Love, War & Running For President

IN THE MAY 11, 1990, Wall Street Journal there was this article about the meaner and tougher "new breed" of political consultants, hardball Players like Frank Greer, Don Sipple, and James Carville. The article was mostly war stories from these guys' recent campaigns. I knew Don Sipple, he was a superior Republican strategist. I had heard of Greer from when he'd run Doug Wilder's Virginia governor's race. But this guy Carville was new to me. His credentials were good, but what made the biggest impression on me was the way he talked. He was quoted saying, "It's hard for somebody to hit you when you've got your fist in their face." I thought that was really different, irreverent and smart-assed.

It was what my daddy told me when he taught me how to fight.

There were two reasons I figured this Carville guy might be someone I'd like to know: (a) Being sort of Miss Know-It-All, I prided myself on knowing who our Democratic competitors were.

Which wasn't that hard, because the guys who win races are usually so full of themselves they spend all of their time tooting their own horns. My curiosity was piqued because I'd never even beard of Carville. And (b) he was so funny. 1 mean, nobody lets a profile in The Wall Street Journal show his goofy side.

That same evening I was having dinner at the home of U.S. News columnist Michael Barone, and NBC Meet the Press producer Colette Rhoney was there. I said to Colette, "Have you ever heard of this guy James Carville?" She said, "Have I? I worked on a campaign with him."

I like to know people who do politics for a living. There's a special camaraderie to every profession, but campaign politics is really close-knit. It's so intense, and there are so few people who do it well, that sooner or later we all get to know each other. I had a boyfriend at the time, Lee Atwater, our top strategist and my mentor, was in the throes of his fatal illness [box, page 39], the Republican National Committee was about to get a new chairman-- I didn't need any complications. More for dinner conversation than anything else I said, "I'd like to meet him." I thought I made it pretty clear that I wasn't looking for a date. She said. "He's so cool! I'll call him for you."

I wasn't going to go out with some zealot, so I asked around. Who's this Mary? People knew her. Everybody I talked to went to pains to say that she's not an uptight Republican ... basically that she was not a wing nut.

So the ultimate compliment a Democrat can pay is the absence of wing nuttiness?

It would be important information to have.

January 8, 1991, is the night we actually met. You called and said, "Do you want to go to a dinner party at the Shrums' house tomorrow night? Dick Gephardt will be there, and Bob Novak." Bob Shrum was a well-known, big-time Democratic operative whom I had never met. That would be interesting. I could think of plenty of ways to spend an evening rather than talking things over with Dick Gephardt, but I loved Bob Novak,

"Why don't you come over to my apartment beforehand, let's have a drink," he said.

By this time we had horsed around on the phone so much that it was almost like we had gone out. 1 wasn't anything like polite to him. "I do want to go to this thing, I do want to see Novak, but I'm not coming to your apartment. No way." I thought it was a little inappropriate to join you at your apartment for a drink. Honey.

He was the most unabashed flirt I'd ever met in my life. I said, "I'll meet you halfway."

"At the Tune Inn," I said. It's a bar...

A Democratic hang-out bar ...

...on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast. "How're you gonna find me?" I said. "I'm a squinty-eyed, bald-headed, skinny guy. That oughta be easy."

I didn't want to go in there in the first place, it was crowded and noisy and full of Democrats. I was carting around this giant purse loaded with all my daily paperwork. It weighed a ton. As soon as we found each other walked outside and dropped it on the ground. He said, "Follow me," and just turned and headed down the street.

Whoa! "Please carry my bag," I told him, and walked on ahead.

If I ever had a chance of dominating this relationship it ended right there. We stayed up late. She didn't come to my place, she drove me home. We were so excited because we really did like each other.

The next day we went through this whole song and dance about how she wouldn't meet me at the Shrums' for dinner. She insisted I pick her up at the Republican National Committee. I knew what that was about.

I walked past her cabal of Republican cronies, swung into her office, and said pretty loudly "You always have to have the upper hand. You always have to control everything. We're going to leave from your office so you can be in charge."

Of course, he was right. Yes, I wanted him to come see my office and see what a big shot I was, and see people waiting on me and answering my phone and fawning over me. So he'd get the drift: "Mary's in charge."

There was one road sign in Carville, Louisiana, when I was growing up in the 1950s. It said STOP on one side of the road, nothing on the other. There's nothing in Carville but my daddy's store with the post office attached. My family had run the post office for generations and the town was named after the postmaster.

In Carville, it got hot in the summer and not very cold in the winter, you did things together as a family, and you played and you rode horses. Whites and blacks may have done the same things, but we did them separately. The town was segregated.

I sometimes would wish that if the blacks just didn't push so hard, Ave could go back to talking about other things. Then I read "To Kill a Mockingbird." I put it inside another book and read it under my desk during school. I attacked that book with a vengeance, and when I got to the last page I closed it and said, "They're right and we're wrong."

Politicians, to me, were larger than life. Carville was about a half-hour ride from Baton Rouge and whenever the legislature was in session I would always go sit in the gallery and watch it for ten or fifteen minutes, much like a kid would go and look through a knot hole to see a baseball game.

