Transcription – Walter Shapiro Interview

Q:              [00:24:00] You know, you wrote about the Democrats, but since you brought up the matter of putting together an organization, did any of the Democrats put together an organization that had anything of the character of the Bush organization, meaning, people who’d been together for several years, run a campaign together, and basically seemed to get along with each other, and be devoted to their candidate.

SHAPIRO:   You’ll be surprised at my answer:  Dick Gephardt.  Dick Gephardt is one of these people — Joe Biden in 2008 was another — where people who had left politics, people who had started out as political pollsters, and then became corporate pollsters, or people who started out doing political ads, and then were doing regular TV ads.  People who started out as aides, and built entire careers, [00:25:00] came back for the Gephardt 2004 campaign, and they came back for the Biden 2008 campaign.  And it didn’t serve — you cannot prove any result from this at all, in terms of, did Dick Gephardt drop out shortly after his fourth-place finish — I believe it was fourth place in Iowa.  But if you want a loyalty to someone, the two people I’ve encountered in modern politics, who had that long-term loyalty, are the two candidates who had the longest gap between their first run for president and the second.  Gephardt was a serious contender as a young congressman in ’88, and 16 years later, he ran for president in the worst way.  (laughter) But in Biden’s case, [00:26:00] he was all set to run in ’88, and then he ran into the Neil Kinnock speech problem, where he incorporated words that were not his own.  And then ran for president 20 years later.

This is — unless Jerry Brown runs again — Jerry Brown running in ’76 and ’92 is also about as long a gap as you get.  And of course, if Jerry Brown wants to run in 2016, the crown is his.

Q:              (laughs) Well, but usually, there’s a trade-off, between loyalty — persona loyalty, long-standing loyalty — and competence; getting the best people for this election at this time.  Is that part of the reason why Gephardt and Biden didn’t do all that well?

SHAPIRO:   No, I think the nature — in Gephardt’s — Gephardt’s problem is he was perceived as yesterday’s man, as well as being an unequivocal [00:27:00] supporter of the Iraq war.  Probably less out of conviction, and more out of the sense that this was the politically smart thing to do.  In the case of Biden, he never raised any money in 2008.  And it was really hard for anyone to get traction, in a field dominated by Hillary Clinton.  Barack Obama — and forget the pyrotechnics of John Edwards’ affair.  The pyrotechnics of Elizabeth Edwards having a recurrence of breast cancer, and candidly saying that this is incurable, I’m going to die.

Q:              Something we haven’t talked about, but that I think also figures in your story, is raising money, and — during the pre-election year period.  And one observation you make is that post McCain-Feingold, Democrats [00:28:00] now had to learn how to raise money in small increments, rather than getting big checks.  Could you talk about that?

SHAPIRO:   Yeah.  First of all, we’ve now gone through about six different incarnations of political fundraising.  But up until 2002, soft money ruled the game.  That presidential candidates would agree to matching funds, which meant that they were limited in how much they could spend overall, and in specific states, and that they would fund the fall campaign out of Federal dollars.  I believe Bush 2004 — well, Bush 2000 may have been the first one to privately fund his fall campaign.  But there was a spending limitation put on that.

What happened up until 2002 — McCain-Feingold took effect on January 1, [00:29:00] 2003 — is that big donors would channel soft money, which are large donations solicited by the candidates through party committees, which would be a large chunk of the fall campaign spending.  That ended with the 2004 campaign, and in some ways, 2004 was the turning point.  When Howard Dean set off as a governor of the small state of Vermont, wanting to run for President, a man whose most expensive re-election race had a million dollars, he met with a woman named Stephanie [Shiraq?], who was going to be his fundraising director.  I believe she’s now the head of Emily’s List.  And she asked him, how much did he think he could [00:30:00] raise?  Lying through his teeth, Dean said the most amazing number that he could possibly come up with.  “I think maybe overall, we could raise $10 million.”  This was said by a candidate who might have figured the real number was a million and a half.  But by the nature of the Howard Dean phenomenon, being the first internet candidate, that they had no idea what they had launched, that the original Dean fundraising — I mean, in early 2003, internet fundraising was mostly seen as a way of, “Yes, I guess you can pay online with your Visa card.  That means we’ll get the money immediately, instead of having to do what we always have to do, which is fill up a FedEx envelope with checks from a [00:31:00] fundraiser, and mail them in, and there’s five or seven days that you wait for the money to clear.”  So to some extent, internet fundraising was not supposed to tap a new vein; it was just a way of getting the old funding faster.

And almost as a lark, at the end of the March 31 filing period, for the first quarter of 2003, the Dean people just put up on the web, one of those old-fashioned fund-raising thermometers, the kind of things that used to be on town greens in New England, letting you know how far you had gotten towards the United Way goal.  And somehow, both because Dean appealed to early adapters to the computer — even though he was a bit of a [00:32:00] technophobe himself — because of his anti-war stance, the thing just hit a gusher.  I mean, this was like what it must have been like to be in Sutter’s Mill in 1848, that they could not believe what they were doing in small contributions, off the internet.

John Edwards and John Kerry vied with each other in the first quarter of 2003, to be the first one to announce their numbers.  Who was going to be bigger?  Edwards.  Kerry was going to try to blow everyone out of the water, saying, “You can’t compete with me, I’m the frontrunner.”  Edwards was going to prove his credibility by getting all this money from the trial lawyers, in legal contributions up to $2,000, which I think was the — then, was the ceiling.  And they went through this sort of Alfonse and Gaston routine, about who would be the first to release their [00:33:00] numbers before the — he put out the press release that we’ve filed.  And it ended up, I think Edwards outraised — I’m doing this from memory — Edwards outraised Kerry by, like, $200,000.  Seven-point-four to $7.2 million.  In the second quarter of 2003, Howard Dean raised nearly $8 million, almost all in small contributions, almost all on the internet.  And the internet age in which Barack Obama raised over $200,000 in 2012 in small contributions was born.

Q:              Walter, when you started following Howard Dean — you’ve already mentioned he was a technophobe.  He was not the inspiration for this internet campaign.

SHAPIRO:   He didn’t carry a computer with him.  I remember [00:34:00] sitting with Howard Dean, running into him in a hotel lobby after a DNC speech, in January of 2003, where he actually took the line from Paul Wellstone, “I’m from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” and got a major response.  He was sitting in — by himself, in the — somewhere in the lobby, the lower lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, I believe it was.  Explaining how, isn’t it wonderful?  He could dictate press releases into the phone, and his aides would pick it up, and print them out.  (laughter)

Q:              (laughs) Excuse me. (laughs)

SHAPIRO:   One of the great difficulties of the Dean campaign, particularly early on, is the candidate had [00:35:00] difficulty retrieving his own cell phone messages.  (laughter)