouth provides a witty yet ultimately very serious look at the sense and senselessness that occurred during the 2000 presidential campaign. What matters is not whether a campaign claim is positive or negative, but whether the claim is relevant," writes Milbank. "The press should police outright falsehoods, of course, but otherwise let the candidates fight it out." Traveling by bus, plane and motorcade with the candidates, Milbank provides an indelible behind-the-scenes look at the brutal skirmishes that made up this century's first presidential campaign.
Al Gore is about seven miles above the desert of the Southwest, in the brand-new Boeing 757 that serves as Air Force Two. It's an impressive machine, with televisions plotting the jet's progress, business-class leather chairs for everybody, an office and bed for AI and Tipper, and a steady stream of food and drink served on china. Wherever it lands, it commands a motorcade and a swarm of dignitaries and press.
It's a week before the midterm elections in October 1998, and Gore is flying at least as high as his new machine. All signs point to an unprecedented gain of seats for the Democrats, and Gore is returning from a California trip during which he raised money for the party and collected chits from the state's Democrat hierarchy. His own race for the presidency will start in a couple of months, and from the way it looks now, he might not even have an opponent for the Democratic nomination. The JugGoreNaut, as I call it, cannot be stopped. And Gore is feeling mighty pleased with himself.
"I see you're talking to my brain," he tells me as he strolls the aisle of Air Force Two. I stand to greet him but he waves me back into my seat. "Sorry to interrupt," he says, and continues on. The situation is absurd; like every other reporter, I've come on the trip for just such a moment with Gore, but instead I wind up with a bald strategist from Dorchester known to Gore as the Brain.
Not that I'm complaining. The Brain is a chain-smoking, foul- mouthed, street-smart Democratic operative named Michael Whouley, whohelped to get John Kerry into the U.S. Senate and Bill Clinton into the White House. Right now he's about to start on his newest project, the election of the still-undeclared Democratic candidate for president. And he's offered to map out Gore's primary strategy for me on the back of a piece of letterhead from his consulting firm, the Dewey Square group.
At the top of the page Whouley scribbles "Feb '99," the start of the campaign, and after that the goal: "Nomination." The trick, he says, is simple: "To win it quick enough that it's worth having." Next, down the left side of the page, the Brain lists the campaign components: "Message," "Organization," and "$." Down the right side of the page, he creates a second column, titled "X-Factors." Here there are two: "Economy" and a catch-all category called "Fuckup," one at which Gore can be particularly adept. The idea is to get the message, organization, and money strong enough that the campaign can withstand even a barrage of X-factors.
Whouley lists message first, which seems obvious. It's hard to run a campaign without a message. Yet, at least for now, Gore is basically doing just that. Though his policy shop is stirring a message brew to be sampled later, Gore's campaign theme, at the moment, is essentially a show of force. The machine is the message. The JugGoreNaut, with its overwhelming domination of Democratic fund-raising, strategists, party officials, and activists, makes any primary assault on Gore seem foolhardy.
Ominously, there are signs of complacency among Gore's top advisers. Bob Squier, his old friend and media expert, tells me, surprisingly, that Gore needn't introduce any specific proposals. "It's enough to say, `Here's what I do already,'" he says. But that's a dangerous way to think.
But Michael Whouley is the one guy determined not to let such complacency take hold. He's already talking about how to cope with a loss in Iowa or New Hampshire. "If we lose at first, it becomes World War I, a delegate race, winning through attrition," he says. "If we lose in New Hampshire, we regroup in California and then go south to Florida and Texas and we're recovered." But this much is clear, at least to the Brain: "We've got to be prepared to fight in the long run.... We can muddle through and still win the nomination, but we'll be bloodied." And bloody is no way to face George W. Bush, who led Gore by 55.7 percent to 34.3 percent in a recent Zogby International poll.
Whouley's—and Gore's—first task is to get rid of Whouley's old mentor, Massacusetts Senator John Kerry. The man is potentially Gore's toughest rival for the Democratic nomination. Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, one potential challenger, has already decided against a run after a typical bout of indecision. Dick Gephardt has been telling confidants he won't run and has been doing little of the necessary homework to launch a campaign; he wants to be Speaker of the House.