I graduated high school in 1962 and entered Louisiana State University. I was something less than an attentive scholar. I had fifty-six hours' worth of F's before LSU finally threw me out.

As I've always been a cultural Catholic, I had to have some punishment quick. I joined the Marines in 1966 and was fortunate to get stationed in San Diego and not go to Vietnam. When I got out of the service in 1968, 1 went back and graduated from LSU at night. I taught junior high school science for a while (which I knew nothing about) and didn't know what the hell to do with my life. People were always saving, "You can talk, that's what a lawyer does, he gets paid to talk." Well, why not? My uncle Lloyd paid my way.

I joined the firm of McKernnan, Beychok, Screen and Pierson in 1973 and started practicing law, but I was always more interested in politics. I liked the excitement. 1 liked that there was a definite date to fix on, that there was a winner or a loser. And I always wanted to be a winner.

My grandparents met on the boat coming to America from Yugoslavia in the early 1920s. He had fifty cents, she had a loaf of bread. Their South Chicago neighborhood was an ethnic enclave of Croatians, Italians, Poles, and Serbs. On the nice side of town, called the Hill, were the Irish. My mother, Eileen, came from an Irish family, and her parents were devastated when she told them she was going to marry her sweetheart from kindergarten, a Croatian.

In high school our little threeblock town of ethnics was isolated from the in crowd; we were the outcasts. But by junior year I was going out with an older guy and somehow I got nominated for homecoming queen. The five other nominees were just what you'd expect homecoming queens to be -perfectly coiffed, well-dressed good girls. I was the weird one of the bunch.

But here's how politics works. My sister was a freshman and, without my knowledge, she went crazy campaigning for me. Here was one of their own with a stake in the race, so I got all the freshman vote. My boyfriend, who was a senior and good-looking and pretty popular, got a bunch of his friends to vote for me. My outcast group, the fringe element who usually never got involved in this stuff, saw a chance to take the stage and turned out in force. The five good girls split the cute-girl vote and next thing I knew I was homecoming queen.

We all smoked pot, and we inhaled. Smoking pot then was not about drugs, it was a statement, a culture, an attitude: motorcycles, cutting class, marching for Earth Day, marching against the war, overnight stints in jail; the police were pigs, adults were the enemy capitalists were imperialists, socialism was utopia; the traditional family was anachronistic-people should live in open marriages in communes; God was out. meditation was in: competition was retro, collectivism was civilized.

Even before I went away to college, the whole scene was beginning to get on my nerves. Then I took a graduate class in modern American thought. There was only one assignment, one paper, for the whole semester. I chose the topic "Is There a Trend Toward Conservatism in the United States?" I was still clinging to my lefty, liberal, bleeding-heart group thought and wanted the paper to answer in the negative.

I'd lock myself up for days and work on nothing else. I couldn't find one scintilla of evidence that liberal ideas, or the big-government programs such thinking spawned, worked. By the time I turned in my thesis I was a fullfledged conservative. My professor laughed at me. He said, "She's found Jesus."

Then, another stroke of luck. In my final semester I took a class called "Campaigns and Elections," taught by my political science adviser, Burt Southard. You actually had to go and work on campaigns to get credit. I stuffed envelopes, handed out flyers, called people to say, "Have you voted today?" and then dragged them to the polls if they hadn't. And whatever job they put me on, I loved it.

About three months after we started going out James invited me home to Carville. We made this precipitous leap from "Who are we and what are we doing here?" to "Let's go meet my mom."

Unbeknownst to me, it had been a while since he had brought anybody home who was even a little more than post-pubescent. The last girlfriend he'd shown around was so young his sister thought she was his nephew's date. He will deny this but his sisters swear they'd never seen James with anybody over eighteen, so they were kind of shocked that I was actually over thirty.

That isn't even remotely true. Mary has the most exalted status possible in MY life and she's still got to embellish it.

When we got back to Washington James would just come around the RNC and dote on me. Total dotery. He'd hang out there and talk to our new chairman, Clayton Yeutter, and flirt with all the girls in the office. Everybody loved him. He'd wander around the building and dote, dote, dote. He would send me huge bowls of fresh flowers, or make his own personal Louisiana tuna fish salad and bring it over and feed me. Of course I really liked it, kind of got used to it, started depending on it.

Then he moved to Philadelphia to run the Harris Wofford senatorial campaign.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) funds Senate races while the Republican National Committee works with the state parties. The RNC has a lot of resources and is permitted by law to do generic get-out-the-vote activities so it is imperative for the state parties to work closely with us. Well, word kept coming back to me that the great thinkers in the Thornburgh campaign were refusing to give polling data to the Pennsylvania state party. Why? Because the state party would give it to the RNC and Man, Matalin would give it to James Carville.

That's when I started getting really crazy. I began figuring ways to redefine the relationship so as not to undermine my chances on the Bush campaign. I didn't know exactly what to do. All the people who were in to decide who got those jobs knew I was going out with Carville.

Since the 1988 campaign I'd wanted only one job, to be the 1992 reelection political director. I did everything I could to prepare for that job. if it went to someone better, that was okay. But if I didn't get it because of Carville I'd have to kill him.

