What It Took
The winner is still uncertain, but here's the inside story of the key moments that propelled Bush and Gore to a deadlocked Election Day
MONEY DOES GROW ON TREES
"This is what the valley has been waiting for! This is what
the valley has been waiting for!"
The old lady at the table in the center of the room is shouting
like a high school cheerleader. It's April 1998, and George W.
Bush is standing in front of a huge plate-glass window that
frames much of Silicon Valley. Bush is out near Sand Hill Road,
home to the venture capitalists, and he is talking with unusual
passion about education, the New Economy and his record in Texas.
The small banquet room is overflowing with VCs, dotcomers and
gearheads who have paid $1,000 a plate to meet the man who might
be the next President. Some arrived at the last minute, crashing
the party, while others, like Katy Boyd, 78, a veteran Republican
fund raiser, had apparently been eyeing this moment for years.
"This is what the valley has been waiting for!"
When Bush heard the spontaneous outburst, he looked at the crowd
and decided to unbuckle his full sermon for them--about his past,
his family, his relationship with Democrats, the need for a
"responsibility era" in Washington. Republicans had ignored
Silicon Valley for years, but here was Bush, putting them at the
top of his list. "He was in the zone," remembers Karl Rove, his
chief strategist, who masterminded Bush's presidential run and
was there that day. Even as Bush talked, he was working the crowd
with his eyes, and couldn't help noticing one guy in particular
whose head was bearing down on a note card. It was John Doerr,
founder of TechNet, the new pipeline to Washington for high-tech
California political money. Doerr was a Gore man, but he was
taking down W.'s lengthy riff on education because he was
impressed with it and realized that this guy could be a
competitor for the hearts and dollars of Silicon Valley. By the
time the candidate hit his stride, the venture capitalist's tiny
handwriting had piled up into something looking like a ransom
note. Bush could see what was happening, so when a question came
about the Texas Governor's national ambitions, he fired his
response not to the questioner in the crowd but directly at
Doerr. "I hope you'll keep your powder dry, John," said Bush. "I
hope you'll keep an open mind."
It would be like this for the next two years, really: Bush
traveling the country, working the money guys, giving his spiel
and sucking up most of the oxygen in the G.O.P.'s big tent. It
would not be long before the Postal Service began delivering
trays and trays of envelopes to the Virginia offices of the
group hired to sort the dollars. The money would come in at a
rate of about $300,000 a day, three times as much as any
candidate had ever raised. The money machine would capture so
much cash that Bush could not only win the G.O.P. primary, he
could eliminate it.
All he had to do was convince the right people in the party that
he could win. Which is why after the breakfast on Sand Hill Road,
it was off to George Shultz's house on the Stanford University
campus to re-enact a piece of political history of almost totemic
importance. Dubya was going to pay a call on Ronald Reagan's
Secretary of State and try to bring him on board. All Bush had to
do was pass the oral exam--in the same way Reagan had with Shultz
two decades before. The courtesy call was the first step toward
capturing California's Balkanized Republican Party, but it was
hardly a lay-up. The old Nixon and Reagan Cabinet officer had got
crossways with Dubya's father and with his successor at State,
James Baker. The trick was for W. to prove to Shultz that he
wasn't a dunce--and that he could win.
And so for four hours, Bush and Shultz talked about the IMF and
Bosnia and Russia and pretty much took a tour of the world.
Condoleezza Rice and Michael Buskin were there. The conversation
just went on and on, Rove recalled. Bush knew he had done fine
when Shultz recalled the Reagan meeting and said, "I hope some of
the luck wears off."
THE SUNDANCE KID
"A morgue!" Tony Coelho could not believe his eyes. Al Gore's
campaign manager stared, astonished, at what lay on his desk.
Gore had just announced he was going to pick up the campaign,
scrape it off K Street and ship the whole thing to Tennessee.
Except when an aide brought in the architectural plans and spread
them out on Coelho's desk, "the place" turned out to be a former
morgue. It was all there on the floor plan: the boning room, the
tanning room, the cutting room. It was another ghastly metaphor
in the making for the can't-get-started Gore campaign. Coelho
couldn't believe it. "We were in a panic to find another place
before the press found out about this one," said Coelho.
How did Gore's campaign get temporarily lost in his old
backyard? Bill Clinton was the Man from Hope, and Bush likes to
say he's from West Texas. Gore began the race with a huge
disadvantage: voters couldn't tell who he was because they
didn't know where he was from. Was he the prefect of St. Albans
or the farm boy from Carthage, Tenn.? The twangy tobacco grower
or the earnest arms controller?
Bill Clinton had long thought basing the campaign in Washington
was a mistake. Gore's brother-in-law Frank Hunger had been
harping on it since the spring; he convinced the Gores' daughter
Karenna and finally even Gore's wife Tipper. Coelho too wanted to
roll the dice, as he called it, but he knew that meant being
stuck with a $60,000-a-month space in Washington. And with the
fight against Bill Bradley looking as though it might drag
through the spring, that was money the campaign could ill afford
to spend. If you added the cost of another headquarters in
Nashville, Coelho said later, "we'd probably still win the
nomination, but we'd be penniless, and it would be worthless."
But Karenna thought the problem was deeper than money. Her dad
needed to be set free. "The last few years of the Administration
were heavy ones," she explained, in a veiled reference to
impeachment. After that, "the vice presidency is not the best
platform to dive off from."
Gore was aware that a lot of people on his team were not fully
committed to his cause, still working for other clients and
interests. But as one of his top advisers admitted, "Gore wasn't
fully invested in his campaign either." Finally, one night after
a fund raiser in Maryland, Gore motioned Coelho to his car and
asked him to ride back to the Veep's residence. "I've made up my
mind," Gore said. "Let's roll it. Let's go to Nashville."
