The End Is Near? | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
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The End Is Near? 

Inside Track

It's Tuesday afternoon and all the talking TV heads are talking about is "electability." Who among the Democratic candidates on the New Hampshire primary ballot is best equipped to beat Republican George W. Bush and his Corporate-America-fueled campaign in November?

At the moment, word is Granite State voters think Sen. John Kerry is the most electable. Forget Kerry's lackluster record. Forget his support for Bush's Iraq war. The important thing is that he's tall and has a great haircut!

By the way, since Seven Days will be at the printer when the New Hampshire votes are tallied, we'll be posting a special primary Post-Mortem in Wednesday afternoon's online edition of this distinguished little weekly: http://www.sevendaysvt.com.

Since last week's Iowa butt-kicking, Howard Dean's presidential campaign has been in freefall. The national media has done a superb job plucking the wings off Ho-Ho like he was a fruit fly. But the national media has surprisingly missed the real story concerning the Dean campaign.

Seven Days has learned that the disaster in Hawkeye Country last week caused a major realignment of Dean for America's campaign hierarchy. Sources tell Seven Days that Campaign Manager Joe Trippi, the colorful Internet whiz who led the longshot Vermonter's meteoric rise, has had his own wings plucked.

Dr. Dean, sources say, has taken control of the campaign checkbook from the Trippster and handed it to Deputy Campaign Manager Bob Rogan.

Rogan once served on Dean's gubernatorial staff, before leaving for a management job at Vermont's largest electric utility. He came back last year for the presidential bid. Now he and longtime Dean aide Kate O'Connor are steering the Dean campaign warship. There are clear indications that if Dean limps on after New Hampshire, Joltin' Joe Trippi will be gone.

So, too, will Trippi's Washington, D.C., consulting firm Trippi, McMahon & Squier. Steve McMahon has been producing Howard Dean for Governor TV commercials for a decade. The spots he did for Ho-Ho in Iowa are cited by grumbling Dean supporters as a factor in Dean's poor showing there.

In the post-Iowa assessment, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin told the Des Moines Register that Dean's TV ads were "lacking." Harkin said McMahon's spots "failed to convey" to Iowans Ho-Ho's record as Vermont's governor.

We never saw Dean's final Iowa TV spot, Ho-Ho standing in front of a white background, but Harkin said he was "taken aback" by it.

One disappointed Vermont insider echoed Harkin's assessment. The former lawmaker said McMahon's ads for Dean over the years were never that great. And, he reminded us, the same firm did Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Doug Racine's TV spots in 2002.

That's mean.

Seven Days has also learned that the Dean campaign, which has raised the most money, has also spent the most. The plan was to ride the crest of the frontrunner wave through Iowa and New Hampshire. Spend a bundle to ensure two defining early victories that would cripple the opposition. Then, the plan was, Dean for America would hit the fundraising buttons hard and "reload" after their New Hampshire win.

Ah, but the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Why in God's name did the outsider in the race suddenly embrace as many insiders as humanly possible? Why was the candidate who caught America's ear with a message about breaking Washington's grip suddenly embracing Al Gore and Bill Bradley?

And let's be honest, abandoning Iowa the day before the caucuses to fly to Georgia to get his picture taken with a non-endorsing ex-President Jimmy Carter was Dean's Little Big Horn. Dumb, dumb, dumb strategy.

Since Iowa, Ho-Ho's been flying on a wing and a prayer. The fallout from his "I Have a Scream" speech has had him on his heels. He paid the price for doing his best Bernie Sanders impersonation, eh?

The campaign has been in serious crisis-management mode for the past week, but the national media hasn't even noticed.

Amazing.

Let's face it, Vermonters have heard more words pass from the lips of Dr. Judy Steinberg Dean in the last five days than they have in the last 20 years. It was a desperate but necessary move. And Judy, doctor, wife, mother and independent woman, has performed brilliantly on the national stage. This from a person who's never before been in front of the cameras. It's got many a second-guesser wondering why Ho-Ho didn't pop the question sooner, eh?