Marlin Fitzwater called from the White House at about five-thirty in the afternoon, December 4. "Can you be at the White House tomorrow at eleven-thirty for a briefing and a press conference?"

I said, 'Am I going to be on the campaign?" "Yes."

When we arrived at the White House we grouped up around Marlin to read the press release: Robert Mosbacher, general chairman; Bob Teeter, campaign chair-man: Fred Malek, campaign manager; Bobby Holt, finance chairman; Charlie Black and Rich Bond, senior consultants. I was named political director.

It was unusual that the political director would be named at the same press conference as the chief of staff, the chairman, and the rest of the bigwigs. But if you look at that picture sans me you had five white boys up there. The reason I was announced in conjunction with the leadership was to have a woman in the picture. I had a very good and important job, but I was there to bring some legs into the photo op.

Now, I'm not a shrinking violet, but in this hierarchy mine was the lowest-level job, so I assumed the position of lowest level guy and walked two steps behind. When we entered the briefing room, which was filled with reporters and photographers and TV cameras, I was standing to the rear of our crowd when I felt about six hands on my back. All the guys were laughing, They were pushing me to the front.

That picture was all over, including on the front page of The New York Times. From then on the press made a standard joke of it: Marv and the White Boys.

Our campaign hierarchy was announced the same week James was named chief strategist for Clinton. Lois Romano of The Washington Post called both of us to get the story. I said to James, "You tell her that we're putting our relationship on hold." All I needed was for the first story on my job to be about me and not the candidate.

James said, "That is very stupid. It's like inviting people to follow us around."

"But we will be on hold," I argued. "because that's how presidential races work. And that's why you're a big jerk, and that's why it is stupid for you to take this job ... You've worked a bunch of state races. So what? You don't know how terrible a presidential race is." It was a big Miss Know-ltAll speech and I was screaming at him.

Reports of past affairs between the governor and various women had come up and been explained away-"Oh, man, this is the same crap we've been bearing down here in Arkansas for years, it's all been flushed out before" and, not to our credit, we accepted it without looking into the charges much deeper. Everybody, operated on the Smoking Bimbo theory: No one had ever come forward, on fire with passion, and said, "We did it."

The issue may well have been handled previously, but an accusation in a state race, and the intense press scrutiny during a presidential campaign, are completely different. Illicit sex is a hot topic everywhere, particularly in political races. Clinton was a relatively young, good-looking guy with, deserved or not, a reputation. We should have investigated this line thoroughly and been prepared, and we weren't.

Then came a press release from the Star, a supermarket tabloid, and we all took a look at it. A woman named Gennifer Flowers was proclaiming a long-running affair with Governor Clinton and claimed she had audiotapes of phone conversations to prove it. In fact, Gennifer Flowers bad previously denied she'd had an affair with the governor and had threatened to sue an Arkansas radio station for saying that she had. But the Star was paying her over $100,000 for her story, and things will change when dollars get involved. I looked at the press release and said, "Look, this has all been hashed out. it's old news."

What was new was the tapes. If these turned out to be authentic conversations with Bill Clinton, it could cause us a good deal of difficulty; she'd be the Smoking Bimbo. What had he been doing talking to her in the first place? He didn't have to tell me; I knew. She'd been a local newscaster. If you're the governor in a place like Little Rock, Arkansas, it's impossible not to know the local news people. I asked the governor about the calls. He said, "I can assure you there's nothing to them. The only thing is, she told me something one time about oral sex and the only thing I can remember is I just laughed, I didn't really know what to say. That may be on there. There was something about Cuomo but I don't think I said anything ... The only thing I can remember telling her is, 'Just tell them what happened.' or 'Just keep saying what you've been saying,' or 'Say the same thing,' or whatever.' He told me exactly what was going to be on the tape.

It was decided by the candidate and Mrs. Clinton to jump on this thing with both feet. Bill Clinton did not have an affair with Gennifer Flowers. That was a given. I thought about it, and the clear weight of evidence is that he didn't.

First, he denied it-and I believed him. He told me everything that was going to be on that tape before we heard it. Second, Gennifer Flowers was taping him to sucker-punch him, and if they had had an affair, it would have been incredibly easy.

If any woman that I've ever had an affair with called, it would take five seconds to get something inculpatory on tape. Like, "Do you suppose they'll find the American Express card from the night in Dallas?" or "Do you think anybody saw you when you left?"

I would happily engage in that conversation. There is no rational person who has ever done something they didn't want anyone to know about with the opposite sex who wouldn't understand that. It would be very easy, particularly if you were an object of curiosity to the nation, to entice you into being part of it. Try as she might, the tape had none of that.

For my part, I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, in between Diet Cokes and a gazillion cups of coffee I kept thinking, "Hey, I have a function now, I'm here, I'm thinking, I'm earning a paycheck." There was action.

We all sat around and watched the Gennifer Flowers saga and thought it was pretty funny. We made fun of her roots and made fun of the press and said, "God, if' that's Clinton's taste in women . . . "

Not that we cared. An Atwater maxim was operative: Never interfere with your enemy when he's in the process of destroying himself Furthermore, when you're in a primary, the other party's campaign does not even exist. For now you're completely focused on beating the guy on your own ballot.