Kerry worries Gore the most. He's a Vietnam hero, smart, good-looking, a favorite son in New Hampshire—and he could use his wife Teresa Heinz's fortune for a presidential race. Kerry also has the ability to take from Gore the Clintonian moderates who favor reform. Already, he has staked a controversial claim as an education reformer, much as Clinton did with welfare in 1992. In twin speeches delivered recently in Boston and Washington, Kerry ostentatiously defied the teachers' unions, his long-time friends, declaring that "we must end teacher tenure as we know it" and proposing "to make every public school in this country essentially a charter school."
But while Kerry has the money and a reform agenda that trumps Gore's, he lacks anything near the infrastructure and name recognition of the front-runner. Kerry also doesn't have Whouley, who was Kerry's field director in his 1982 lieutenant governor's race. As Kerry begins to contemplate a presidential run, Whouley visits his old boss to tell him that he was going with Gore. Not long after, Kerry decides against a challenge to Gore. And the man from Dorchester has at least something to do with it. "I would not have enjoyed running against Whouley," Kerry says. "I definitely want him in my foxhole."
At the moment, it's feeling fairly secure in Gore's foxhole. With his most formidable competitors out of the race, he's faced with challenges from Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, who doesn't have much more than the short professor vote, and former Senator Bill Bradley, whom the Gore campaign does not fear, at least not yet. A December NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Gore leading Bradley 49 percent to 12 percent.
* * *
Sure, I had been warned: a Bill Bradley speech could be something less than electrifying. Still, I am not quite prepared for what happens when the aspiring presidential candidate takes the podium at the University of Notre Dame one night late in the fall of 1998.
His lecture is titled "Meaning in American Politics," but it might have been better titled "Dreaming in American Politics," for it proves a powerful soporific. As Bradley stands with his glasses low on his nose, a red necktie not quite covering his lengthy torso, he reads straight from his prepared text in a slow drone. After ten minutes, many of his three hundred listeners begin to rest their heads in their hands; after twenty minutes, several are slouching in their seats. After half an hour, a guy in front of me in a Notre Dame jacket falls asleep, his head hitting his chest, bouncing up, and hitting his chest again. I look down the row and find several others in various states of repose. The university's venerable president emeritus, Father Hesburgh, who is sitting next to me, emits what sounds very much like a snore.
Oblivious, Bradley drones on, about how "capital follows knowledge" and how "we can reclaim the public sector as a venue for the source of our fulfillment." Bradley roams from religion to income inequality, from Edmund Burke to Virginia Woolfe. After forty-five minutes, it begins to sound like a filibuster. Bradley waves his right hand in a continuous circle. Is it a hypnoic gesture? Is there enough oxygen in the room? I am growing sleepy. Sleepy. Sleepy. Fortunately, Father Hesburgh snores again, breaking the spell.
"I was listening to everything he said—when I was awake," admits Tim Casale, the fellow in the Notre Dame jacket, when I confront him after the speech. Casale, a junior, is from New Jersey, and he wanted to see whether Bradley really sounded like the kind of guy who could challenge the vice president in 2000. "You look at the Democratic Party and you see Al Gore getting the nomination," Casale says. He's more convinced of that than ever after Bradley's talk. "He made a lot of interesting points, but nothing huge," Casale says. "It seemed there was something missing, like a spark."
That question, whether Bradley has the spark, is the central issue facing the candidate as he prepares for a presidential run. He has the resume, the policies and the instinct to mount a challenge to Gore, but does he have the fortitude? Can he bring himself down from his lofty heights to engage in a tough and nasty fight with Gore? Can he play smashmouth politics?
Bradley is again flirting with a presidential run, just as he flirted in '88, '92 and '96. This time, it appears, he's actually planning on doing it. With Gephardt declining to run, he's arguably the only Democratic candidate with a national stature that could rival Gore's. His famous resume can be recited by nearly everyone: basketball All-American at Princeton, captain of the 1964 Olympic basketball team, Rhodes Scholar, Hall-of-Famer who led the Knicks to two NBA championships before getting himself elected to the U.S. Senate on his first run for office in 1978. His attraction now is he's the un-Clinton: straight as an arrow, earnestly bookish, squeaky clean.
And boring. Bradley has developed a reputation for being one of the most cerebral and remote figures in American politics, a man not of the people, but above the people. Americans will indeed be looking for an honest man like Bradley to replace the shifty Clinton. But when they get a glimpse of the clean and good Bradley on the campaign trail, they may decide a rascal like Clinton isn't such a bad thing, after all. Ideologically, Bradley is little different from the Democrats' standard-bearer, Gore; stylistically, he is even more plodding. Bradley stands a chance if Gore stumbles in a campaign finance scandal or an economic downturn. But after Clinton's resurgence in November's midterm elections, Gore, as the heir-apparent to a popular president, appears invincible.