Except he didn't go. The man from Carthage remained in
Washington. So, for the most part, did his inner circle: Bob
Shrum, Carter Eskew and Tad Devine. Coelho went down; so did
Donna Brazile, his fiery field marshal. It was an open secret in
the capital: if you wanted to find top Gore campaign aides, you
could try them on their 615-area-code cell phones--even though
they might be working in offices right down the block.
The night Gore decided, in a session that went until midnight
with Coelho, Eskew, chief of staff Charles Burson and Tipper, he
quoted the Old Testament story of Gideon, from Chapter 7 of
Judges. In it, General Gideon gathers his troops to be on the
march. He leads them to a lake and tells them to drink. Some of
the troops put their face in the water and gulp; others cup
their hands and drink. The general, acting on God's command,
tells those who gulped to return home, those who cupped their
hands to follow him. Why? Because those who cupped their hands
were taking just what they needed, a sign they were there out of
commitment. And in a meeting with his staff the next morning, he
drew on the work of a Scottish mountain climber, W.H. Murray:
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy...the moment one
definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too." Tearful
campaign workers lined the walls a few moments later as Gore
announced to reporters: "It's a new campaign now."
And after ruling out the morgue, Coelho sent the real estate
agents to find Gore's troops new digs in Nashville--this time at
a rehabilitation clinic called the Sundance Center. And Sundance
just happened to be Gore's Secret Service code name.
JUST SAY NO (SORT OF)
Sam Attlesey of the Dallas Morning News is a craggy, lanky Texan
who wears Wranglers and cowboy boots and patterned shirts with
open necks. With the help of a colleague, Attlesey had come up
with a question for Bush about his possible past drug use that
would force the Governor to abandon his stock reply: that when
he was young and irresponsible, he was young and irresponsible,
and he would not catalog his past indiscretions.
Traveling with Bush as he campaigned in Louisiana, Attlesey
sidled up to the Governor after a press conference at a school in
Metairie and asked him if he could clear the FBI background check
administered to prospective employees. The standard questionnaire
asks applicants if they have used illegal drugs in the previous
seven years. Bush hemmed and hawed, giving Attlesey a non-answer,
before slipping away to his hotel suite. But the Governor stewed
about the question. A little later, Mark McKinnon, Bush's media
director, called Attlesey in the hotel lobby and asked if he
could take a copy of the FBI background check to the Governor.
Attlesey agreed. Thirty minutes later, Bush called. Yes, the
Governor said, he could clear the background check.
What Bush didn't realize was that he'd just started sliding down
the slippery slope. The next morning's Dallas Morning News
headline--BUSH DENIES USING DRUGS IN PAST 7 YEARS--sent the
press into a frenzy at a time when Karen Hughes, Bush's longtime
spokeswoman, had dropped off the road. (This left McKinnon in
charge. "It was like jumping out of a plane without a
parachute," he later recalled. Hughes would rarely leave Bush's
side again for the rest of the campaign.) It would take 48 hours
of revisions before Bush and his team would give their final
answer: that he could have cleared the check as far back as
1974, seven years prior to the year his father became Vice
President. The statement never admitted, of course, that he had
ever done drugs.
Straightening out the controversy was hard because so few people
knew where the bottom really was--knew if, when or what kind of
drugs Bush had ever used. There were some senior-staff
discussions about getting out the truth, whatever that was, but
no one inside the Iron Triangle of strategist Rove, spokeswoman
Hughes and campaign manager Joe Allbaugh agreed with that
strategy. Bush had made it clear that he wasn't going to go down
the road of admitting anything. "We're not going to do it," Rove
told a Washington Republican. "Everyone's going to have to live
Rove also assured jittery Republicans that the truth was not
nearly as bad as they feared. Bush had never used cocaine, Rove
told them. He might have been in a room a few times where cocaine
was present. And he might have tried some other, less serious
things. Though Rove wouldn't specify what "things," some people
came away from those conversations believing the Governor must
have at least smoked pot a few times.
"I'm going to tell people I made mistakes and that I have learned
from my mistakes," Bush said. "And if they like it, I hope they
give me a chance. And if they don't like it, they can go find
somebody else to vote for." And with that, the week of agony
ended just as suddenly as it had begun. Reporters ran out of
leads and into something else: a public that resented journalists
for probing politicians' past. Americans were burned out on
scandal. Call it Bill Clinton's gift to George W. Bush.
WOLF PACKS IT IN
Gore's secret consultant, the one no one would talk about,
wanted to fight back. Just a few days before, TIME had reported
that the Gore campaign was paying gender theorist Naomi Wolf
$15,000 a month to provide the Vice President with everything
from wardrobe tips to big-picture theories of the
race--specifically, that Gore must challenge Clinton if he was
to become the "alpha male" in the presidential contest. The
revelation that the Vice President harbored a feminism expert on
his staff gave the late-night joke writers a month of material
and sent the Gore operation into a deep, dark funk.
In part because she enjoyed the support of Gore's eldest daughter
Karenna Schiff, Wolf sat in on strategy meetings, looked at
speeches and ad copy, reviewed scripts and attended
primary-debate preps. It was Wolf's idea to have Tipper keep
talking about how sexy Gore was. It was Wolf's idea to encourage
Gore, who was angry with Clinton anyway, to distance himself from
Karenna thought the whole thing was just so right, said a
consultant, who added that he and his colleagues would attend
meetings with Wolf and Karenna and just "roll their eyes" at the
pair's ideas. One even took Wolf to lunch just to see how many
academic buzzwords she could drop. Eskew, at least, felt she
understood women voters. But he was pretty much alone. "The whole
family," said a longtime Gore retainer, "their instincts are, to
a person, wrong, just bad." But what could they say to the Veep?
Fire your daughter? "I don't think so," he added. Besides, to
some Gore seemed infatuated with Wolf. Even Coelho, who thought
Wolf was silly, couldn't shut it down. What worried him and
others was that the 37-year-old author had written that
adolescents should practice mutual masturbation rather than rush
into sexual intercourse.