We knew the Democrats were saying we were negative campaigners and had branded us trash-talkers. We did not need to reinforce their negative image of us, particularly on an issue like philandering, so we kept out of it. The word went out: Nobody will say anything about Clinton's personal life. When the press calls: No comment.

Of course, I also paid attention to Gennifer Flowers because of James Carville. This was one of the ways we'd keep in touch during the campaign. Reporters were calling me and saying, "This guy is a weirdo. He has not shaved in three days. He pads down from his room in the morning with no shoes on, then eats the same thing every day. He's a mess, he talks a mile a minute, you've got to do something."

I was worried about him. The Gennifer Flowers situation was the kind of complete anxiety immersion that can make a campaign's life miserable. So I called him up. 'Are you okay? Is everything all right?" He seemed surprised. "Yeah, sure, what's the matter?" Like nothing was happening.

"James, you can talk to me."

"I don't know what vou're talking about. It's a tough campaign here, we're making headway."

Earth to James.

That set the pattern for our communications through the entire campaign; there wasn't going to be any communication on what was really going on. He told reporters more than he told me.

We all knew Bush's loyalty quotient precluded any discussion of adjusting the ticket. Plus, we all liked Dan Quayle. (Ironically, we were more loyal to Quayle than Quayle's staff was to Bush. His office was a veritable leaking sieve.)

In the middle of our defense of our Veep, the campaign received a bombshell. All previous data had shown that the vicepresidential candidate had no statistical impact on an election, one way or another. Now, for the first time in modern polling, data indicated that a vice president Quayle-was a drag on the ticket. The memo read: "There is a potential 4-6 percentage point net gain for the President by replacing Dan Quayle on the ticket with someone of neutral stature . . ."

This secret memo reopened the debate among Bush's closest friends. It took several forms: Move Quayle to Defense, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to State, Secretary of State Jim Baker to chief of staff, or, Get Quayle off, put Colin Powell on. Whatever the scenario, an absolute prerequisite was that Quayle himself step down voluntarily.

Though the press had no idea actual data existed-and, in fact, we continued to insist vehemently that "Quayle was a neutral in our polls"-Dump Quayle rumor reports started appearing. Bush had lunch with Quayle every week, and they couldn't have avoided what was now in the press's mind an open question.

Following their luncheon, Quayle aide William Kristol put word out that Bush had affirmed Quayle's position on the ticket. This caused the press to put the question directly. "Mr. President," CNN's Charles Bierbauer asked, "is the Vice President's chair a little uncertain these days?" At that point, with no plan in place, the President had no choice but to reply, "No, it's very certain." Bush likely would not have entertained Dump Quayle scenarios, no matter how bad the data, but now he was on record.

What really scared us was the possibility that he'd dump Quayle. Clinton didn't think Bush would do it, but it scared us anyway. If I had been advising Bush I would have said, "We've got to do something. We've got to say something very definitive that the next four years aren't going to be like the last two. And changing Vice Presidents is the most definitive statement we can make."

Quayle was there to help with the conservatives. Bush didn't need any help with conservatives: In the end they were going to be with him, they had nowhere to go.

Whenever I hear a campaign talk about a need to energize its base, that's a campaign that's going down the toilet. It's a pretty good indication that they're not eating up any territory, they can't get anybody in the center to support them, they're getting shelled back into their own bunker. We resisted the idea of running a 38 percent strategy. I think it's a prime reason we won.

After the bus tour [that Clinton and Gore took following the Democratic convention] it dawned on us that these guys were going to be more worthy adversaries than we had expected. That didn't scare us. What freaked us out was their hunger level. What these guys lacked in experience or organization they made up for in energy and ruthlessness. We had the desire, and more energy than our critics gave us credit for, but we weren't obsessive like the Little Rock crew. Just being in Little Rock fed their obsessive work habits. There wasn't anything else to do.

We knew from our data that we couldn't attack Clinton on personal character, it wouldn't play. Also, Bush himself was adamant about staying off Clinton's personal problems. But "character," if defined as having no core of beliefs and being all over the place, was in bounds. So Dan Quayle started repeating the name Clinton had earned in Arkansas, calling him slick. The press theory then became, "The President's not going to attack Clinton, vou're going to have Quayle be the pit bull."

"We're not going to do that. We are going to point out how his character works, I told a New York Times reporter. We're going to show the slick side, the waffle side, the all-things-to-all-people, the chameleonon-plaid side of Bill Clinton. I said. "The larger issue is that he's evasive and slick. We've never said to the press that he's a 'philandering, pot-smoking draft dodger."

"The way you just did?" the reporter asked.

"The way I just did. But that's the first time I've done that. There is nothing netarious or subliminal going on."

He was badgering me, I was jet-lagged, but that was no excuse. It was a full-battle, but undisciplined, response. That night I was talking to Carville and I said, "I don't know if this is going to go anywhere. but I think I called your guy a philandering, potsmoking draft dodger."

"You did not."

"He probably won't write it."

"He's going to write it. You shouldn't have done that. I can't believe it."