"People always said I would pick the time when it was hardest to do," Bradley told an audience recently. "We may be approaching that time." All signs are that Bradley wants to run. Officially, he says he will decide by January whether he and his wife "want to jump off a 50-story building," as he puts it. But Bradley is being less coy than usual, and his friends and advisers are putting out the word that he'll do it. "It certainly seems like it," says Marcia Aronoff, his staff chief for 12 years in the Senate. "He's serious about it," says Ed Turlington, who runs Bradley's three-person office now.
The ever-cosmic Bradley himself, in an interview, says he is searching to see whether his "ability matches the moment." Gore's commanding lead, he insists, has nothing to do with his decision. "The only given in politics is whatever you think will happen won't happen," he says. "You don't make this kind of life decision on a tactical basis. It's an internal issue not related to external dynamics." In a sense, that seems absurd: How can a man prepare to run for the presidency without considering "external dynamics" such as whether or not he actually has a chance? But in another sense, this is genuine Bradley—and it explains much about his candidacies and noncandidacies. He is listening to an inner voice, and he will do whatever that inner voice tells him to do, no matter what anybody else thinks.
The inner voice told him not to run in '88 and '92 when everybody was begging him to run; now it seems to be telling him to run at a time when nobody is asking him to. This is the politics of self-absorption: the candidacy is about Bill Bradley, not about America. A presidential run is the only missing credential on an otherwise perfect resume. "Ever write your own eulogy, the perfect eulogy you'd like your friend to read at your funeral, to see if you're living up to it?" Bradley asks during his Notre Dame speech. Then he offers a favorite quotation: "The tragedy is to die with commitments undefined, convictions undeclared and service unfulfilled." The next day, I ask Bradley whether that quotation represents a bit of self-reflection for him. "It certainly resonates with me," he tells me. "The commitment and the convictions are there. The question is whether the service is fulfilled."
It's also not clear whether Bradley can muster the mechanics of a presidential run. The only real threat to Gore is a big bank account, and Bradley doesn't have one. He hasn't raised any serious money since 1990, and it was widely reported that he was having trouble raising funds for his '96 reelection to the Senate. His PAC (political action committee), called Time Future, handed out $81,000 this year through mid-October; Gore's PAC, by contrast, contributed nearly $1.3 million to Democratic candidates this year. Bradley, to his credit, is a fierce advocate of campaign finance reform, but this could limit his ability to raise the $10 to $25 million in funds he needs to run.
Bradley doesn't exactly dazzle on the campaign trail. He seems to take some pride in his public-speaking troubles. In his 1996 memoir, Time Present, Time Past, he cited a description of his 1992 Democratic convention speech as "by far, the most wooden speech of the evening.... The expressions of his face were clownishly inappropriate, as if someone else, not he, were controlling them." After six years of speeches, little has changed. At the Notre Dame speech, he appears alternately dyspeptic and tongue-tied, stumbling twice on the phrase "pretty penny pincher," making a phony spitting sound, then trying the phrase again. But Bradley's problem is not strictly oral; he has a way of showing disdain for voters' concerns if they don't match his own. In 1990, he almost lost his reelection bid when he refused to say what he thought of Governor Jim Florio's tax increase, even though voters were demanding his opinion. Bradley came across as arrogant and evasive, and barely beat the then-unknown Christine Todd Whitman. "I got the message," Bradley declared in a news conference after the election. But even then he refused to answer the question.
While many question Bradley's viability as a candidate, few doubt he's a man of conviction and substance. He spent thankless years in the Senate devoting himself to arcane issues such as strategic petroleum reserves and tax reform. He also made himself an expert on Russia and trade policy. He is perhaps the party's best spokesman on race, in part an outgrowth of his basketball experience, and he has also been a leading voice in the civil-society movement, which encourages nongovernmental groups to assume a greater role. In many matters he aligns himself with the reform-minded, New Democratic wing of the party; he favors a muscular foreign policy and free trade. And when it comes to personal behavior, the man is clearly no Clinton: Bradley would never have an "inappropriate relationship" with his interns; he probably wouldn't be able to pick them out of a lineup.