When the TIME story broke, Wolf, who thought she was being
vilified, wanted a chance to explain everything, to go on the
Sunday-morning talk shows and defend herself and her ideas. The
Saturday before, Coelho vetoed the idea; sorry, he told her, the
less said about you the better. But Wolf didn't listen; she
appealed to Karenna for a second hearing with the Veep himself.
And so Al, Tipper, Karenna and the secret consultant all
conferred. Wolf said she deserved a chance to explain herself.
And Gore said O.K.
Campaign aides would have found out Sunday morning as they choked
on their croissants, except that the wake-up calls came much
earlier, and repeatedly, as TV producers from other networks
starting calling around and demanding to know why Wolf was
appearing on ABC's This Week and not on all the networks. From
Coelho on down, people were furious. Karenna would later
apologize, searching out some aides with multiple calls to
various places, and claim she hadn't meant to buck the system.
"WE HAVE TO GET IN HIS FACE"
"I got my ass kicked," Bush told a friend over the phone the day
John McCain beat him by 19 points in New Hampshire.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Having lots of money is great,
but only if it buys what you need, which in Bush's case was a
tractor trailer big enough to ferry his entire party, from
Clinton-hating conservatives to freedom-loving libertarians and
everyone in between. But no sooner was the shiny new rig bought
and paid for than Bush drove it straight into a snowbank called
New Hampshire. Bush and Rove had been watching Steve Forbes
closely, with his huge war chest and his flat-tax plan, worrying
about a sideswipe from the right. But real terror is what you
don't see coming, and it was the Straight Talk Express bus with
McCain at the wheel and all those swooning reporters on board and
his message of reform and renewal that upended the Bush campaign.
Some advisers, watching the McCain surge, urged Bush to do as his
old man had done 12 years before--hit the enemy hard on the
airwaves during that last weekend before voting. But Bush
refused. "Our object is to win a nomination that is worth
having," said Rove. And so Bush pretty much phoned it in--and got
run over. "What the hell happened?" Bush asked his aides, who had
not seen it coming--nothing remotely this bad or this big.
And so the Bush team headed down to South Carolina for the next
big contest, where the crown that was supposed to be all bought
and paid for was suddenly up for grabs. Bush had been up 47
points in South Carolina at one time; the polls were now even.
McCain's crowds were huge. Working a rope line in Sumpter, Bush
was approached by a man who stretched out his hand and said, "I
just want to shake the hand of the next Vice President." Bush's
face darkened; his eyes turned to slits.
Bush called old friends that weekend and chewed the thing over,
secretly asked for help from outside advisers, handed out his
private fax line so the campaign wouldn't know. "Tell me what
you're seeing out there," Bush implored, trapped in his own
bubble. But he had not given up hope. New Hampshire loves
mavericks who live free or die, but the G.O.P. hates them, and
the G.O.P. owned South Carolina.
In a suite at the Greenville Grand Hyatt that afternoon, Bush's
top aides came together to save the campaign, but they were
really plotting a murder. It was the Bush high command, with its
South Carolina auxiliary: Rove; spokeswoman Hughes, as well as
Warren Tompkins, a longtime G.O.P. operative in the state; state
attorney general Charlie Condon; Lieutenant Governor Bob Peeler;
and former Governor David Beasley. As a participant put it later,
this was the moment "we decided to take the gloves off."
The trick was to try to cast McCain as a phony, take a guy with a
consistently conservative voting record and paint him as a
dangerous liberal, suggest that the war hero was somehow
un-American, or at least un-South Carolinian. Out came the
antipersonnel weapons: "He's not one of us," and "He doesn't
share our conservative values," and "He's outside the
mainstream." On McCain's lack of "conservative values," Rove
piped up to say, "We have to get in his face on that. He's
vulnerable." Added Tompkins: "He's an insider. When I hear this
populist stuff, it makes me wanna throw up."
But who could put out the message, given Bush's promise to be a
uniter, not a divider? Several outside groups, including the
National Right to Life Coalition, Americans for Tax Reform and
the National Rifle Association, stepped right up. "Right to Life
will do radio; A.T.R. will do TV ads," said one of Bush's South
Carolina advisers. Even though coordinating with third-party
groups is illegal, the discussion explicitly revolved around the
idea that these groups could be counted on to do whatever it
took--whether it was running ads, passing out literature or making
phone calls--to destroy McCain and save Bush.
Briefed later that day in his hotel suite, Bush agreed to the
battle plan. The next 18 days would be the ugliest of his
political career. In the heart of the Confederacy, phone callers
and leaflets attacked McCain's wife's drug addiction, made
racial attacks on McCain's adopted Bangladeshi daughter and
warned of "McCain's fag army." Bush won the state by 11 points.
PAGING WAITRESS MOMS
For weeks Gore strategists Shrum and Tad Devine had been sounding
out Stan Greenberg, the pollster with whom they had worked on
Ehud Barak's race for Israeli Prime Minister and an old friend of
Shrum's. Just about the time Commerce Secretary Bill Daley had
replaced Coelho as campaign chairman, Devine called Greenberg and
asked him if he would be willing to look at the race. Greenberg
went out and did both polling and focus groups nationally. At the
time, Gore was down 16 or 17 points, even in Greenberg's surveys,
but the pollster thought he saw an opportunity.
Now they were ready to show his results to the boss. In late
June, Greenberg set up his Power Point presentation--a laptop
projecting onto a screen in Gore's dining room--and began
sketching out a message with a more populist edge. Voters, he
said, were ready to believe that Bush doesn't understand average
people, that he is of a different background and more likely to
give his well-to-do friends a break.
The type Greenberg projected onto the screen was tiny. Again and
again, Gore got up from his chair and squinted at the stats. But
he was getting more and more excited. Greenberg said it was time
to pick a fight, which made sense to Gore. It was the kind of
campaign in which he could be comfortable. And so the populist
campaign was born.
