Thursday, November 06, 2003

Dirty Tricks, Trippi Style

I have to admit, this is pretty funny - the kind of dirty trick which somehow seems fair:

Everyone tells their own version of how Walter Mondale won the straw poll at Iowa's Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in 1983, but they all go something like this: In early October, a young Mondale aide named Joe Trippi shows up in Des Moines to check on Mondale's Iowa field operation. What he finds there horrifies him. Somehow the Iowa team has allowed the rival campaign of California Senator Alan Cranston to nearly corner the market on tickets to the JJ dinner, an annual affair designed to raise money for the Iowa state Democratic Party. This is, to colossally understate things, a problem. The dinner's traditional straw poll is an important barometer of public opinion in the state that hosts the nation's first caucuses. Mondale is a former vice president from neighboring Minnesota. Not only is he expected to win the straw poll; he is expected to win big. But the way you win is by packing the convention hall full of your own supporters. And the way you do that is by selling them tickets or buying tickets for them....

Trippi is nearly hysterical when he calls Campaign Manager Bob Beckel and Deputy Manager Mike Ford in Washington. "He speaks so fast, it was hard to keep up," Beckel recalls. "I said, 'Joe, What's the bottom line? What do you need?' He said, 'I just need permission to do whatever I need to do.' ... I just said OK." But there isn't a lot Trippi can do. He can try to get the Iowa Democratic Party to sell him more tickets. But there's no way they're going to sell him $275,000 worth, which is what Trippi estimates Cranston has bought. And, even if they would, there's no way he can afford to drop that kind of cash on an off-year event. When it comes down to it, Trippi is going to have to get his hands on tickets that have already been sold. Cranston tickets. Lots of them. And yet, once he accepts that proposition, the solution is almost elegant in its simplicity: What's to stop him from just marching right up to Cranston's people and asking for them?

"We started really early in the day," Trippi remembers, reflecting on how he and an Iowa colleague named Tom Cosgrove solved their JJ problem. "They stopped about three miles out [from] the staging area--the Mondale buses coming from Minnesota or wherever they were coming from." What follows is one of the most ambitious political makeovers in history. A team of Mondale aides, led by Cosgrove, plasters the bus with Cranston paraphernalia--stickers, posters, buttons, everything. Three miles down the road, the bus pulls up to the Cranston tent, where a Mondale/Cranston supporter gets out and tells a real Cranston aide he has 52 people on the bus. The aide looks up at the bus, surely admiring the military-like discipline that has brought a busload of Cranston supporters from "Los Angeles or wherever" out to the middle of Iowa this early in the day, and quietly congratulates himself. He promptly hands over 52 tickets.

And it continues like this, through bus after bus of Mondale supporters: Stop three miles up the highway, lather the bus in Cranston paraphernalia, drive on to the Cranston tent, claim your tickets. And the Cranston campaign just keeps forking them over. Happily. Hell, the more buses that show up, the more impressed the Cranston people are by their own handiwork. Never does it occur to them that these busloads of supporters aren't the genuine article. At least not until the real Cranston buses start showing up. "Twenty buses pull up, and they're out of tickets," Trippi says, still amused at the spectacle almost 20 years later. "More Cranston buses keep pulling up, and they don't have the tickets anymore." Score one for Walter Mondale.

But, what really caught my eye in this article was this:

"This is like in January, and we're sitting there, and we finally realize it's going to take two million Americans each giving us one hundred dollars online" to raise as much money as Bush, Trippi says. "There's only one medium ... that can change things enough that, if two million people tomorrow morning just woke up and thought, here's your one hundred dollars, it could happen in a day." Surely someone somewhere in the White House has had the exact same thought.

Just need two million people to give $100. Can it be that hard? (Note, I mean generally - whoever the candidate is)