But for all his depth and decency, Bradley will be hard pressed to convince people that his ideas are somehow different from Gore's. The vice president long ago established himself as the party expert in technology, the environment and the New Economy—ideas upon which any Bradley campaign would be based. Also, Bradley's record in the Senate was deliberative to the point of squishiness. In the 1980s, he campaigned against aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, then decided to support it, then changed his mind again. In 1990, despite his hawkish reputation on foreign policy, he publicly criticized President George Bush for giving up too soon on sanctions against Iraq, and he later voted against authorizing military action against Iraq. Even Bradley loyalists say there's not much room between his philosophy and Gore's. "In terms of issues, most people would think they're pretty much the same," says Rick Wright, a businessman and longtime friend who played basketball with Bradley at Princeton.
What, then, is the message? Bradley acknowledges his policies are similar to Gore's. "A lot of time it isn't what you say but how it's received," he says. In other words, it's less about the message than the messenger. Already, Bradley has been aiming for the high ground in 2000 by knocking Clinton, something Gore can't do. "The presidency is only a potential," he says at Notre Dame. "It can be grand ... or it can be less grand, as it has been from time to time," he adds with a smirk. "Could the presidency ever be the same after this? Absolutely. Every president can fill the office. It's fluid and open for whoever is next."
Another angle Bradley may try against Gore is that of outsider. Bradley, since leaving the Senate, has spent the last two years in a number of strategic positions: a teaching job at Stanford (where he courted Silicon Valley), an advisory position at J. P. Morgan & Co. (where he wooed Wall Street), a stint as commentator for CBS News (which maintained his visibility) and now a teaching job at Notre Dame (from which he can collect Chicago money). It wasn't long ago that Bradley, announcing his departure from the Senate, famously declared that "politics is broken." Politics is still broken, but Bradley now sees himself as fixer. "To say the system is broken without trying to change it is irresponsible," he says. Politics "is not beyond being able to fix. It starts with a politician who is true to his convictions." Hmmm, wonder who that might be.
Bradley has often said he set four criteria for himself when deciding on the 1988 race. He required a deep, "novelistic" sense of the country, a foreign policy not learned from briefing books, a team that could win and govern, and an ability to communicate with voters. "I looked in the mirror and said I wasn't there, so I didn't do it," Bradley says now. In 1992, "I was ready but something in me said don't do it." In that case, he was lucky: his wife developed breast cancer that year. Now, his wife is well and his daughter has gone off to college, and this time, he says, "the four criteria are met." Still, he tells me he now has a fifth consideration, deciding whether he can "most effectively lead the country at this moment."
His decision-making has a mysterious, almost mystical quality. "It's a kind of subconscious pattern," says Wright, who likens it to the philosopher Kierkegaard's leap of faith. Why didn't Bradley run before? "I don't think even he knows," Wright says. Bradley is inarguably the only presidential candidate who makes decisions like a nineteenth-century philosopher.
But if his decision-making is other worldly, Bradley's preparations for 2000 have been conventional. First is the obligatory campaign book. Bradley once resisted using his basketball superstar status in politics, but now he consciously links the two. The book, Values of the Game, has a basketball on the front, a photo of young Bradley in uniform on the back, and a foreword by coach Phil Jackson. No longer Senator Tax Policy, he's once again Dollar Bill, drawing an unbroken line between himself and Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, even bad boy Dennis Rodman.
The book is about life lessons drawn from sports, and about the author's successful use of such lessons. "In the U.S. Senate, along the campaign trail, or in any number of projects I became involved with after Princeton, it was the same story," he writes. "I was determined that no one would outwork me." Even in retirement, Bradley continues an almost manic work ethic. At a book signing in South Bend, the manager in the Barnes & Noble wants him to sign a few stock copies, but Bradley, beckoning to a pile of a couple hundred books, declares to the surprised workers, "Let's get 'em all done." It was a bit like a free-throw practice; the bookstore staff would open and pass the books in an assembly line, and Bradley would sign. "We're a team!" he cheered.
Bradley is using his current role as a lecturer at Notre Dame, like his earlier gig at Stanford, to polish a presidential message. His syllabus for the seminar he's teaching at Notre Dame requires "a four-page paper for Senator Bradley which addresses ... what they believe a presidential candidate in the year 2000 should address both as candidate and president." "He's testing the waters with us for a possible presidential run," says Mary Beth Lasseter, a student in the seminar. "He wants to see how it plays with the youth, or so we've been told."
