Steve Morgan is managing director of London public affairs agency
Morgan Allen Moore. He has recently returned from the US where he was
working on the election campaign for vice-president Al Gore, who he met
at a Downing Street reception a year ago.
Since then he has been in regular contact with Gore’s senior campaign
team, working on a strategy to get US citizens abroad, especially those
in Europe, to vote for the Gore in the 2000 Whitehouse race. His diary
traces the work of the media team, which culminated in Gore’s victory as
Democrat candidate in the ’Super Tuesday’ primaries last week.
20 Jan 9.45pm US Central time, Des Moines, Iowa. Gore’s campaign HQ.
I attend my first evening briefing to be given all the latest juice. The
world’s media has descended on Iowa. Late night and early morning
briefings will become the norm. The campaign of the vice-president (VP)
is firmly focused on education, health and the environment. Democratic
opponent, senator Bill Bradley, also has health as the main plank of his
However, Bradley’s proposals for healthcare are fiscally suspect. For
the next four days we will be looking to knock holes in his figures.
21 Jan, 8am The VP is in the northern part of the state focusing on
’retail politics’. At HQ my first foreign TV crew turn up - from Sweden.
The first thing they need to understand is how candidates are
US citizens don’t join political parties as we understand them. Those
wishing to participate in the selection of candidates register with the
state as either Democrat, Republican, or, if they have not decided, as
The process for Iowa is unique to that state. Registered Democrats meet
in a caucus at a given date. In the caucus I observe, 96 people come
along to pick 11 delegates to the state caucus which will decide the
state votes in the August Democratic Convention to nominate a
Three people speak in favour of each candidate before the meeting
divides into three groups. Those for Gore, those for Bradley and the
The undecided then meet with the supporters of each candidate before
making up their minds who to support. Eventually, the meeting splits
into two clear groups. In this case 40 for Bradley and 56 for Gore.
Consequently, Gore receives six delegates and Bradley five. The whole
process takes about 90 minutes. It sounds complicated but it works. On
24 January in the evening 2,042 caucus meetings of this kind are held
all over Iowa.
Gore’s grassroots campaign manager is Michael Whouley, a skilled
political operative from Boston who understands that the key to winning
Iowa is to focus on retail politics and ’dotting the dogs’. This means
the mass media play second fiddle to the party machine. Senator Bradley
outspends us by over half a million dollars on 30 second TV ads while
Gore concentrates on retail politics and giving selected interviews. All
the media want to interview the VP. Our strategy is to restrict him
purely to the Iowa press and some national media.
The international media too are denied access. However, as they are also
going to be important to us later in the race for the White House, we
want to keep them reasonably happy and so we use ’surrogates’.
In Iowa we have senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and, of course,
24 Jan, 8am Caucus Day. The VP and Mrs Gore are out first thing greeting
people at factory gates, then on to the school run, followed by the
shopping malls. The national media polls show us eight to ten points
ahead. Our private polls indicate a larger gap. We’ve hired the State
Fairground for the evening. In all we’ve about 40 television crews, 10
radio broadcasters, dozens of print media journalists and 700 Gore
supporters hanging around for the results.
24 Jan, 9.30pm There’s no doubt we’ve won. The question is by how
By the time the VP takes the stage we’ve been told it’s by a staggering
26 percentage points.
24 Jan, 11pm Once the ’goat f*****g’ is over, we’re in the staff room
with a jubilant VP. He is about to board Airforce Two to fly to New
He’ll arrive at 3.30am and his first campaign meeting is at 9am. New
Hampshire will be the real test.
25 Jan 11am Chicago. The worst snowstorms in ten years hit the east
Washington, New York and New Hampshire’s main port of entry, Boston, are
shut. Gore’s team are stuck in Chicago.
26 Jan, 2pm Arrive in Manchester New Hampshire, 26 hours late. The
secret service are everywhere. Tonight the VP is doing a live
head-to-head TV debate with Bradley. This will be the last one before
New Hampshire votes.
Throughout the campaign both Democratic candidates have steered clear of
attacking each other personally. At the campaign briefing before the
debate there’s general agreement that this is about to change. Bradley
cannot afford to lose New Hampshire - we believe he’s going to do
New Hampshire is the first of many states to stage a primary with
registered voters going to a polling booth just as they do in our
It is the large number of undecided in New Hampshire that make this
primary so interesting.
Our polls show that Gore is ahead by double digits among registered
To win, Bradley must secure all the Independents and win back a
substantial number of the more liberal-minded Democrats.
