Read my lips: In the race for the presidency, how do the teams measure up? Steve Lilienthal gives an early report card

Did anyone believe George Bush when he offered that infamous phrase, ’Read my lips: no new taxes’? Or when Franklin Delano Roosevelt pledged, in October 1940, ’Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars’?

Did anyone believe George Bush when he offered that infamous phrase, ’Read my lips: no new taxes’? Or when Franklin Delano Roosevelt pledged, in October 1940, ’Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars’?

Did anyone believe George Bush when he offered that infamous

phrase, ’Read my lips: no new taxes’? Or when Franklin Delano Roosevelt

pledged, in October 1940, ’Your boys are not going to be sent into any

foreign wars’?

Strange though it is, people did and still do believe. The ability to

craft a message, devise pithy and memorable slogans, and develop a

winning strategy is as vital as ever. And that’s as much up to the

communications team as it is to the candidate.

Gore Difference?

The challenge facing presidential candidate Al Gore provides an example

- being a VP seeking the presidency is bad enough. Voters wonder just

what is new that Gore will be able to offer, particularly after eight

years in office.

The addressing of issues such as gun control and faith-based charities

has drawn headlines. But as of mid-August, the VP had yet to really

define the Gore ’difference’ while news reports have portrayed his

campaign as emotionally edgy.

President Clinton failed to help matters when calling a reporter to

address his concern that the VP was too buttoned-up on the campaign

trail. Later, the VP’s move to distance himself from the President’s

behavior with Monica Lewinsky led to reports that he had angered his

boss. Since then, the two have made joint appearances at


Then there’s the communications team itself. On paper, it’s the best of

the lot, reading like a Public Affairs Hall of Fame. But so far, these

individuals aren’t playing well together.

The campaign had lacked a communications director; but Carter Eskew

started working in August as a consultant to help improve the PR

strategy. Fortune saw fit to mention him in its ’Influence Merchants’

story last winter, and he is clearly one of the most successful of the

younger breed of communications strategists.

Just the news of his appointment, however, brought Gore 2000 bad PR on

two fronts. First, Eskew’s work on behalf of the tobacco companies in

opposing plans to fight anti-tobacco legislation caused an outcry from

anti-smoking advocates. Second, Gore’s campaign is also using the firm

of Squier/Knapp /Dunn to produce its advertising. And that’s a source of

potential friction.

In theory, Squier is a major asset to the team. The dean of Democratic

media consultants, his work in Democratic presidential campaigns dates

back to the 1968 Humphrey-Muskie campaign and includes Clinton-Gore in

’92 (although that was a team effort), and the leading role for

Clinton-Gore ’96.

But Eskew, a former Squier partner, is estranged from principal Bob


When The New York Times asked Squier about his ability to work with

Eskew, his response conveyed uncertainty. But Eskew is a savvy

strategist who presumably will have plenty of face time with Squier

associate Bill Knapp, a key producer of the advertising for the

Clinton-Gore ’96 campaign.

Gore’s campaign also lacked a press secretary, despite having reported

113 employees on its payroll - more than any other campaign - in the

July 15 Federal Election Commission reports. This has not helped Gore

2000 put its best foot forward, although the VP’s press secretary Chris

LeHane has tried to fill the gap to some degree.

Kiki Moore will be arriving at the campaign to be press secretary this

fall. After service at the Democratic Leadership Council and the

Democratic National Committee, Moore should bring the gravitas needed to

do the job.

But if Gore’s campaign fails to reverse course, Moore and her colleagues

may find themselves fighting their toughest campaign yet.

Recently, The Washington Post officially recognized that tough-minded

Gore chairman Tony Coelho is shaping up the campaign. Political

operatives interviewed by PRWeek suggested the worst times may have

passed, and all the inside maneuvering means little to voters at this

early stage. Even so, the campaign as of mid-August still seemed in need

of the ’missing message’ that strikes a responsive chord in the manner

of George W. Bush’s ’compassionate conservatism’ and ’prosperity with a

purpose.’ More personnel changes may be in store.

While Gore 2000’s teamwork may have been MIA, it is present in Bill

Bradley’s operation. Bradley has also managed to raise more money than


But he loses the element of surprise that can be so very effective in

anti-establishment campaigns. Now Gore’s staff has been put on notice

that he is a threat, and they should also take heed that his message

team’s members truly play as a team - key advisors such as Anita Dunn,

campaign chairman Doug Berman, and press secretary Eric Hauser worked on

his Senate staff or previous campaigns.

