MAIN FEATURE: Primary ambitions - UK lobbyist Steve Morgan hits the campaign trail with Al Gore’s media team

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.

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

presidential candidate.

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,

Tipper Gore.

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

something desperate.

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

general elections.

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

from Tennessee.

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

primary elections.

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


Retail politics

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.

Goat f***ing

Minor dignitaries who suddenly appear demanding to have their photograph

taken with the VP.

Doing visibility

Putting up posters, display boards and standing on street corners waving

Gore banners.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in