Campaign Strategists Move Out of the Back Room, Onto the Airwaves
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Television viewers are waking up this election year to a new kind of repartee - feisty, fast-talking campaign strategists for George Bush and Bill Clinton engaged in political parrying.
″Excuse me for talking while you’re interrupting,″ Democrat James Carville blurts as he duels with Republican counterpart Charles Black on one of their breakfast-hour clashes.
With time short and combative juices racing, the talk can be blunt.
Erstwhile Bush media consultant Roger Ailes, often a panelist on NBC’s ″Today,″ may have set the record, though, when he was asked recently about the election chances of Dallas billionaire Ross Perot.
″If the guy campaigns in insane asylums he’s going to get a big vote,″ said Ailes, because ″he’s a nut case.″
Perot was on a few days later and got back at the portly Ailes, calling him ″that guy that needs to go on Slim Fast.″
Most mornings, at least one campaign adviser can be seen on at least one of the 7 a.m. EDT shows: ″Today;″ ″CBS This Morning;″ and ABC’s ″Good Morning America.″
Usually, they appear in pairs, one from Clinton’s camp and one from Bush’s, blasting away at the candidates while the regular morning show hosts ask questions and referee.
The clashes aren’t likely to switch many votes. But they are making regular visitors to America’s breakfast tables of formerly faceless political strategists who play key roles in shaping the campaigns.
″It’s all atmospherics, and it’s a lot of fun, and it has no meaning for anything except the respective ratings of the talk shows and the future careers of these people,″ says political scientist Michael Robinson of Georgetown University. ″It gives them a chance to show they’ve got the gift of gab.″
Three aides usually represent Clinton’s side: communications director George Stephanopoulos, campaign chairman Mickey Kantor and Carville, whose appearances have been marked by an irrepressible grin and a twangy, down-home delivery.
″George Bush promised us 30 million new jobs and no new taxes and what we got was 30 million new taxes and no new jobs,″ he guffawed recently.
For all the verbal fisticuffs, most of the early morning debaters are political veterans and are careful to keep their gloves laced up when they climb in the ring.
But Kantor recently showed a flair for bare-knuckles slugging when, in the midst of a go-around with Black over taxes, he lashed out: ″You must have gone to one of those fancy private schools.″
Black is most often the Bush campaign’s entry, but he is sometimes spelled by deputy campaign director Mary Matalin. She was on the air every morning the week of the Republican National Convention and has appeared several times since.
Matalin and Carville are the dream matchup that ratings-conscious television producers long for. She works for Bush and he works for Clinton, making them sworn adversaries at least until Nov. 3. In the political off season, they date each other.
But Matalin says a campaign version of the old radio program ″The Bickersons″ is not in the offing this year. She says it would distract too much from the main point.
″My job,″ she says, ″is to get the president’s message out.″