Besides, Gore had just finished his three-week "Prosperity and
Progress" tour to poor reviews by the media. The only big
headlines he seemed to generate came when he criticized the oil
companies over a recent spike in prices. In this atmosphere of
paralysis, all the old infighting was back. Many in the campaign
blamed the inertia on pollster Harrison Hickman, who had been
brought in to replace Mark Penn. But Eskew, Shrum and Devine, the
high-priced ad guys, weren't helping either: the $30 million of
Democratic National Committee money they had spent on ads weren't
budging Gore's poll numbers in any of the states that mattered.
The surest sign that there was blood in the water was the fact
that all the exiled outsiders were hovering again. Penn was
sending memos over the transom urging Gore to run on Clinton's
economic success. The argument (one in which many thought they
saw Clinton's hand) went like this: prosperity had not happened
by chance; it took hard choices and courage; now we're seeing the
benefits, but even the most glorious economy is fragile. Does the
country really want to put that in Bush's hands? The key to the
election, Penn argued, was not waitress moms but the "wired
workers," a group that has benefited mightily from the Clinton
Shrum, Carter and Devine thanked Penn and read his memos, but
didn't follow up. "That was not the route we were going down," a
Gore strategist said.
Throughout the fall, most folks in the Clinton White House
thought the populism jag was a huge mistake. Newly hired deputy
campaign chairman Mark Fabiani--himself a refugee from Clinton's
White House--was uncomfortable with the new tone. Fabiani warned
that it still left the campaign without the thing it needed most:
a one-sentence description of what was at stake in the race,
something that had the power to counter Bush's attacks that Gore
would say anything to get elected. He feared that the elitist
media would hate this populist tone. And he argued that Gore
should hit Bush's competence--does he have what it takes?--more
directly. But he was overruled.
POOLSIDE WITH JEB
The Bush clan gathers every summer for fun and games in
Kennebunkport, Maine, but this summer something special was up.
The old man had invited everyone in his massive Rolodex to
celebrate the Silver Fox's 75th birthday. It was all hush-hush,
the old social secretaries and helpers and lickers and stampers,
some of the old Bush gals and the hangers on, and of course
folks like Jim Baker and his wife. They stayed all over the old
fishing resort--at the point itself and at the Shawmut in town,
and some bunked secretly with friends. And sure, they were
coming to fete Barbara and all that she had created, but that's
not what they came to see.
What they really wanted to know was how the man they still called
Junior, the guy who for all those years George and Bar had
fretted about, the one everyone thought wouldn't amount to much
of anything, was conducting himself now that he was on the verge
of taking back what his father had lost eight years before. Would
he be wild and unsaddled, as always, smoking Marlboros in the
dining room, Mr. Cock of the Walk, or would something else have
settled in him, taken him to a different place? After all, he was
going to be President soon, right?
There were the usual family high jinks: speedboating,
bluefishing, tennis matches, horseshoes--let the games
begin!--people riding around the Point on those fat-tired old
bikes. The kids put on some hysterical skits one night at the
Kennebunk River Club down the road. The old man dressed up as
Carnac the Magician, and he and his sidekick Marlin Fitzwater
reprised their favorite routines. Dubya's old friend Brad
Freeman dressed up in a white wig and a dowdy blue dress and
pretended to be Barbara. George's younger brother Marvin made
fun of everyone, but the old ringleader himself, the guy who
normally hammed it up the most, well, he just couldn't be found.
Bush kept to himself, stayed on the phone, worked on his speech,
practiced for the debates. Everyone was whispering about it; some
couldn't quite believe it; but everyone was a little relieved, a
little proud; and everyone knew the real score. "He couldn't act
out too much," said someone who was there. "His mom would have
The eldest Bush son couldn't resist at least one gag. Neil Bush,
the former President's sweetest son by far, is also the most
naive about politics. Neil was the one who got badly tangled up
with some crooked Colorado bankers 10 years ago and never knew
what hit him. One afternoon, out by the pool, Dubya and Jeb
walked out, saw Neil and began talking loudly about a long list
of crazy, outrageous things that just had to be in the convention
speech. Pile 'em on, said Dubya. Let's do it, said Jeb, both men
pretending to sound like political terrorists rather than the
caretakers of a party and its future.
Listening to his big brothers, the Governors of two of the four
largest states, Neil looked alarmed and warned, "Guys, you can't
say that stuff. You just can't."
The two Governors just looked at their brother and smiled.
TAMING THE MERCENARIES
By July, all the wiring inside Goreland had become tangled. The
White House believed the Gore campaign was run by amateurs. The
New Democrats felt the campaign was drifting to the left. The
Gore family had its doubts about all the consultants; Gore was on
his third pollster, and the campaign had changed management three
times. All the exiles seemed to be leaking their side of the
story to reporters. The whole thing was driving Daley, Gore's new
campaign chairman, crazy.
Every day a new story appeared about the various names on Gore's
short list of vice-presidential candidates. Many in the campaign
suspected Shrum and Devine of waging a campaign for another
client of theirs, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. A
campaign official says they had even made a deal with one of the
networks to provide "B roll" (pretty footage of their man) if
Edwards were selected. Many staff members saved their sharpest
blades for Shrum, who never moved to Nashville, who had little
history with the candidate and who seemed to be always keeping an
eye out for himself.
Daley tried to bridge the gap and put his foot down about all the
leaks. He also invited back the old Gore hands that Coelho had
banished--such as Ron Klain and Monica Dixon--and sent them to
Nashville. He put another old Gore hand, Greg Simon, on the plane
as the designated grownup. But Daley's rule was this: You have to
give up your day jobs, all your other entanglements, for the
duration. Simon came on unpaid--and brought his own cell phone to
save even that expense.
GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
There was never any question what kind of speech bush was going
to give at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia: the
Democratic kind. He had ridden into town after a bus trip modeled
on the one Clinton made in 1992. He seemed to use the "rainbow
coalition" as his model for the stage show; for the first time in
a decade, the G.O.P. message was tolerance. The whole thing felt
like a carefully buttoned-down love-in.
The only question--and it worried the folks in Austin--was this:
Would the Republican delegates clap for it?
That's because G.O.P. delegates were dedicated carnivores who
loved the red meat of their party's most militant wing and
swooned at language against affirmative action and abortion and
for cutting taxes and spending. They loved the name Reagan and
had always been suspicious of the name Bush. And now along came
his son, and no one knew how it would all go over.
But by the time Bush arrived, he had been giving his speech, or a
version close to it, for weeks. Mike Gerson, his speechwriter,
had been pounding out draft after draft, delivering the first one
almost two months ahead of time. Bush kept tweaking it and
changing it. He turned one paragraph over to spokeswoman Hughes,
a former Texas TV personality, telling her to improve it: "This
is your moment. This is your moment." She would fiddle with it
and pass it back, and he would do the same and return it, telling
her to keep working: "This is your moment." After a while, Hughes
got fed up and said, "It's getting to be a pretty long moment,
By the end, the speech was a soup, as everyone from policy chief
John Bolten to media guru McKinnon had tossed in carrots and
onions and seasonings. While working out at the pool, Rove came
up with some one-liners--"If my opponent had been there at the
moon launch, it would have been a 'risky rocket scheme.'" But it
was Bush who wrote the ending portraying himself as the kind of
optimist who lives on the sunrise side of the mountain.
Just a few hours before he was to speak, Bush was alone in his
hotel suite. His family, friends and most of his aides and
advisers had gone ahead to the convention hall. But McKinnon
hadn't left the hotel and went to see the Governor. McKinnon
found Bush in a surprisingly serene state of mind. He could tell
from the Governor's demeanor that he wasn't in the mood for
chatting. So McKinnon just kept Bush company as he ate a little
dinner and then got dressed. "The Governor has this capacity to
get into the zone when he has to," McKinnon says. Bush struggled
with his cuff links but otherwise did not appear nervous.
After leaving the suite, Bush and McKinnon got into the sedan
that would take them to the convention hall. McKinnon could tell
Bush still didn't want to talk. So they just sat there quietly,
and Bush occasionally glanced at a copy of his speech. As they
whizzed down the highway, McKinnon realized the Governor had
started humming. At first McKinnon couldn't make out the song.
Then he recognized it. It was Go Tell It on the Mountain.
THE CHOICE. THE KISS. THE BUMP
Al Gore had a choice to make. He could pick Joe Lieberman, old
friend, moderate Democrat and Orthodox Jew, to be his running
mate. Or he could go with his consultants' top pick, a guy who
had once put some of them on his payroll: John Edwards, 47, a
trial lawyer and first-term Senator from North Carolina. North
vs. South. Experience vs. youth. Episcopalian vs. Jew.
It was easy to see that the room on the 10th floor of the Loews
Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel in Nashville was split in two. Some of
Gore's most important advisers, including Devine and Shrum,
strongly favored Edwards, who they believed would lend youth,
star quality and fund-raising appeal to the ticket. But the
consultants found themselves outmaneuvered by a compact man who
often used few words to make his points. Tonight, however, with
10 days to go before the Democratic Convention, former Secretary
of State Warren Christopher was anything but silent. He had
already met privately that morning with Gore and Frank Hunger for
nearly two hours. But it was 10:30 p.m. now, and even in front of
the group that included Daley, Eskew, Brazile, Shrum, Devine,
Fabiani and Tipper, Christopher was in no mood to be diplomatic.
You cannot pick a one-term Senator from North Carolina, he said
to Gore. He is not ready to be President, and that is, in theory
at least, what Vice Presidents are for. "This choice says
everything about you--what's in your heart, what's in your soul,
what's in your mind." It was one of those rare moments when the
consultants who had been running the show for months discovered
they didn't hold the strongest cards.
Gore didn't say much in that meeting, but he did say that
religion worked in Lieberman's favor. Gore said he didn't see a
lot of evidence of anti-Semitism in the country; what he saw was
"fear of anti-Semitism." But that wasn't enough to disqualify
anyone, especially Lieberman. As for Edwards, a multimillionaire
who had won his campaign by spending $6 million, Gore said only,
"I think for $6 million, a lot of people could be a good
Gore had probably made up his mind earlier in the day but wanted
to hear the arguments one more time. The session was so
exhausting that some staff members drifted off into another room
and drained the minibar. After midnight, Gore put out the word
to a few key allies in organized labor, like John Sweeney of the
AFL-CIO. Lieberman went to bed wistful and tired, telling a
longtime aide, "It looks like it didn't go our way." Lieberman
found out differently the next morning when Gore called to make
a formal offer.
By the time Gore got to Los Angeles for his convention, he knew
he couldn't win a race about personality but might win one about
issues. So when he told his team that he wanted to get very
specific in his speech, team members decided Gore needed to be
Gore and leave the leavening to others. They agreed that Gore
should avoid talking about himself and stick to personal stories
about real Americans and substitute his lack of appeal for an
appeal to the voters he wanted to fight for. Then they could
bracket his speech with video testimonials from others about what
a good guy he was.
Determined to write it himself, Gore kept his speech short, which
meant it was only four times as long as necessary when he
finished his first draft. Eskew, Shrum and speechwriter Eli Attie
had been meeting with him in hotel rooms around the country for
weeks to start hacking away at the forest, grove by grove. They
nudged him on tone and urged him to lose the preachy,
kindergarten teacher's condescension. They told him to "surf the
applause," that is, talk over the roars of the crowd when they
came. (Later an aide bragged, "It sounded weird in the room, but
it worked on TV.") Karenna read it over, and daughter Kristen
added some mirth. But it was Sarah, the Gores' quieter, more
reclusive child, who turned out to be the real editor, urging her
father to cut and tighten.