Mrs. Dean obviously eats those Lake Woebegone Powdermilk Biscuits that Garrison Keillor swears give shy people the courage to do what has to be done.

Ah, but when Dean was the glorious frontrunner, 20 points ahead of Kerry, how could he have imagined that Judy's presence would ever be necessary before the Inauguration?

By the way, we've taken a little flak from readers upset with last week's suggestion Dr. Judy should have used a little lipstick in her 11th-hour Iowa appearance. Hey, we say she looks great either way. It wasn't meant as a comment on her soul.

Today's political arena is one where, unfortunately, image consistently dominates substance. What else explains so many antiwar Iowa Democrats ignoring the leading antiwar candidate on the ballot, that Howard Dean fella?

Our point on lipstick was: if a person, even a shy person, decides to take the big step into the national media spotlight, that person ought to look his or her best, even if it's not the way they look at the Farmers' Market or on the Burlington Bikepath.

By the way, it looks like Dr. Judy has been wearing a little of that evil lipstick since she hit the trail full-time in New Hampshire last Thursday.

It's not gonna kill her.

Honest.

This Just In --

More bad news for Ho-Ho's presidential dream.

We got off the phone Tuesday afternoon with Jessica Dymczyk, an associate producer at ABC in New York. A month ago, just before New Year's, an ABC crew was in town for a few days to quickly put together an hourlong piece on our favorite presidential hopeful for A&E's "Biography" series.

At the time, Howard Dean looked like the favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination. In addition to yours truly, the ABC crew conducted lengthy interviews with Attorney General Bill Sorrell, former Dean aide Kathy Hoyt and Ho-Ho's neighbor and former assistant Jane Williams.

Ms. Dymczyk informed us A&E had "decided to hold off for now. We haven't been told a reason."

Surely the fact that in the past week Dean's rising star has become a sinking stone had nothing to do with it?

"They're just putting it on hold," said Dymczyk. "They're not doing any of the candidates." She speculated A&E might wait until a nominee is chosen.

American Censorship --

We can almost see the smile on George Orwell's face from beyond the grave. The distinguished author of 1984 got everything right but the date.

You may have heard that CBS has refused to air a 30-second ad paid for by MoveOn.org during Sunday's Super Bowl telecast. The ad, called "Child's Play," was chosen by a vote of MoveOn members from about 1500 submissions. You may recall that the mainstream press, especially the cable TV networks, highlighted the one entry that suggested similarities between Germany's Adolph Hitler and the current president of the United States. (Though not a complaint was heard when a New York Post columnist compared Howard Dean to Hitler lieutenant Joseph Goebbels a couple weeks back.)

The subject of the winning ad, however, is the Bush budget disaster, and in pictures that speak volumes it shows who will inevitably pay for it. CBS says it does not run issue-advocacy ads. But spots paid for by beer and tobacco companies and even the Bush White House will be running this Sunday.

And what about those Sunday-morning issue-advocacy ads promoting the image of the greedy pharmaceutical industry? Or the ones that portray corporate agriculture giants like Archer Daniels Midland as the benevolent providers for the starving masses of the Third World?

You can watch the MoveOn spot at www.moveon.org -- and make up your own mind.

CBS's blatant Super Bowl censorship should rile the hackles of every First Amendment-loving American citizen regardless of political leaning. In a letter to CBS President Leslie Moonves, Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders described CBS' decision as "an affront to free speech."

CBS has said that the MoveOn ad violated the network's policy prohibiting issue-advocacy advertising.

Ol' Bernardo pointed out that CBS ran an absurd issue-advocacy drug ad during last year's game -- the one that claimed recreational marijuana smokers don't just get high, they fund terrorism!

CBS also will air a spot by Philip Morris USA and the American Legacy Foundation advocating against smoking during this year's Super Bowl.