Intellectual athlete

Bradley’s reputation as an intellectual and athlete make him a favorite

of the news media - even though Jay Leno has joked that the former New

Jersey senator is so boring his Secret Service code name is Al Gore.

However, most see Bradley’s quiet personality and intellectualism as an

asset, helping him to project an image that sets himself apart from the

stereotypical poll-driven politician. In fact, his campaign has yet to

take a poll - even though a respected pollster, Diane Feldman, is

serving as a senior advisor. However, Bradley has been listening

intently to voters in special meetings, underscoring that he is a breed

apart from today’s soundbite politicians. The New York Post’s Jack

Newfield noted that the tactic has been effective, but cautioned that

voters are coming to see Bradley as ’a blank screen for people to see

their hopes projected on.’

Bradley needs to find some substantial issue differences between himself

and the VP and hone them into a message that appeals to the activist

base of the Democratic party. And he must figure out the weak points in

his record and be ready to respond within an instant when attacked by


GOP contenders

On the Republican side, many of the top communications pros are


Consultants such as Alex Castellanos and Dick Dresner are


And some of the big-name polling firms such as Tarrance and the Wirthlin

Group are either sitting it out or not working for the major


As far as candidates are concerned, Gov. George W. Bush (R-TX) is miles

ahead. He has benefited from his ’down-home’ personality and also what

was, until the Iowa straw poll, a fractured Republican field. Bush’s

divorce from from the partisanship associated with the Republican

Congress, and his name recognition and fundraising have helped him fill

the GOP’s strong desire to field a winner. But will his cool image melt

under the hot glare of klieg lights? Thus far, he’s the Texas equivalent

of Being There’s Chauncey Gardiner, with a twist of the Farrelly

brothers. His glibness in an interview with Talk magazine writer Tucker

Carlson - and, as of mid-August, his inability to put to rest

allegations of cocaine use - may prove haunting as the campaign


The governor has two experienced national players in pollster Fred

Steeper, who worked on presidential campaigns for Nixon (1972), Ford

(1976) and Bush (1988 and 1992), and strategist Karl Rove, who had

operated a successful direct mail company.

A student of political history, Rove is aware that in 1896 new issues

and leaders were coming to the forefront. For example, William McKinley

effectively sold himself as ’the advance agent of prosperity.’ Since

Bill Clinton played that role, Rove contends that Bush needs to give

Americans ’prosperity with a purpose.’

Rove is one of the inner circle that also comprises campaign manager Joe

Allbaugh and communications director Karen Hughes. But one can see

potential friction. Hughes is more interested in being ’on message,’

while Rove is more open. Allbaugh has described his role as being ’the

moderator of staff egos.’ As Hughes told The Washington Post: ’Joe

listens ... Both Karl and I talk a lot.’ If pressed, will this team hold


Dave Beckwith had been part of the press operation based on his greater

experience with the national news media. But the former press secretary

to Dan Quayle fell under fire for being too open with the news media and

for misleading them on the governor’s fundraising total.

The media team is headed by Mark McKinnon, who has a background in

Democratic politics. McKinnon worked on Bush’s reelection campaign. He

now heads a team that includes media producer Stuart Stevens. Some

observers raise questions about the Bush’s team to slug it out in a

battle of negative ads, but Bush’s frontrunner reputation and budget

should make it easy to recruit a master producer of attack spots, if


Bush may suffer from two problems; one is overconfidence. Bush called

the campaign plane that he flew on his first trip to Iowa and New

Hampshire ’Great Expectations.’ This led Bob Beckel, the campaign

manager for Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign to remark that

(that name) ’is like turning your rear end to the press and saying ’kick


In Beckel’s viewpoint, keeping expectations low is difficult but


He argues that the more a candidate becomes portrayed as a frontrunner,

the more campaign insiders start buying into that false perception of

invincibility or are reluctant to offer a viewpoint that disrupts the

aura of good feelings. ’No one,’ he emphasizes, ’wants to be the skunk

at the dinner table.’

That odiferous role may fall to Don Evans, the fundraising chairman and

longtime friend of the governor who can deal with Bush as a peer. (Rove

is a longtime Bush family friend, but still calls the governor ’sir’ on

the phone.)