Of course The Times was going to run it. Everybody was waiting for somebody to say something. The media was going to jump on it: It was a good story, and they were kind of bored and wanted some action. I said, "I've got to recuse myself on this one because anything I say. people are going to say it's because of Mary." My personal opinion: "Don't overplay the thing."

Bush had said he didn't want his campaign to engage in "sleaze," and Dee Dee Myers said Mary had crossed the sleaze line and ought to resign. I thought we looked foolish saying somebody ought to resign over something like that. Our thinking was "Hey, look, it's politics. People say things, they get out of hand. Let's get back to the issues. They can't get the economy going so they're trying these false issues."

The Democrats went into high hype -held a press conference and called the Bush campaign "state-of-the-art sleaze," and laid out all these nonsense non sequiturs of negativism that supposedly emanated from the Bush campaign.

I was sick and tired of these charges of negative campaigning. Research had given me a three-inch binder of truly gross negative attacks the Democrats had made on George Bush: Congresswoman Maxine Waters called him a racist, Bill Clinton called him a personal tax evader, Tom Harkin disparaged his "family jewels." I sat down to ",rite one of my regular media taxes, this time a fax about Clinton's flipflop on health care, but I got distracted I reading the coverage of Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown's press conference and was getting madder and madder thinking about the Democrats and this hypocritical attack on us. They'd been all-out trashing George Bush from the beginning.

So I set the health care fax aside. It was midnight and 1 couldn't sleep. I got up and opened a bottle of red wine. Still couldn't sleep. I was lying there in bed drinking red wine at two in the morning. I couldn't relax; too much adrenaline. Beyond tired. I got up and began going through the volumes of Democrat attacks and started writing.

I read everything the research team had compiled-good, bad, indifferent, it didn't matter. I knew this guy inside out. This was not good. I knew much too much about Bill Clinton. For instance, I knew he'd sit on airplanes and do crossword puzzles. Why that seemed relevant at two in the morning, I don't know. The next day was Sunday, big puzzle day. I figured I'd write one for him. At his press conference Ron Brown had cited categories of our alleged attacks. I used the same categories.

And just like in a crossword, the answers, all impeccably sourced, were written upside down at the end.

That same week President Bush had uncharacteristically told hecklers at a rally, "Sit down and shut up!" 1 started with that.

Sniveling Hypocritical Democrats: Stand up and be counted - On second thought, shut up and sit down! - Today, the Bush/ Quayle campaign provides Slick Willie with a little "Holier Than Thou" Sunday puzzle. Do this one before your crossword puzzle, Bill....

...Category 6: "THEIR TACTICS ARE STATE-OF-THE-ART SLEAZY" Question 22. Which campaign had to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on private investigators to fend off "bimbo eruptions"?

This was a masterpiece, if I must say so myself During the day I got a call from Andy Rosenthal of The New York Times, who was on the road with Bush. We started yacking about nothing in particular and I was in sleep delirium and laughing so hard telling him about the puzzle and the final couple of paragraphs, which made a big to do about Clinton's eating too many jelly doughnuts, and we were guffawing together when he said, "Don't you think that's a little harsh, to attack his eating habits?"


The phone rang.

It was six in the morning. James didn't usually call until six-forty-five. Any time your phone rings at six a.m. during the campaign, it's not good news. I didn't pick it up. The answering machine clicked on: "This is the White House operator. Sam Skinner [the Chief of Staff) is looking for Marv Matalin."

I called my office and made them go through all the papers. "Get to The New York Times and see if they covered the story." When they came back to the phone there was dead silence.

"You sure you want to hear this?"

"Read it to me."

Under a headline that read "Bush Campaign Issues Stinging Attack," my pal An Rosenthal had led with what he called " sharply vituperative" fax. He remind his readers that President Bush had re strained us from "sleaze," and said I "ridiculed everything from [Clinton's] eating habits to his family life." His major focus was "bimbo eruptions." Rosenthal also said the fax "threatened to drown out the President's own message" that day in Chicago. Clinton communications director George Stephanopoulos was in the story, calling the fax "sleazemongering."

Now, I usually have pretty good political judgment, but it never occurred to me that "bimbo eruptions" would set off any bells and whistles. Clinton's longtime aide Betsey Wright hadn't said it in some private, off-the-record, secret meeting; I got it right out of The Washington Post. She had bragged to delegations at the Democratic convention that she had paid a first installment of $28,000 to private investigators who had to sniff out what she called "bimbo eruptions." To me, the story was the $28,000. That is a budget for three Rocky Mountain states. My mind went immediately to "How can they afford this campaign? There must be some money going under the table. If it's not, they're spending taxpayer dollars-matching funds-on a bimbo patrol."

So I crafted the question, sourced it, and if anything, thought I had a money story, not a personal one. Try saying that in a sound bite.

We all sat down to figure out what to do about it. I said, "Maybe I ought to apologize. I should apologize to the President."

They all agreed, "Not even in person. Not even personally do you apologize for anything. Whatever you say to him, if you talk to him, is between You two -but don't ever say you apologized."

The "Sparky" line behind my desk that only James used had been ringing all morning and I hadn't had a second to answer it. Then a huge bouquet of fresh-cut flowers arrived, the likes of which you never see except at a Mafia funeral. They were from James. The card read: "Some days I like diamonds, some days I like stone. I love you every day."

