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THE HOTLINE

BACKSEAT DRIVING:
Murphy's Back and He's Got a Warning for Dean... 

GOP media consultant Mike Murphy is back from his hiatus as an adviser to some little-known actor turned CA Gov. Remember, this is a column, so send the blowback his way at mmurphy@nationaljournal.com

By Mike Murphy

Tan, Rested and Cranky
The new governor of California is now sworn in and off to a wunderbar start, so I'm free to start recklessly opining about the Presidential race again. What follows is a jumble of short observations as I return to watching the race after ignoring it for a few months; a more detailed analysis will come in my next column.

Howard Dean now has a near chokehold on this race. He has money, a wonderful front-loaded calendar for an insurgent, and IA and NH poll numbers. But I'd be a bit worried if I were Dean. He's in a great position, but there is still time for big trouble and the only interesting storyline possible is a Dean decline. The media will be looking for it; they will take someone else's' small movement upward and canonize them.

All the candidates have their stilettos out now; quite a change from the happy Democratic camper stuff of a few months ago. Gephardt in particular has done a good job of swinging his Medicare ugly stick and bruising Dean in vital Iowa. You can see which campaign has done this run for President thing before.

The Jim Jordan massacre was a good thing for Kerry because it finally got out in the open what has been obvious for months; Kerry has been running a god-awful, ham-handed losing campaign. At least now the campaign has officially crashed and burned. I don't blame Jordan; my instincts tell me Kerry is not the kind of candidate who takes advice well and my guess is the campaign had a loony parliament of scheming and competing factions and advisors. It is the manager's job to either fix that or die trying.

Jordan died an honorable death. Now that his campaign is a smoldering ruin, Kerry is actually in a better position that he was a month ago. He sits there in the wreckage with exactly the set of assets every campaign wants: low expectations, a talented candidate and a deep treasury fueled by America's love of ketchup (or is that catsup?). Whether or not he can beat his dysfunctional Court of the Ottoman Turk like campaign into effective order is a dubious question based on his past performance, but if he can I think John Kerry is ironically positioned for a December comeback. Especially if Howard Dean's one-man band trips and stumbles badly. The confederate flag kafuffle was a telling dress rehearsal of just how Dr. Dean's humility deficit can self-inflict dangerous wounds.

Poor Edwards. So much work, so little ballot in the data. I think he might be dog food the dogs want to see cooked a few years longer before they buy. Poor, sane Joe Lieberman wins my special admiration. I watched him on the inane MTV Rock the Vote Dance Party/Debate and saw the pain on his face as he watched a fool like Dennis Kucinich bounce around in a Johnny Cash outfit and yowl about cutting the Pentagon budget in half to wild audience cheers. I could tell that Joe was wondering if this depressing Luddite circus is what running for President in the once-great Democratic party has fallen to. Sadly Joe, it is.

Finally, I read an interesting piece in the NYT about how all the 20-something field and press staffers from the competing Iowa campaigns are all living, dating and bowling together Melrose Place-style in Des Moines. While not new, if seems like a much higher level of groovy campaign staff blending than I remember from my days in the caucus racket. Maybe it's a Democratic thing. But if this is the new social norm in campaigns, then the first campaign to import to Iowa its' home state equivalent of the University of South Carolina Cheerleading Squad will have an intelligence weapon the old KGB spymasters could only have dreamed of. Knowing something about how 20-something campaign guys talk in bars, I am confident no rival campaign will have a single secret left.

Hotline Column, Backseat Driving, November, 17, 2003.


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