In the TV debate Bradley drops his bombshell and accuses Gore of not
supporting a woman’s right to choose on the abortion issue. Our media
team is ready for this. As soon as the debate ends the press room is
overrun with senior Gore aides and surrogates defending the VP on every
media outlet available. Bradley’s attack dominates our discussions that
We all hope we can kill this issue dead the next day. Despite best
efforts it proves impossible. Bradley has scored a hit.
27 Jan 1am The first of eight Japanese newspaper journalists turns up at
campaign HQ. It takes over an hour to explain to him what’s going
28 Jan In the next 24 hours we’re expecting over 2,000 volunteers from
all over the US to arrive to campaign and ’do visibility’ for the
My trials with the world’s media take a turn for the better as the
political editor of the Daily Mirror, Peter McMohan arrives. Peter and I
have been friends for many years and arranging for him to go out the
next day with Tipper Gore is a pleasure.
29 Jan Two days before the big vote. Today it’s TV crews from Poland,
Mexico, Uruguay, Germany and the Netherlands. More than 100 media crews
turn up for Gore’s rally in Nashua. The evening briefing focuses on
where he will watch tomorrow’s Superbowl football game between the St
Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans. Bradley’s from St Louis and Gore’s
30 Jan Gore watches the Superbowl with dozens of Tennessee supporters at
a local bar. St Louis wins - tomorrow’s papers will be full of
31 Jan The eve of poll and we discover Bradley is outspending us by
around dollars 1.7 million on TV advertising. Gore continues with his
retail politics strategy. That night he has a meeting with 300 undecided
voters. It lasts nearly four hours as Gore answers everyone’s questions.
A husband and wife stand up to address him. Their daughter has recently
been stalked via the internet and murdered. They had contacted all the
presidential candidates and only the VP had bothered to respond. He’d
phoned them personally and told them what he would do about introducing
privacy into the internet.
They had come along to say thanks and urge people to vote for him. The
TV pictures of this moment are incredible. Some people believe we’ve set
it up. We haven’t.
That night back at the hotel we’re in the bar waiting for the final
polls to come out. At midnight CBS, ABC and CNN are predicting a Gore
win by between ten and 12 points.
1 Feb, election day, noon The first exit polls show the media
predictions are way out. Bradley is ahead by two points. This is not
good news. Whouley and his team start moving resources around the state
at an incredible pace. The VP is despatched to the largest polling
booth. Tipper Gore to another. Doors are knocked on, telephone calls
made and the Gore vote starts to firm up.
4pm A contact in CBS rings the media office to tell us that Bradley is
going to make a statement live to the press at 5pm. We spend the next
half hour phoning around trying to find out what he’s up to. It turns
out that he’s going to say that whatever happens he’s going to stay in
the race. We sense the tide has turned.
7pm Holiday Inn Manchester. We’ve booked the ballroom for the victory
party, but the media is saying it’s too close to call. Every journalist
in New Hampshire is present and we’re working the room. Our position is
that whatever happens this is a good result for the VP. We remind the
press that on 1 Jan he was 14 points behind Bradley and that no Democrat
has won both Iowa and New Hampshire since Jimmy Carter in 1976. A close
result means our campaign has gained considerable ground.
8.30pm The media team is told we’ve won and that it will be made public
in 30 minutes. We start working the room proclaiming a tremendous
victory for the VP and his strategy of talking directly to the people.
We reaffirm the VP’s call to Bradley to stop wasting money on 30 second
ads and instead agree to a live debate twice a week during the coming
9pm A Gore victory is announced.
9.45pm The VP conducts the first of 20 television interviews in the next
45 minutes. The cameras are lined up in strict order. The VP goes from
one to another giving each a few minutes. Half an hour later he’s on
Airforce Two heading for New York in time to catch the end of a dinner
being organised in support of his campaign there.
In the bar, Michael Whouley, Senator John Kerry, myself and a few of
Boston’s more supportive journalists have a beer and breathe a sigh of
relief. We know Bradley will fight on until Super Tuesday on 7
We also know that because of defeat here in New Hampshire his days are
more or less numbered.
I head back to our Washington office and fall asleep on the plane,
trying not to dream about ’dotting the dogs’ , ’getting the juice’ and
’goating’. It’s not easy.
Getting the juice
Being fully briefed on all that’s going on, fact, fiction and
One-to-one work. Walk abouts, factory gate visits and public
Dotting the dogs
In Iowa the state was divided into organisational precincts. Badly
organised precincts were known as ’dogs’. Dotting them involved
parachuting in key personnel to ensure the vote was turned out.
Acceptable political stand-ins.
Minor dignitaries who suddenly appear demanding to have their photograph
taken with the VP.
Putting up posters, display boards and standing on street corners waving