Oh, man, I must really be in trouble if he's sending me flowers,

We put out statements. Paul Begala and George Stephanopoulos worked on them while I tossed around ideas. Even though it was the woman I loved, I had to do my job. I told George, "Hey, she said it, she's gotta be held accountable for it. We gotta do it." But right after our statement went out, 1 sent Mary four dozen roses.

I used to think about Marv constantly during the course of the day. Most of the time it was at a constant low level, but every now and then I'd get a question from a reporter that would spark it, and it would always take me forty-five minutes or an hour to get myself back to the normal state that you should be in a campaign. I knew that I loved her. Sometimes I would get kind of freaky and think she didn't love me.

But of course, this "sleaze factor" was a campaign issue and the whole story did feed into an existing perception that people had that the Republicans were dirty campaigners. We walked out and got surrounded by all these reporters, who had to ask me about it. "How does it feel to have your girlfriend being rebuffed and humiliated by the President? Does it hurt?"

"It hurts a pretty good bit," I told them. In the middle of this crush of people and cameras I started to get emotional. Then I came up with an old religious line. "You can hate the sin and love the sinner. She's an A-plus operative who pulled a C-minus stunt."

When I heard about that one I went nuts.

That night it was the lead story on all three network newscasts, the teaser, even before they got to the report. "Our top stories tonight . . ." and there I was, name and picture, "Bush campaign aide" and this hideous mug shot of me.

That was it. I refused to speak to Carville. I ripped the Sparky phone out of the wall and didn't talk to him for a week.

I thought it was a good line. I didn't want to hurt Mary, I just wanted to keep a hand in Bush's face. Anything you can do to apply a little pressure over there is fun. You want to know that there's some pain going on. Every campaign likes to say, "Man, they're really hurtin' over there."

I couldn't get out from tinder. I couldn't return reporter phone calls on any issue because if I did they would ask me about the faxes and I'd get in the stories again. I couldn't get any work done.

I wasn't returning any reporter calls-not that the story was dying, but if I had gotten in the stories, that for sure would have kept it alive. Ann Devroy of The Washington Post said to my assistant, Lisa, "I'm not calling as a reporter. I'm calling as a friend. I need to talk to her."

I got on the phone. I thought something was wrong. "What's the matter?"

She didn't say, "Hi," or "How're you doing?" She said, "I cannot stand to hear a grown man cry. He is sobbing. He is sobbing into the phone. You've got to call him."

"He is not sobbing."

"Mary, he's been calling me every hour. every day. I can't talk to him anymore. As a friend, you've got to get him off my back. And as a human being, I can't take this. I can't stand when men cry."

"You are making this up."

"I swear I'm not. He won't stop crying and I'm really afraid he's gone off the deep end."

So, to get him off her back-and because she did convince me that he really was upset-I called him. He was calm as the bayou. "Hey, what's goin' on?"

When Bush refused to debate us, a campaign worker in Michigan named Derrick Parker dressed up in a chicken outfit-yellow feathers, big beak, webbed feet-and heckled him at one of his events. "George Bush is chicken to debate." He was wearing a sign that said "Chicken George."

The idea took off. Chicken George was kind of like Santa Claus.

There was a Michigan Chicken George, a Mississippi Chicken George, a Tennessee Chicken George. At first we recruited them, but real soon all the local people wanted to do it. Everybody wanted to be Chicken George. it was the way to get on TV.

It had to be embarrassing for the President of the United States to be compared to a chicken. I know it got us a lot of great bites on the news. The cameras showed the President and a chicken, the viewers got the message. We never gave the Chicken talking points; Chicken George wasn't audio, he was strictly video.

What I never understood was why George Bush kept talking to the chicken.

Our first response, in the cocoon of the ground campaign, was that it was pretty damn funny. I didn't think the prank was going anywhere, but nonetheless I reported in to headquarters in D.C., "We're being stalked by this chicken."

And it is true, George Bush did love that chicken. He thought it was hilarious. He'd find the chicken in the crowd "Where's that chicken?" he'd bellow-and he'd tell fish jokes to the chicken. He had a whole arsenal of original fish jokes that he'd made up about Clinton's environmental record: "It's so bad in Arkansas, the fish have to walk on water"; "The environment's so bad in Arkansas that the fish glow in the dark": "The baby fish can find the mama fish because they're glowing in the dark."

The cue, in his mind, for Bush to tell the fish jokes was the presence of the chicken. That evolved into his sending advance guys to see where the chicken was so he could specifically address the chicken. To us on the road it was an absolute riot.

Teeter called me on the plane. I was making my endless argument, which everyone was ignoring, which was "We have to debate."

"Well, we don't have any data that say we have to debate," he told me, -But we have to stop talking to that chicken. Tell the President to stop talking to the chicken."


"It's all over CNN. The President of the United States is talking to a chicken."

"With all due respect, I am reluctant to tell the President of the United States to stop talking to this chicken. He likes it; the crowd loves it. And if we'd announce our debate plan we wouldn't have this problem."