Bradley's reception in South Bend hasn't been altogether presidential. Anti-abortion activists have protested his presence at the Catholic school, even flying a banner over a Notre Dame football game urging "Drop Senator Bradley." The protests have caused Bradley to move about campus with a plainclothes policeman and to keep his whereabouts confidential. Nor is everybody lining up to see the six-foot-five superstar. At the Barnes & Noble book signing, only about fifty people come, an unusually low turnout for the store. "I guess noon is not a good time," Bradley says when the crowd disappears before his one-hour signing is over.
Bradley gets a much better reception in his home base of northern New Jersey, where I also follow him around for a day. If New Jersey were America, President Bradley could start planning his inaugural. When he arrives at a breakfast in West Orange, he gets spontaneous applause when he walks in the door and a standing ovation after he speaks. He is introduced by State Senate Minority Leader Richard Codey, who in the past called him "Abe Lincoln with a jump shot," and who this time declares that Bradley is "warming up" for a presidential run. The Essex County Democratic chairman, Thomas Giblin, is showing off a "Bill Bradley for President 2000" button, which he made himself. "I appreciate that," Bradley says to Giblin. "I really do." The reception is much the same for Bradley later in the morning at a festival in Cliffside Park, where a local sheriff candidate calls Bradley "the next president of the United States" and someone else greets him as "Mr. President."
But, of course, northern New Jersey is not America. And even in Jersey there is the occasional reminder that reality will likely intrude on Bradley's presidential ambitions. Doug Bern, a candidate for Bergen County freeholder and one of the Democrats for whom Bradley is campaigning in Cliffise Park, lets it slip that he "wouldn't be a Bradley man" in 2000. "I don't know if he has the fortitude to do it," says Bern, noting that Bradley "left us in the lurch" when he fled politics in 1996. "He missed his wave," Bern says, as Bradley works the crowd. "Sure, he's Mr. Clean. He's a good man. But Americans care about job performance, not character, and that's how it should be. Guys like Gore and Gephardt stayed in there and did the heavy lifting. I'd go with somebody who stayed in there, like Gore."
That question, about Bradley's willingness to mix it up in the rough-and-tumble world of presidential politics, will be his greatest obstacle on the campaign trail. "He's the Meg Greenfield, Lehrer Newshour choice," says one Democratic operative. "He doesn't want to get his hands dirty." Time magazine quoted a former Bradley aide as saying, "Bill wants very much to be president. But he doesn't particularly want to run for president." I ask Bradley about that line. "Whoever said that hasn't seen me campaign," he protests. "Campaigning is like playing basketball. It's full of joy, it's unscripted, it's unknown, it's invogorating." And if the campaign lowers him to the gutter, so be it. "You have to go with your convictions, and if your convictions put you in the pit that's where you have to be."
Bradley says he's ready to descend into the pit; whether or not that's true will take some time to learn.
* * *
Back in the JugGoreNaut, there are few worries about Bradley. The campaign begins in earnest minutes after the polls close on November 3, 1998. The phones have begun to ring in New Hampshire; it's the vice president on the line, and he wants to talk to New Hampshire Democrats. All of them. He calls state Senator Sylvia Larson, who at first thinks it's a practical joke. "He knew my husband's name and the names of both of my children," she marvels. He calls Democrats elected to the state House. "One person took out the tape on her answering machine so she could keep playing it back to her grandchildren," reports Anita Freedman, the Portsmouth Democratic chairwoman. Gore speaks to about two-hundred people in 24 hours, and he leaves answering-machine messages for hundreds more. Then, he asks his weary staff for more phone numbers. "We were going to give him the New Hampshire phone book," says one aide, Michael Feldman.
Gore dials on. He rings the number for Greg Martin of Keene, congratulating him on his reelection to the county commission. "Having the vice president of the United States call me at home the day after my election to a part-time job, I'd say he's pretty aggressive," says Martin, who, with a horde of other New Hampshire Democrats, also is on the list for an invitation to a Christmas party at Gore's official residence. "It emphasized how important this is for him." Gore, of course, isn't dialing for fun; he figures the phone calls and the party invitations will win him the crucial support of Democratic activists like Martin in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary a year from now. And he's probably right. "They've made me more of a Gore person," says Martin, who backed Gephardt in '88 but now pledges his support to the vice president. "I'd be very surprised if anybody could really give him a run for his money."
That's the picture emerging at the start of Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. Gore, who formally begins his quest on New Year's Eve, has an overwhelming advantage in his pursuit of his party's nomination. Using the trappings of his office and the power of incumbency, he has established himself as the heir to a president who, even in impeachment, remains hugely popular among Democratic primary voters.