The second problem for Bush involves his personality. Opponents are just

waiting for a flareup of his reported temper. Then, there’s the question

as to Bush’s desire to offer more than just smooth talk, particularly

after his interview in Talk. The real heat was generated by Hillary’s

interview, but after its publication, columnist George Will took after

the governor for his declaration that he does not ’read treatises.’ In

Will’s mind, ’Bush should not advertise any allergy to serious


Republicans don’t have to worry about that problem with Steve


Outsiderism can be a plus these days as shown by Jesse Ventura. Forbes,

however, is too buttoned-up to catch on a la Body. The campaign or,

perhaps, more appropriately, the candidate needs to work harder at

showing voters he is someone they can trust in the Oval Office. In an

era when politicians are expected to be open about their background and

motivations, Forbes lacks that ease of self-disclosure.

Forbes is apparently hoping that as the GOP field collapses, he will

gain strength, particularly from conservative voters. He is spending to

win, and his team draws generally high marks for its PR ability and ties

to economic and social conservatives. Building these connections to

social conservatives has taken some effort: Forbes had called Rev. Pat

Robertson a ’toothy flake’ in 1996.

But if Forbes campaign fails, it will not be due to lack of money.

Pollster John McLaughlin has received over dollars 3 million from

Forbes’ campagn conducting polls and survey research. Hard-driving Greg

Mueller heads Creative Response Concepts, a PR firm specializing in

media relations that brings good connections with conservative groups

and media outlets. Forbes’ campaign thinks enough of Mueller to pay his

firm dollars 20,000 a month to help get his message out.

As far as the communications team is concerned, top aide Bill Dal Col

made his mark as a top aide to Jack Kemp and then ran Forbes’ 1996


This effort is better planned, and the candidate has improved. Dal Col

is considered a savvy strategist, and the campaign bears the hallmark of

strong coordination.

Juleanna Glover Weiss, the press secretary, is young and aggressive and

has the more hands-on role with the press. Meanwhile, Forbes prepares to

unveil a book that aims to establish himself as the issues


However, issues are unlikely to be enough - Forbes needs to convince GOP

voters that he is truly presidential material.

Wise man McCain

John McCain is in some ways the exact opposite of Forbes - promoting his

background to interest voters, particularly veterans - in his


But his chances really depend on a collapse by Bush and probably


McCain’s outspokeness on issues such as campaign finance reform and

taking on the tobacco interests have been assets when it comes to

winning respectful news coverage. But his ability to convince enough

primary voters to buy the message is uncertain. What McCain advisors

hope for is that the public tires of a Bush-Forbes brawl, and McCain

emerges as the fresh alternative.

Terry Michael, executive director of the Washington Center for

Journalism and Politics describes McCain’s role as the ’wise man’ that

had previously been played by candidates such as Mo Udall, Bruce Babbit

and Paul Tsongas. All lost, but with honor. While Forbes and Bush have

the resources to be everywhere, McCain must be more cagey. He eschewed

Iowa, placing more emphasis on New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arizona

and California. In that respect, the campaign’s communications director,

Dan Schnur, is a plus because he has California experience.

Campaign manager Rick Davis is an experienced manager, with particular

expertise in convention politics. That gives him contacts and knowledge

of the nominating process. But whether McCain is still in the race long

enough for him to use his knowledge in Philadelphia is really open to

question given that the nomination is likely to be decided in March.

Pollster Bill McInturff and media consultant Greg Stevens bring the

requisite experience and professionalism. McCain is hurt by being in the

Senate while running for President. When asked how McCain might improve,

Democratic pollster Brad Bannon answered bluntly: ’Get more exposure.’

The summer recess offered some time to get just that.

But can McCain and his record hold up under scrutiny? Anti-tax

Republicans might not like his support for a tobacco tax, and born again

campaign finance reform advocate McCain, one of the Keating Five, may

find trouble lurking in his campaign’s past receipts. Plus, like George

W., he too, reportedly has a temper.