Gore got to the Staples Center 15 minutes early, a ball of
nervous energy. He embraced his college roommate Tommy Lee Jones,
and the two men took their own quiet turn around backstage
together, winding up at the side portal from which Gore was
meant to make his entrance. The Secret Service had hung a blue
curtain blocking the crowd's view through that doorway, but there
was a gap at the top, and Gore could just make out his wife on
the Jumbotron. Tipper was talking about her father-in-law Al Sr.,
and his kindly face appeared on the giant screen one more time.
Then came the pictures of the couple's four children, of his
wife, the whole gauzy Christmas card. Eskew saw the emotion in
Gore's eyes as he watched those pictures. "I could see he was
overcome," Eskew says. And so when she called his name, Gore
marched out into the crowd, fought his way to the stage, and then
Al Gore did something hardly anyone in America had ever seen him
do: commit a spontaneously emotional act. He grabbed his wife,
kissed her carefully, and then something overcame him and he
wrapped his arms around her even tighter and gave her the most
fervent kiss any politician has ever planted on a wife in
public--a big, face-sucking whopper that caught Tipper off guard,
silenced the pundits for a good five seconds and sent the hall
into a kind of superheated frenzy. The speech was good, but a
week later, it was the kiss that people were still talking about,
particularly men, who saw in Gore either something they had never
expected or something in themselves, or both.
EASELS AND CANDYGRAMS
The sun was barely up, but W. was, on the phone with Rove at home
in the middle of Black September. "I don't want people to get
down," Bush told Rove, which basically meant, Don't let the team
read the papers, watch the news or get anywhere near a pollster.
"I want them to stay focused and not let current events get to
their thinking." Bush hooked up with campaign chairman Don Evans
in St. Louis and talked about how important it was to keep
spirits up. Bush wanted his old friends to keep confidence high.
"We talked about how important it was that I project high spirits
around here," Evans recalled.
For Bush, September was the cruelest month. A week after the
Democratic Convention, Labor Day, the day everyone is supposed to
actually sit up and pay attention to politics, Bush was caught on
an open mike calling a New York Times reporter a "major-league
asshole." The Governor then admitted that he hadn't explained his
tax plan correctly, raising questions about whether he knew what
was in it at all. Vanity Fair argued that the candidate was
dyslexic, which some of his performances only seemed to confirm.
He was running ads suggesting that Gore was scared to debate him,
which confirmed the sense that the reverse was true. A front-page
New York Times story detailed the subliminal use of rats followed
by the phrase BUREAUCRATS DECIDE in a Bush campaign
advertisement. "If I had to write a book about this campaign,"
said Hughes, "it would be called Of Rats, Assholes and Dyslexia."
To sharpen their message, chief strategist Rove formed the
McKinnon Commission to come up with a packaged policy that was
not new in substance but had a buffed-up look to it, including
sepia-toned briefing books. "Blueprint for the Middle Class," for
instance, was just a 10-page document done in the style of actual
blueprints that outlined how the Bush plan would support the
family from cradle to grave. There was nothing subtle about it:
on nearly every page was a picture of a woman, each one from a
different walk of life, state, demographic subgroup. It looked
like an advertising campaign for a new kind of Volvo or cellular
phone. Bush's travel was coordinated that week to reach
Midwestern swing-state women, just as it was later when "Agenda
for the Greatest Generation" wrapped the candidate's
senior-friendly message in a briefing book with pictures of V-day
celebrations, all delivered to key states like Florida and
Pennsylvania that have a high percentage of elderly voters. The
commission also wanted Bush to lay out a "First 100 Days" agenda
in Pittsburgh, Pa., but that was shot down by the candidate
himself. It would look arrogant, he said, as if he had already
locked up the election.
Gore, meanwhile, was starting to poke holes in his own ship. In
the third week of September, reporters began to challenge him on
some of the anecdotes he related in his speeches, including
whether the prescription drug Lodine did cost less for his dog
than for his mother-in-law. Gore's sudden drift may not have been
entirely coincidental. Republican message sculptor Ed Gillespie
arrived in Austin to step up the attacks on the Vice President.
Constantly outgunned by Gore's better tactical operation, Bush's
team started working on what it called "stink bombs," or what
later became known as "candygrams"--tactical strikes on Gore's
veracity that it hoped would knock their opponent off stride. The
bomb throwers were in place, ready to go when the debates began.
THE SECRET DEBATE STRATEGY
Karl Rove's cell phone was ringing, and he could see it was Don
Evans calling. "Where are you?" Evans asked, sounding angry. It
was nearly 9 p.m. on a Friday, which left exactly four days to go
before the first debate, and something had gone wrong. Rove was
driving to a nearby Austin church with New Hampshire Senator Judd
Gregg. Gregg had been playing Gore in debate-practice sessions
for months. He and Evans were joining Bush for a run-through
designed as a kind of conditioning exercise: they had to get the
Governor used to performing at a late hour, given his usual 9:30
"I'm way ahead of you, Don," Rove told Evans with his usual
bubbliness. He knew Bush hated being late, and so had hustled
everyone out of dinner and into the cars for what was supposed to
be a quick ride to the church.
"No, Karl," came Evans' curt reply. "We're already here."
Whoops. Rove realized he had the wrong church. He pulled a U-turn
in the middle of the highway, but by the time they finally made
it to the right church, steam was coming out of Bush's ears.
"He's not a man who hides his emotions," said someone who was in
the room. "He was pissed." They started practice 40 minutes
behind schedule, and by the time it was over, they wished they
hadn't started at all. Bush had bungled and fumbled his way
through the 90 minutes. "It was not a crackerjack performance,"
said a senior aide.