"Issue ads," wrote Bernie, "are commonplace and important for democratic debate. Yet, CBS seems to want to limit that debate to ads that are not critical of the political status quo, and, in the case of the MoveOn ad, of the President and by extension the Republican-controlled Congress. Apparently, CBS feels that the topic covered in this paid advertisement -- the federal government's budget crisis -- is inappropriate or irrelevant for American viewers, despite being one of the most critical issues of our day."

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time mighty CBS has played political censor on its airwaves. Remember when the network axed its Ronald Reagan biopic last fall under intense pressure from the GOP?

"Perhaps not coincidentally," noted Sanders, "CBS's decision to censor the Reagan program and to deny airtime to this commercial comes at a time when the White House and the Republican Congress are pushing to allow even greater and greater media concentration -- a development from which Viacom stands to benefit handsomely. The appearance of a conflict is hard to ignore. There may not be a fire here, but there certainly is a great deal of smoke."

Cosigning the letter with Ol' Bernardo were Rep. Maurice Hinchey, an upstate New York Democrat, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat representing Chicago's northern suburbs.

Even if the New England Patriots of 2004 win on the field, the cause of the New England patriots of 1776 loses in Sunday's CBS Censored Super Bowl, eh?

Showtime for Shumlin! --

Former State Sen. Peter Shumlin told Seven Days this week he will be making a statement relating to his future political plans next week at the Statehouse in Montpeculiar. Putney Pete has been holding his cards very close to his vest when it comes to a possible gubernatorial run this year.

Vermont political junkies want to know whether there will or will not be a Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Everybody knows that Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle is in full campaign mode. Mayor Moonie's been pointing at this one for a long time. He even discarded his Progressive Party label to run as a mainstream Vermont Democrat.

Last week Clavelle held a fundraiser at the Capitol Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. He was in D.C. to attend the meeting of the National Council of Mayors. The invitation announced the event's sponsors: Rep. Bernie Sanders, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Trenton, New Jersey, Mayor Douglas Palmer, president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors. U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy showed up to say a few nice words. Hey, Bald Guys Unite, eh?

Mayor Clavelle's "official" campaign announcement is set for Saturday, February 7, at the Champlain Mill in his native Winooski. The invitations were sent out under the names of former Democratic Govs. Philip Hoff and Madeleine Kunin.

Ducks in a row, eh?

Naturally, Clavelle is hoping and praying Shumlin doesn't mess up his well-laid plans, but, so far, Shummy has refused to play along. While carefully measuring his words to indicate he hasn't ruled a gubernatorial bid in or out, Putney Pete always leaves one with the feeling he just might do it.

Mr. Shumlin told Seven Days this week he will be making a statement about his possible candidacy next Wednesday or Thursday.

"It won't be an announcement," said Shumlin, pointing out campaign announcements "are not appropriate until the legislature gets out." So what will he be saying to the TV cameras next week?

"I'll be confirming my intentions for the political season, with the balloons to follow in May." Shummy called it "an informal announcement."

For lieutenant governor?

"You have a real sense of humor," he replied. "Peter Shumlin will not be running for lieutenant governor."

And he ought to know, right?

Media Notes --

Ch. 5's new reporter is a familiar face on the Vermont airwaves. Kelly Reardon spent two years at Ch. 22 before that station pulled the plug on news last September.

"She impressed us with her reporting on 22," said News Director Andy Wormser. Like Judy Dean, Kelly is a Princeton graduate. Wears lipstick, too.

Having just two TV news stations in the market has only turned up the competitiveness. Both stations sent reporters to Iowa to follow Howard Dean's fate. In fact, in a promo Ch. 3 claims it got there "first," which has everyone chuckling over at Ch. 5.

Wormser told Seven Days that their reporter, Stewart Ledbetter, was on the air from Iowa the day before WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX got there.

Interesting.

*WEB SPECIAL: NH PRIMARY*

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

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