Even the front-loaded 2000 primary calendar favors the JugGoreNaut. In 2000, the two giants, New York and California, will come immediately on the heels of Iowa and New Hampshire, which means, as one Gore adviser put it, "You've got to be on New York and California TV before you know if you've won New Hampshire." This obviously benefits Gore, who aims to raise $35 million by December 1999. Democratic donors are few enough that a second candidate is unlikely to reach the limit; Bradley, by contrast, told me he thinks he could do a campaign on $10 million to $12 million. If he's serious about spending so little, the whole race could be over after the first week of March.
There is, however, a danger in the JugGoreNaut strategy. By trying to nail down support from such a broad spectrum of Democratic constituencies, Gore could spread himself too thin and allow himself to drift ideologically to the left, making him a less promising general-election candidate. Similar problems hurt Walter Mondale in '84 and George Bush in '88, when complacency about their front-runner status and the lack of a clear message made them vulnerable to challenges from Gary Hart and Pat Robertson, respectively. Now, some Democrats worry that Gore is repeating that mistake by pandering to labor, black groups, feminists, and environmentalists. "He tells them exactly what they want to hear," says one Democrat from the Democratic Leadership Council, the party's centrist caucus. Clinton in '92 defied some interest groups, taking on teachers' unions for opposing testing and making an issue of a black rap artist's divisive remarks. But Gore has been all caution—putting him in danger of falling into the Mondale trap.
The message of Gore 2000, its architects say, will be Clinton II—which points to both the central strength and weakness of the campaign. He is, for better or worse, establishing himself as the incumbent. "The question is not how he's going to track an entirely new course," says Maria Romash, a Gore communications consultant. "It's how I've made a difference in your life, and how the Clinton administration has made a difference in your life." Now, that message seems right. With Clinton's popularity and the economy booming, and the machinery of incumbency on his side, Gore seems invincible. But, while Gore can ride the JugGoreNaut all the way to the Democratic convention in 2000, he eventually will need something more than a mighty machine to make it to the White House.
For now, though, campaign apparatus is what matters. And in that sense, at least, Gore seems unlikely to repeat the mistakes of Bush and Mondale. Taking nothing for granted, he's campaigning as fiercely as if he were the underdog. "It's going to be a dogfight," says one top Gore adviser. In '98, the vice president went to more than 200 campaign events in 38 states, including appearances in 41 of the 57 competitive House races and 14 of the 15 competitive gubernatorial races. And, judging by the JugGoreNaut's preparations in the four most important primary states—Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, and California—Gore doesn't suffer from front-runner complacency.
In Iowa, Gore became the first presidential candidate to take credit for moving pork away from the state. As Gore traveled from Washington to Iowa this fall, aides on Air Force Two passed out a new announcement Gore would make on the ground. The Clinton administration, just hours earlier, had reached an agreement with Argentina to open up its market to U.S. pork, meaning millions of dollars in sales for Iowa's 20,000 hog farmers. Gore had pushed the negotiations along for two weeks, and trade officials were furiously negotiating the night before the Iowa trip so Gore could announce a deal. Such is the power of incumbency. "He certainly opens up a lot of doors that way," said Norman Schmitt, head of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, after meeting Gore in Iowa.
A couple of years ago, David Yepsen, the Des Moines Register's political reporter, wrote a story about whether Gore would repeat Bush's '88 mistakes: allowing himself to be swallowed by his security bubble, failing to keep up contacts, and taking Iowa for granted. After the piece ran, Yepsen got a call from Gore's spokeswoman, who said Gore had read it. "They understand what Bush did wrong in this state, and they're correcting it," Yepsen says. "They're not going to let a Democratic Pat Robertson sneak up on them."
In New Hampshire, Gore has methodically courted the state's party leaders. Larson, the state senator, figures she has spoken to the vice president twenty times already. He raised money for the Democratic candidates for the state legislature this year, and she attended Gore's Christmas party in Washington. Now, she's for Gore. "I don't think there's been as dominant a situation as this," Larson says. "Mondale had the ability to do it, but he didn't have the same network of people. There's a lot more human-contact feeling from Gore."