It was not all that surprising that Rove got lost. By then Bush
had practiced in so many secret places that it was easy to forget
which venue might be on the schedule. Back in the spring, his
staff members had rented a small auditorium at the Texas State
Bar Association building in Austin. The site was perfect: it was
relatively new, was close to Bush's office in the State Capitol
and had a small back entrance that made it easy for Bush to slip
in and out. But then a Democratic member of the bar group
objected, and the state association evicted the campaign. Next
the campaign rented a sound stage. They also practiced in
churches; they practiced in Kennebunkport; and later they just
repaired to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Often Bush's staff,
led by media aide Stuart Stevens, turned up to fire questions at
the Governor. So all through September, when Bush seemed to be
trying to dodge the debates, he was actually practicing for them
somewhere, under the guise of what were called "communications
meetings" on all the internal campaign schedules. Gore read the
Texan's surprisingly light schedule and immediately realized what
was going on. "No one has that much down time," Gore told his
aides wryly. And his instincts were right; by the time Bush
walked across the stage in Boston, he and his aides had been
preparing for five months.
"I THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO HIT GEORGE"
Bush stalled about debates for weeks in August and September so
that by the time his negotiating team turned up in Washington to
hammer out the details of a fall schedule, they had little choice
but to concede on dates, times, cities and length of debates.
Then the two sides got down to the details. It took six days to
produce a 50-page legal agreement governing lights, sets, timing,
logistics, order of arrival, order of departure and order of
speaking--even the kinds of pencils and notepads that would be
Each side played the usual psych-war games in these talks: Gore's
team said he wanted lapel mikes for the first debate (that was
designed to fool Bush into thinking Gore was going to walk
around); Bush wanted swivel chairs for the second debate (to make
him look as tall as the Vice President). And for the third
debate, the two sides spent a lot of time discussing rules of
movement and space in ways that would have made an air-traffic
controller proud, including arguments about privacy areas, zones
of separation and what constituted interference. "The Bush people
seemed constantly concerned that Gore was going to move," someone
involved in the talks said later. "They seemed spooked by Gore's
size." At one point, the two sides discussed a warning light that
would fire if one candidate violated another's space. In the end,
all that was scrapped for a large no-man's-land and a tiny zone
of privacy around each man's chair. In retrospect, Bush might
have wished for a fence. During the third debate, Gore ranged so
widely over the stage--and at one point came so close to Bush--that
after it was over, Barbara Bush quipped, "I thought he was going
to hit George."
Indeed, it is a wonder that Gore, the self-proclaimed master of
preparation, did not practice until the final week--or give more
thought to how things might look. He spent three days in
Sarasota, Fla., at the Mote Marine Laboratory with a prep team of
about 15. The sessions were crunchy: figuring out the issues,
tightening Gore's answers into the two-minute, one-minute time
limits. But for all the questions they thought out, there was no
discussion of stagecraft. And Gore, of all people, should have
known the importance of the little things.
He arrived late at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and
didn't have time for a check under the lights, an ironic mistake
for a man who had written his college thesis on the power of
television and the presidency. Gore's makeup artist did not allow
for his Florida tan. And with only a few minutes to spare before
going on, Gore was told something new: the pool camera might "cut
away" to him during Bush's responses. That meant Gore had to be
careful about how he looked when he wasn't talking--even though he
hadn't prepared that way.
Gore entered the stage with his face painted orange. He sighed
while Bush gave his answers. The repeated interruptions of Bush
and moderator Jim Lehrer astonished Evans, who was sitting right
behind Lehrer. "I couldn't believe it," he said. "I looked at him
[Bush] and said, 'My friend is going to be the President of the
By the second debate, Gore was so conscious of the need to back
off that he practically disappeared, and it confused people about
who he really was. The last debate was Gore's best, but by then
it was almost too late. Bush prepared for the last debate by
praying with James Robison, a television evangelist, for "calm,
confidence and the wisdom to know when to speak and when not to
speak." And then he went fishing.
THE FLORIDA GAMBIT
Bush's war planners held no single article of faith more dearly
than this: the Governor started the general-election campaign
with two huge states, worth 57 electoral votes: Texas and
Florida. Together they were worth more than California, the top
Gore stronghold. Jeb Bush was Florida's Governor, and Bush's
father had held the Sunshine State against Clinton in 1992.
Florida was, they assumed, Bush Country.
Gore thought so too, at least at first. Gore's team figured it
would take at least $10 million to win it back--a big chunk of
change best held in reserve for elsewhere. And so Gore's early
attentions to the state were just head fakes, designed to scare
Bush into wasting some money there. But then the polling came in.
"What we found when we got here a year and half ago was that we
just polled better here," said Chris Lehane. "If we were down 15
nationally, Florida was down only 9. After the primaries, we were
down in the rest by 8, but here by 4," says Lehane. "I think we
thought that would change, that Bush would spend some money and
we'd see a turn in the numbers. But we didn't."
The more Gore's aides looked at Florida, the more it looked
like, say, New Jersey. The demographics had shifted in the 1990s
with more non-Cuban Caribbean immigrants coming into the state.
These groups balanced the Cuban-American tendency to lean toward
the G.O.P. Seniors made up 33% of the vote--which made them ripe
for persuasion on prescription drugs, Medicare and Social
Security. The Everglades and an offshore oil-drilling ban loomed
as environmental issues. And there was a huge swath of
apolitical voters in the central part of the state who worked in
the hotels and restaurants and service industries that straddled
Interstate 4. They voted Republican in statewide races, but
tilted Democratic on national issues.
Someone else was scraping for a fight over Florida: Bill Clinton.