Resuscitated Dole

Dole’s campaign came off life support in the perception of the national

press, with her third place showing in the Iowa straw poll. But it is no

great victory. She needs to continue snapping her operation into better

shape. Dole offers a great resume and strong skills as a


However, her message still needs sharper focus, though it started

becoming clearer in Iowa. However, this campaign has yet to hire a media

consultant - who could shape her stands, resume, and uniqueness of her

being the first viable female contender for the presidency - into a

strong, compelling message. Dole has has done rather well in drawing

women to her talks and at the straw poll. She spoke about ’rights’ and

’wrongs,’ which should be an effective way to talk values without being

overly righteous.

Manager Tom Daffron is a respected Senate aide, and Ari Fleischer is

certainly capable as communications director. The pollsters, Linda

DiVall and Tony Fabrizio, are the Ms. Moderate and Mr. Conservative team

of GOP politics. They worked on the 1996 Bob Dole presidential campaign

- presumably a learning experience on what not to do. Fabrizio’s

ascension to ’chief strategist’ should be a plus, particularly given

that this is a nomination contest in which conservatives tend to

dominate. But the campaign will need to improve its strategy and message

development, and will likely require stronger talent.

The candidates and their communications teams have only faced their

first tests. The ones that will really count - the Iowa caucus, the New

Hampshire primary, Super Tuesday - are still months away. Let the

campaign proceed!


Communications Team

General Chairman Tony Coelho

Deputy Chairman Marla Romash

Senior Consultant Carter Eskew

Pollster Mark Penn

Media consultant Bob Squier


Media dwells on dullness - Al Bore, as he is known. Never good at

self-promotion or discussing policy to people rather than wonks, but

better on attack and in debate. Also, good one-on-one campaigner (just

don’t ask him about Internet policies). But he can’t avoid formal


Score: 30 Team If they don’t win, Hollywood is always seeking film noir

scripts full of intrigue - if Gore 2000 was as truly bad as reports

suggest. Now, Coelho is giving the campaign a needed shakeup; Eskew is

working on message; Squier firm’s experience is a valuable asset;

Moore’s recruitment is plus for press operation. Experienced operatives

like Mark Penn, Celinda Lake and Paul Maslin will be crunching numbers.

But can Gore pedigree staffers and consultants work together? PRWeek

will give better grades if team fights the opposition - not themselves -

during primary season.

Score: 30

Total Score: 60

What needs to be done

Less advice from fewer advisors. Find what works and stick with it.

Start showing confidence in the candidate, who will in turn show

confidence in his team. A good themeline would help.


Communications Team

Campaign Manager Gina Glantz

Communications Director Anita Dunn

Press Secretary Eric Hauser Senior Advisor Diane Feldman


If not for his status as ex-Knick and Rhodes Scholar, would dry Bradley

even have gotten so far in politics? Since he has, that makes him an

early un-candidate in a country turned off by artifice of politics.

Listening tours a plus - he actually listens! But he must be bolder and

draw differences with Veep to appeal to Democratic primary


Score: 30


Outperforming Gore’s all stars, this team has been playing as one. Lack

of reputation doesn’t mean they should be underestimated. Dunn is a

partner of Squier’s, and Feldman helped bring about tough victories such

as Sen.

Paul Wellstone (D-MN). Hauser is a former Bradley aide. Still, Bradley

team has trying times ahead. Early success based on Gore’s slow start

and favorable reporting of fundraising success. But as fall comes,

voters - not just insiders - must start paying attention and they will

want more beef.

Score: 35

Total Score: 65

What needs to be done

Define definite, fundamental differences with the VP. Know weaknesses of

record and how to respond. When the ’where’s the beef?’ moment arrives,

Bradley must answer then and there.


Communications Team

Campaign Manager Joe Allbaugh Chief Strategist Karl Rove

Communications Director Karen Hughes

Media Consultant Mark McKinnon

Pollster Fred Steeper


So far, pretty good. More Reaganesque or Clintonesque than a chip off

the old block when it comes to communicating. Observers are impressed by

how comfortable he is with himself. But can he take tough questions on

foreign affairs or about his own past? Early rave reviews will be

rewritten by media if legendary temper flares up under pressure. He

lucked out with Talk magazine interview; Hillary’s comments drew the


Score: 30


Rove is veteran of late election nights and proponent of ’prosperity

with a purpose’ themeline. CD Hughes is a trusted advisor to Bush and

known for keeping tight handle on message. But he lacks national

campaign experience. Allbaugh provides balance between Rove’s gung-ho

optimism and Hughes’ tread-carefully instincts. The team played well

together in best of times, but what is the answer to cocaine


Score: 40

Total score: 70

What needs to be done

Keep cool under pressure. Be more specific on issues. Keep learning

foreign policy. Loosen up on controlling instincts of press operation.

