WASHINGTON — I saw it coming. Tony Coehlo, chairman of the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, was reported to be hospitalized for some form of unidentifiable stomach problem and his aides are reporting that he is suffering from fatigue. Yes, his end was coming.
Vice President Al Gore announced last week that he was appointing Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley to be the chairman of the presidential campaign, replacing Coehlo. Coehlo took over a bloated, unfocused, top-heavy presidential campaign a year ago. He reformed it and led it to an impressive sweep of the nominating primaries. In the process, he alienated the candidate and his wife, all of the old-line Gore insiders and many of his associates in the campaign, including the campaign manager.
Some say that this latest course correction for the Gore campaign is more evidence that the vice president, himself, is not well focused and not well prepared to provide political leadership. That could be, but it also is evidence that the Gore campaign is just like many of its predecessors — a caldron of intense activity that creates enormous competitive pressures among its leaders and creates antagonisms that cripple the operations of the campaign. It happens every campaign year — at every level of politics.
The campaign for the presidency requires organizational and logistic support activity to cover the entire nation. It requires a knowledge of issues on a national basis and an understanding of the peculiar political quirks of the various regions of the country. It is a very different activity requiring skills very different from administering a senate or gubernatorial office.
But try to tell that to the longtime members of the candidate’s staff. They have, after all, participated in his success. They have made him what he is today! The candidate is loyal to his staff. He knows them and trusts them. He also knows that they have their limitations and that he must bring in the experts who will guide him to the Oval Office.
Therein lies the seeds of the collision that is destined to happen. Sometimes it works out. Most times, the candidate tries to finesse it. The candidate believes that they should swallow their pride in his best interest. After all, what counts most is the election of the candidate.
But it is not so simple. The campaign group expands. There are new consultants and experts. There are contributors (who feel strongly about the way their money is being spent.) Someone already an insider has recruited all of these new people, and they become active protagonists for the positions of their sponsors. Soon, the candidate is receiving messages from both camps — the old gang and the new pros. They promote their own ideas and concepts and discredit the other side. It gets brutal.
This all spills into the press. They are everywhere — drawn to controversy like a magnet. Now it is a story. The campaign is in trouble. Something has to give.
A principal in the campaign — either the newly selected professional or the leader of the old staff — gets sick or has some other plausible reason to be temporarily absent from the campaign. Closed-door meetings are held at the home of the candidate. He calls his biggest contributors. He wrings his hands. Then comes the inevitable announcement of a new campaign manager.
So I sympathize with Coehlo. He is a good man, a great political mind and a tough executive. I sympathize with Gore. He had to risk alienating Coehlo’s friends at a delicate time.
So enter Daley. He will do very well. Daley is genetically a political animal — raised in a household in the old Bridgeport section of Chicago by a father who was acknowledged as the premier political organizer of his day. Every day of his young life, Daley was immersed in the culture of politics. As his generation progressed into power, he became the backstage genius of his brother’s career — helping him win and run the office of mayor of Chicago, which his father had held.
In addition to his superb upbringing and training, Daley became a national figure; first, by taking over the tough job of corralling support for the approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement for President Bill Clinton in 1993-4. The treaty was in trouble, particularly with Democratic constituencies, and Daley came to Washington and organized the support it needed to pass. It required sensitive diplomacy and strong advocacy skills. Daley proved he was a master of in those disciplines. He will be called upon to use those skills now to knit together the disparate elements of a national campaign and harness all of the energies of the party, the labor movement, the administration and the myriad of traditionally Democratic support groups. I consider his appointment to be a masterstroke by Gore.
The selection process is now in high gear in both parties to vet and consider potential candidates for vice president. The nomination for this office will be a function of the conventions — the Republicans in Philadelphia from July 30 to Aug. 3; and the Democrats in Los Angeles from Aug. 13-17. Both Bush and Gore have delegated the research and interviewing function to respected, trusted veterans of American politics and government.
Gore selected the man who vetted him for Clinton in 1992 to carry out the task for him. Warren Christopher, former secretary of state, distinguished lawyer and negotiator, is on the prowl, tracking down those men who are potential nominees. Richard Cheney, former congressman, White House aide and secretary of defense, is doing the chore for his friend, Bush.
As they do their work, they kick up public attention as the press observes their comings and goings from the Senate office buildings and other venues. Also, as they make their rounds, they cause reactions from some of their targets. Last week, for example, former Sen. John Danforth made a statement that he would not be available to be the nominee. Danforth has good qualifications for the office and has a lot of political appeal to target voters in the Midwest and among moderates, but he’s happy in retirement and made that position clear to the press, after a call from Cheney.
The short lists have not changed appreciably. For the Republicans, it is still the governors, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, George Pataki of New York, John Engler of Michigan and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey; and the senators, John McCain of Arizona and Fred W. Thompson of Tennessee.
For the Democrats, Gore’s list includes: Sen. (and former governor) Bob Graham of Florida, Sen. (and former governor) Evan Bayh of Indiana and Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
A friend of mine who is a big shot in the labor movement tells me that the candidate who is the political imperative for Gore is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York and is the likely Democratic candidate for governor there in 2002. My friend’s logic is that Gore must win New York to win the presidency and Cuomo would guarantee that, plus show an attractive new face to the nation.
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