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, there's nothing that focuses people's attention like a hanging every fortnight. The political corollary is, There's nothing that focuses voters' attention like a debate every fortnight. The first presidential debate was Sunday. October 11, in St. Louis. It would be Clinton, Bush, and Perot.

Spinning took the great leap forward at Washington University that night. The spin room was in a cavernous gymnasium filled with long tables and folding chairs, where each member of the press sat typing away on a laptop. When we walked into that room there was an instant frenzy of cameras and microphones and people Just shouting at You.

The spin room is the presidential campaign equivalent of the locker room after the big game. But it's a locker room where you don't know the score. In fact, if you work hard enough, you can tell them the score. Everybody is claiming they won.

My major terror was that I was going to see James. Even walking into this mayhem I was thinking, "I'm going to see James Carville and I don't know how I'm going to react but I know it ain't going to be good." Which was very stupid for me to think going into an attack situation.

I was tormented over this relationship. Ninety-nine percent of my being, my brain, my breathing, eating, sleeping, waking was the campaign. But there was a very weighty 1 percent that was him, that was ever-present. I didn't know what was going to happen to the relationship, and in alternate minutes I hated him or I loved him.

This was not your typical kind of relationship conflict. George Bush had been down 15 points for a month, and I was not in the best frame of mind. And in my personalization of the situation, I was blaming it on Carville. The reason Clinton was winning was because of Carville. The reason we were losing was because of Carville. All the bad things about the campaign were because of Carville. I was having a difficult time separating the nightmare of the campaign from the nightmare of James Carville.

I was standing in a circle of cameras, and right behind me was another circle of cameras. This was not in itself unusual; there were knots of reporters around everywhere. You never look who's in the next frenzy; who cares? But I could see this one boom mike going back and forth like a tennis match, so I glanced behind me.

There was this shiny dome, instantly recognizable as the Carville serpenthead. We were three feet apart.

It was an instantaneous peripheral glance and I didn't miss a beat. No visible reaction whatsoever. I just kept hammering away at Clinton, noting almost subconsciously the weirdness of spinning back to back With the love of my life.

I really did not want to talk to him. I couldn't and I didn't, and it was not painful. We stayed away from each other. His presence was more the enemy than James himself. Which was also a little disconcerting. I was hoping that wouldn't be the reaction, but in that mode, he was the enemy.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught Marv. "Wait a minute, that's I did a hard double-take. Maureen Dowd of The New York Times caught me at it and wrote in the paper the next day that it was "so violent. onlookers worried he might have wrenched his neck." I don't know about that. I do know that I almost started crying. My heart jumped, I had this instant hole in the pit of my stomach, I got all clammy.

I got flustered. These sessions are mostly bull----, but say something stupid and they'll get you in trouble. Thank God it was near the end of the spin cycle, I don't know how much more of being near her I could have taken. I couldn't talk to her; I think I would have broken down. People were looking at us for a reaction. I mean, you haven't seen somebody you're in love with for almost two months, what do you say to them in front of forty TV cameras, "How's it going?" It took the breath out of me.

Much more so than on election day, when you're frantically calling reporters and colleagues for exit polls and gossip, the last night of a campaign is when you peak. Every ounce of what's driven you, what you care about, your affection and loyalty for your candidate-everything you've had no time to reflect on while it was happening comes into wrenching focus. I was in a fever pitch of hatred for Carville.

I called my sister. I called his sister. Everyone I talked to I told, "I hate him. I hate him. I never want to see him again." Of course, I was going to see him in two days.

It took me the entire election to personalize the assault on my President in the body of James Carville. I had done a 180. Now I blamed everything on him. I hated his guts.

Tuesday morning, election day, I had a panic attack. On Monday we had been up by about 10 points in the CBS poll, and now they were reporting us up by 5. When you factored in the mechanics of bow CBS tabulated their numbers, that meant we had plummeted overnight, the vote had shifted, and we were actually going to lose the election by 15 percent.

My superstitions had taken hold. In the Wofford campaign I didn't change my underwear for the last ten days. Washed them but didn't change them. In New Jersey I'd taken a strong liking to a pair of garden gloves and didn't take them off except to sleep. Before the Casey race in '86 I actually thought about saying, "I can't handle it. I'm going to leave and wake up the next morning, pick up the paper, and see if we won." This time I was onto the garden gloves again. I curled up, my knees to my chest, on one of the War Room chairs, and started reciting a concession speech for Bill Clinton.

Then the exit polls came in. You get your first one at about ten-fifteen in the morning, then two p.m., then four. It's a huge conspiracy between the networks, the campaigns, and the reporters that the results are a big surprise when the polls close.

We'd won.

In the middle of the night the phone rang. I was in a coma, overflowing with red wine and depression, waking up in a strange place and not knowing where I was or what time it might be. I heard James's voice on the other end, and I was indescribably, and from the bottom of my heart, as rude as I've ever been to anyone in my life. And meant every word.

"I cannot believe you could live on this earth and know that you were responsible for electing a slime, a scum, a philandering, pot-smoking, draft-dodging pig of a man. ... You make me sick. I hate your guts." I used every cuss word I could think of for him and his guy. Then I hung up. I don't remember him saving anything.

I didn't blame her. Change the details and she said about the same thing I would have said if we had lost.