Of the two hundred or so key Democratic activists in New Hampshire, Gore aides claim they have commitments from more than half, even more than the incumbent Clinton had gathered at this stage in the '96 campaign. Karen Brown, news director at ABC affiliate WMUR in Manchester, the state's most powerful media outlet, doesn't argue with the Gore claim: "They've done a great job of getting in here early and getting those commitments. It's going to be tough for a Bill Bradley or a John Kerry to come up with enough Democratic activists." And Brown has been wooed herself: she had three extensive interviews with the vice president in 1998.
In New York, Gore recently entertained top Wall Street fund-raisers for two hours at the Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. On another occasion, Gore did a fund-raiser for Chuck Schumer at the home of Jamie Dimon. Along the way, says Michael Schlein, an investment banker and Democratic fund-raiser, "they've really lined up a who's who of New York fundraisers." Among the Wall Street Democrats for Gore are Dimon, Loews's Jonathan Tisch, Lazard Freres's Steven Rattner, hedge-fund investor Orin Kramer, Goldman Sachs boss Jon Corzine, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore partner Bob Joffe.
In Manhattan, Herman "Denny" Farrell, the Democratic leader for 19 years, committed to Gore when the vice president came to New York after the November election. Gore had worked hard for the endorsement, meeting with Farrell three times this past fall and inviting him to a party in Washington. "I feel like I've moved in next to him," says Farrell.
And California? Gore has been there 44 times since he became vice president, a dozen times last year alone. On a trip just before the election, for example, he announced that California would get $129 million as part of the new budget, allowing the state to hire 3,322 new teachers, a Clinton priority. This fall, Gore campaigned for candidates for U.S. Senate, House, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, and the state legislature. Then, there's Hollywood. Gore is close to Disney Executive Vice President John Cook, and, at DreamWorks, "we will certainly be there with the vice president," says Corporate Affairs Chief Andy Spahn. Gore tries to compensate for his lack of celebrity friendships by talking policy. This fall, he helped Rob Reiner pass an early childhood development ballot initiative in California. Though Bradley and Kerry have ties to Hollywood, Reiner says Gore is "clearly in first position by a long shot, and I don't think anybody's even competing."
The JugGoreNaut's commanding presence extends nationwide. The mayors, for example, are already on board. Gore backers include Detroit's Dennis Archer, Chicago's Richard Daley, Kansas City's Emanuel Cleaver, Atlanta's Bill Campbell, Philadelphia's Edward Rendell, and Boston's Thomas Menino. Gore's campaign has also lined up the elite Democratic strategists, many of them Clinton veterans. Craig Smith, the outgoing White House political director, will manage the campaign; Peter Knight, who ran Clinton's '96 campaign, will direct Gore's fund-raising. Bob Squier, a longtime Gore backer, will oversee Gore's television campaign, while top Democratic operatives Whouley and Theresa Vilmain will plan strategy in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively. The president's pollster, Mark Penn, is also tied to the vice president. Two Cabinet members, Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and Commerce Secretary William Daley, will also help.
Perhaps nowhere is the JugGoreNaut as dominant as in fund-raising. There are only so many big-time donors, and, if Gore wins them early, there won't be any funds left for Bradley et al. (This is less of a concern for John Kerry, who can spend his wife's fortune.) Democratic strategists figure there are about 31,000 Americans who give the maximum $1,000 to a Democratic candidate in a primary. "We're relatively confident we'll get twenty-five or twenty-six thousand of them," says one Gore money man. Gore aides hope to raise the maximum $35 million by December 1999. Gore fund-raisers plan to have the bulk of their work done in 90 days—the earliest ever for a presidential campaign and three to six months earlier than Clinton's in '96.
So what pitfalls—X-factors, as Whouley calls them—lie ahead? Gore was relatively free of mistakes in '98. True, he confused Michael Jordan with Michael Jackson and told a Minnesota crowd how the local Democrats would do the state of Missouri proud. But there was nothing of the magnitude of "no controlling legal authority" in '98—and Gore's campaign finance exposure, thanks to Janet Reno, is now slight. As for Clinton's impeachment, it might hurt in a general election, but during the primaries it can help. Clinton remains tremendously popular among Democrats, and core Democratic primary voters have made saving Clinton a favorite cause.
The X-factors will hit the campaign even harder if Gore were to come up empty on broad themes. And that's where the all-important Gore message comes in. If Gore can't convince Americans that he has big new ideas, he will be more vulnerable to the X-factors.
And, as anybody who has studied Gore's past knows, the X-factors are sure to come.
Posted November 30, 2000
Posted December 5, 2000