Don’t let clips about Bush’s seeming invincibility go to his head, much

less to the campaign staff.


Communications Team

Campaign Manager Bill Dal Col

Communications Strategist Greg Mueller

Press Secretary Juleanna Glover Weiss Pollster John McLaughlin

Media Consultant William Eisner


If you’ve ever wondered what Reagan would be like as nerd rather than

the Great Communicator - check out Forbes. He is a much-improved

campaigner since 1996. Forbes is easy to imagine in the White House -

but as a chief policy advisor for a GOP president. He positions himself

as populist outsider, but is that an effective appeal for powerful

business magazine publisher with corporate boardrooms access? But give

this free-market proponent credit - he knows what he wants to say,

although his checkbook may be the better talker.

Score: 25


Strategist Mueller gets widespread credit for keeping Forbes in the news

consistently in Iowa and communicating campaign e-news to supporters and

media. Great web site. Solid press team headed by Weiss. Pollster

McLaughlin balances rock-solid conservatism with realism. But early ads

run counter to conventional wisdom. Insiders think ads need to make

people become comfortable with Steve Forbes in Oval Office. But Forbes’

campaign started out with issues-based ads to beat Bush to the punch. If

the ads haven’t succeeded in doing all that must be done, Forbes can

spend and spend again.

But all the money in the world can’t portray Forbes an outsider.

Score: 35

Total Score: 60

What needs to be done

The message is not the problem; getting the messenger to be liked and

trusted by voters should be task number one. Make Forbes more

comfortable talking about himself and why he really wants the job.


Communications Team

Manager Richard Davis

Communications Director Dan Schnur

Press Secretary Howard Opinsky

Pollster Bill McInturff

Media Consultant Greg Stevens


Perhaps not best speaker, but McCain says things that matter. Background

as Vietnam War POW a real plus. Democratic consultant Martin Hamburger

notes: ’He can be pedantic, didactic or rambling. But knows what he

wants to say and background gives words some weight.’ Some of what

McCain wants to say - campaign finance reform, tobacco tax - will not

win over GOP conservatives, but expect him to say it anyway. May make

him a strong favorite of media - lose or win.

Score: 35

Team Aiming for a showdown with Bush. GOP insiders give high marks to

know-how of team. Even so, it’s still a longshot. Manager Davis

considered savvy. CD Schnur earns top marks for work for then-Gov. Pete

Wilson (R-CA), and ties may be useful should his guy be wresting GWB and

Forbes for Golden State. PS Opinsky started with good grounding from

work as deputy at National Republican Senatorial Committee. Pollster

McIntuff credible analyst. Stevens among top-ranked GOP message


Score: 40

Total Score: 75

What needs to be done

McCain should continue speaking his mind. Take strong stands. Be ready

to defend aspects of past - Keating Five, tobacco tax - that may be

potential negatives. Keep temper in check. Voters may not give McCain a

four year run in the Oval Office, but at least he did it his way.


Communications Team

Manager Tom Daffron

Press Secretary Mike Paranzino

Pollster Tony Fabrizio

Pollster Linda DiVall


Great communicator who has not yet found a great message to


Early forays were criticized for being a mish-mash. Likes appearances

using ’Oprah Winfrey’ format. Able to pull in non-traditional audiences

to speeches and leave them with good feelings. May be moving to beef up

talks for more conservative GOPers. Missing from her campaign has been a

good media consultant’s touch.

Score: 30


Right now, in double figures nationally. But team will have to convert

that into votes in primary states. Daffron had good reputation for savvy

in US Senate. CD Fleischer left post as CD of House Ways & Means

Committee to oversee Dole’s communications effort. Considered to be

capable in dealing with media. Pollster Fabrizio’s joining team a plus:

knows how to reach GOP conservatives. Dole listens to him too. DiVall’s

expert at getting to moderates. Useful in general election-if Dole beats

naysayers and becomes nominee. Holding back on hiring media consultant

may save money now, but services of experienced message shaper seems


Score: 25

Total Score: 55

What needs to be done Sharpen the message. Beef up staff with more key

strategists with presidential campaign management experience.

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