One campaign away from glory


Strategists: The presidential campaign managers are little known by voters, but a winning race to the White House could turn one into a national celebrity.

November 15, 1999|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- To the average voter, the following names probably mean little or nothing: Tony Coelho, Gina Glantz, Bill Dal Col, Karl Rove, Rick Davis, Frank Cannon, Sal Russo, Dan Godzich. But in the roster of shakers and movers for the presidential politics of 2000, one of them likely will be hailed a year from now as the maker of the next president.

They are the campaign managers and/or chief political strategists of the two Democratic and six surviving Republican candidates.

Except for Coelho, the former California congressman who is running Vice President Al Gore's campaign and getting celebrity treatment in the media as a hard-nosed, take-charge guy in a turbulent operation, the group is relatively anonymous -- by intent.

Glantz, former Sen. Bill Bradley's manager, notes that some campaign managers "become personalities in their own right, but that is not what our campaign is about. We've considered from the start that the most important part of the campaign is [the candidate]." Dal Col, Steve Forbes' manager, echoes the sentiment. "We try to operate on the premise that one person should be making news," he says, "and that's Steve Forbes."

The campaign consultants -- "hired guns" in the parlance of the day -- have considerable experience in the field. Right behind Coelho in prominence within political circles is Rove, a longtime consultant in Texas who has worked for more than 70 Republican candidates in 23 states and is chief strategist for Gov. George W. Bush.

Glantz was out of the campaign-managing business for 15 years before joining with Bradley. In 1984, she was national field director for then-Vice President Walter F. Mondale's presidential bid and afterward went into noncampaign consulting.

Russo, a veteran of the Reagan White House who is the top strategist for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, also has worked in several Republican presidential campaigns, and Davis, managing Sen. John McCain's campaign, was deputy manager for Bob Dole's run in 1996. The other campaign managers, Cannon for Gary L. Bauer and Godzich for Alan L. Keyes, though less known, also are veterans at congressional or state levels.

Only one of the pack has previously run a presidential campaign, however. Dal Col is making a second try as Forbes' national manager. A Reagan-Bush operative in New York in the 1984 campaign, Dal Col was also chief of staff to Jack Kemp when Kemp was Housing and Urban Development secretary.

Presidential campaigns have a way of robbing little-known political operatives of their anonymity and hatching them into not only political but media stars.

Exhibits A and B are the current odd couple of national politics, Democrat James Carville, a key strategist in President Clinton's 1992 election, and Republican Mary Matalin, who labored for George Bush in 1988 and 1992. Individually, and as a team after they married, Carville and Matalin have become such television regulars that both have been largely out of the domestic political-consulting business.

The current crop of potential president-makers will insist that they are not motivated by personal ambition, and just want to help nominate and elect the candidate they believe will be best for the country. For the most part it is a genuine sentiment, but the opportunities for fame and profit in political consulting have grown to such a degree that the words "hired gun" have become distinctly pejorative.

The behavior and celebrity of another of Clinton's former consultants, Dick Morris, have subjected the practice of running political campaigns to much criticism and even ridicule. Before Morris was forced out of the 1996 Clinton re-election campaign in a sex scandal, he took considerable heat inside and outside the political community as a political switch-hitter, working for Democratic and Republican candidates.

It is usually the lot of political consultants in presidential campaigns to labor in relative obscurity as long as all goes well, but they become lightning rods when the going is rough. The contrast between Coelho for Gore and Glantz for Bradley makes the point.

Coelho was brought in amid much comment that the vice president's bid was in deep trouble, organizationally and stylistically. The staff shake-up he set in motion, including moving the campaign headquarters to Nashville, Tenn., gave him a heavy dose of publicity in a job that in earlier years was usually performed, by design and desire, in the shadows.

Glantz, on the other hand, has been able to keep a very low profile because her candidate, the former New Jersey senator, has avoided controversy, and the campaign she has been running for him has been low-key. She works out of a small office in suburban West Orange, N.J., only occasionally showing up on the campaign trail to see how Bradley and his field organization are doing.

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