In one of his earliest bull sessions with Coelho, Clinton ranted
about how he still regretted allowing his political advisers to
talk him out of contesting Florida in that first race, how he
came so close to winning in 1992 and proved them all wrong by
taking the state in 1996. "He felt that Florida was a state he
could do," Coelho recalled. "He said, 'Don't make the mistake I
Last summer Coelho contacted the virulently anti-Castro Mas
Canosa family and discovered that the Cuban-American community
was not completely locked up by the G.O.P. Gore had other
advantages: the state attorney general, Bob Butterworth, took
control of Gore's statewide operation. Devine and Shrum were
close to Miami's mayor, Joe Carollo, and they were simultaneously
working on Bill Nelson's Senate race, which showed Floridians'
giving a 20-point edge to a Democrat--any Democrat--on the question
of whom they trusted to take better care of Medicare and Social
The ad war began early, in June in Tampa, Orlando and West Palm
Beach. When those ads boosted Gore's ratings for leadership and
strength of character, Team Gore expanded the buy statewide. And
no single ad turned out to be as important to narrowing the gap
than the one that accused Bush of promising "the same money to
young workers and seniors." That 30-second spot alone boosted
Gore's rating by 10 points among senior citizens--and by Nov. 1,
he was running neck and neck in the Sunshine State.
"ARROGANT IS NOT A DISQUALIFIER"
At 8:15 one morning in Nashville, during the final week, the Gore
campaign's high command gathered in the large, soul-free room
they call "the kitchen." It looked like a corporate cave,
furnished out of Office Depot, with a huge table and more
computers, telephones and ugly chairs scattered around it than
you could count. The group was connected to the D.N.C. by
conference call, preparing for a day that would launch the last
big drive of the campaign. It was a 15-minute daily ritual,
although it had become more infrequent in the final days of the
Gore was to appear that day in Wisconsin--a state in which he was
ahead but only narrowly. Klain, the former Gore chief of staff
who had been brought back by chairman Daley to run the kitchen,
explained the schedule: the Vice President would give a "big
framing speech to set up the final week... We're also talking
about today, for the first time in a big way, the fork in the
The campaign had other gambits planned too, and the group went
over them as seven television screens played silently in the
background. The D.N.C.'s Laura Quinn explained how megamystery
writer Stephen King had recorded radio spots in which he had
intoned, "I know what you did in Texas." Actresses Neve Campbell
and Kathy Bates were thinking about doing spots too. Klain asked
about getting Jamie Lee Curtis signed up.
"We tried," said Quinn.
"Too bad," said Klain.
He turned to David Ginsberg, head of research: "David, the bad
Bush would be in New Mexico, Ginsberg said, on his way to
California, which instantly became the big mystery in Goreland
that day. Why was Bush going there when Florida was, in the words
of spokesman Doug Hattaway, "the big kahuna, and we're ahead"?
The major question of the week was "What do we push on the
negative track?" As Klain put it, How hard should questions be
pressed about Bush's fitness for office? Who should ask them?
(Gore, everyone agreed, couldn't.) Where to ask them? They had
tested nine possible ads over the weekend. By Monday they were
down to five. The spots ranged in tone from reassurances about
Gore's leadership qualities to frontal attacks on Bush's
competence. They would eventually choose the bluntest approach--a
direct assault on the question of whether Bush was "ready to lead
Greenberg's polls showed the attack had promise. In a memo to the
campaign high command, he wrote, "The balance of forces tilts
toward us." But he had felt compelled to add, "imperceptibly so."
Forty-four percent of voters thought Bush was "in over his head."
But Greenberg admitted that Gore's negatives were higher. People
thought he was arrogant and neither honest nor trustworthy.
Still, he said, "arrogant is not a disqualifier."
DON'T STOP THINKING ABOUT TOMORROW
On his last stop of the last day before returning to Texas, Bush
flew into Bentonville, in the northwest corner of Arkansas.
Nearly 5,000 people--a huge number for that part of the
state--were jammed into an airport hanger for the rally. The
crowd roared as Bush and Laura emerged from their plane and
waved. On the tarmac, the normally taciturn campaign chairman,
Don Evans, was so juiced by the moment that he ran to the crowd,
his arms raised high, both hands making the W sign and then
proceeded to work the line, grabbing hands as if he were the
Ever since he got into the race 16 months before, Bush had always
sworn he was not out for revenge. This wasn't about his father's
loss in 1992, he claimed. It wasn't about his father at all; it
was, he said, about the future. But no matter what Bush said, no
matter how hard his aides argued the point, the motivating force
behind the campaign was always apparent. Sure, Bush was his own
man, not just the son out to avenge the father. But what really
gave his campaign energy, what fueled the passion in the crowds
that came out to see him, was the desire to expunge the memory of
Bill Clinton's victory--a victory seen as illegitimate by
hard-core Republicans--and of the eight years that followed.
Now, as Bush made his way to the stage, it was time for the music
that marks the candidate's arrival. Mark McKinnon, Bush's media
guru, sidled up to a reporter and said, "Listen to this." Instead
of the usual song, a Van Halen number, the speakers in the hanger
exploded with the sound of a different tune: Fleetwood Mac's
Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow). Reporters started laughing
when they heard it. Such a clever move, they said to each other,
to play Clinton's campaign theme song at a Bush rally. In
Arkansas! But suddenly, with the ear-ripping screech of a needle
being dragged across an old record album, the song stopped. And
then a new song blared from the speakers. The crowd erupted in
cheers as the lyrics of the classic rock song by the Who
reverberated through the hanger: Won't Get Fooled Again.
Back aboard the plane for the flight to Austin, Bush did
something he hadn't done in a long time: he came back to talk to
the reporters. He went from row to row, shaking hands. He was far
more sober and serious than the candidate they usually saw on the
plane. Perhaps he realized that a man who might be elected
President could no longer play the fraternity cutup. Or perhaps
he was just tired. But he had one joke still in him. As he made
his way back to the front of the plane, he turned to the first
few rows of journalists. "All right," he said, frowning a bit,
then running his hand through his hair as he savored the famous
line by Richard Nixon that he was about to deliver. "You won't
have me to kick around anymore." He smiled and gave a short
laugh. Then he turned around and walked up the aisle.
--Reported by James Carney and John F. Dickerson with Bush
and Tamala M. Edwards and Karen Tumulty with Gore