I hung around Little Rock for two days. Wednesday was a lot of recapitulating and shaking hands and laughing. Thursday morning the President-elect called me himself and wanted to know if I'd meet him at his office in the Capitol and have lunch with him and Hillary.

"Well," I said, "I could probably arrange it. Let me check my schedule, probably move a few things around for that."

The air changes when you're talking to a President. You know he's human, you know he's capable of mistakes and susceptible to disease and he's made of' the same stuff the rest of us are. But now he's vested with 203 years of presidential history. He's going to take the same oath of office that George Washington took. He's a very important person now. It alters the way you behave around him.

They asked me who in the campaign did I think really shone, and I gave them some names. They could not have been more warm or nicer, but I was kind of glad when it was time to go. This was now the leader of the world, I couldn't help worrying that I'd say something wrong, or feeling he had way more important things to do than talk to me.

Afterwards, I walked up to some media people and said, "Well, dammit, I didn't get State. That's it. I quit. I got nothing left to do with these people."

You want to know what the definition of status is? It's being the first person to eat a meal with the President-elect. Back at the War Room everybody gathered around. "God, what did it feel like?

But politics is fleeting. A few weeks later was on my way to Louisiana and went through Little Rock. They were in the middle of the transition, choosing people for the most important positions in the new government. I called up and said, "May I please speak to George Stephanopoulos.

"Who's calling?"

"James Carville."

"Spell that, please?"

Thursday night after the election there was a big party across the river in North Little Rock. Everybody in the campaign was in town. We had a band. I went to that, left at around ten.

Stan Greenberg, our pollster, had a private plane that took us back to Washington. We landed at Dulles Airport at about one in the morning. I caught a cab, went over to Mary's, put the key in the lock, opened the door.

"Honey, I'm home."

I should declare myself early: I am a big Hillary fan.

It's the E.F Hutton syndrome. If fifteen people are talking and the candidate is reading a magazine and then she talks and he looks up ... You probably don't make a note in your diary about it, but it becomes part of an ongoing mental process.

Where most people made their mistake with Hillary was to think that they couldn't disagree with her for fear of offending her or getting iced out of access to the candidate. That was another straight myth, that whatever Hillary said was law. Hillary didn't by any stretch of the imagination always get her way with her husband.

You could disagree with Mrs. Clinton and that was fine. In fact, sometimes in order to get recognized you had to scream and say some outlandish things. But if you're going to differ with Hillary, be prepared. Go in there with all your reasoning in order; don't just shoot your mouth off and figure it out later,

Hillary won't run you down for fun and she won't run into a ditch to avoid scratching your fender, but if you are blocking something that we need to get accomplished you'll get ran over in a hurry.

Mrs. Clinton was a lot more tender than people give her credit for. I was struck by, I'm not sure "softness" is the right word, but an ability to listen that I think maybe some people might have missed. I felt that this woman was nowhere near as hard-bitten as campaign lore had it.

I thought, "This is a tough woman, but this ain't anything close to a mean woman. What I'm going to do is, I'm going to respect her but I'm not going to fear her."

In republican operative circles Lee Atwater was a rock star. He had a long record of winning campaigns and a repertoire of legendary feats he'd pulled off. He also had a following. Political groupies.

Atwater's main talent was that he understood the pulse of the press. He described it as being able to "see around corners." He knew what the press would think was a story and where they would go with it, how to create a story and keep focus on it.

And then, in March 1990, Lee got sick. At first he denied it, He said they didn't know what he had. Then he said it was a nonmalignant growth. This was so Atwater. He wanted to portray to the media that he had nothing, to get attention back on the Republican Party. But reporters would stake us out at the hospital. They had moles there who told them what the real diagnosis was. And though for months he denied he was sick, what Lee had was a galloping grade four brain tumor.

He ran his illness like he ran a campaign. He made me, his wife, Sally, and the rest of the people who cared about him research the best doctors and the treatments with the highest possible chance of success. He chose the most radical, the most risky. Lee got so much radiation that to visit him after the operation you had to stand behind a lead shield. He was literally radioactive. Only the nurses could touch him, and they had to wear lead gloves. For days after, no one could come in and hug him.

As people do as they're staring death in the face, Lee stopped and looked around and tried to get his priorities straight. People don't go through their lives remembering ever-v day how important the people around them are and where their relationships fit into the scheme of things. Now, because Lee's race was pretty much over, he did. With his increasing physical incapacitation Lee had only irregular periods of lucidity. What began as a book turned into an article for Life magazine. I was there for most of the sessions.

Everybody has made a lot of Lee's apology to Michael Dukakis, which appeared in the Life article. Lee apologized for anything that would have hurt Dukakis personally. Specifically, for calling him a "little bastard"; for some reason that stuck in his mind as an especially mean spirited thing to have done. The press interpreted the Life magazine article as a vindication of their own sentiments, as an admission that the campaign was shallow and needed apologizing for. But as he was giving me his final advice, Lee said, "Never let them redefine the '88 campaign. You guys cannot be squishes about that."

Lee was making personal peace. It's a nightmare to me that people would use his death as the basis for ongoing political debates. Let me say this very plainly: there was no deathbed recantation.