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Election Memories

Inside Track


Published November 10, 2004 at 5:00 p.m.

"Can you hold a moment?" said the lovely, mature female voice on the other end of the line Tuesday morning at MacWilliams, Robinson & Partners on L Street, NW, in our nation's capital.

According to its website, MR&P "has won more than 65 national media awards for everything from television and radio ads to documentary film editing to press and campaign strategy."

"Now what was that name again?" she asked us politely.

"Oh, yes. From Vermont. I sent him that message yesterday," she said with a note of concern. "Here, I'll send it again. And your deadline is noon, right?"

Senior Partner Matt MacWilliams founded MR&P "more than a decade ago and has built it into one of the leading strategic media firms for progressive organizations, causes, foundations and candidates in the United States."

So says his website. In 1994, it continues, Campaigns & Elections Magazine called him a "Media Wizard." Also says he was Deputy Campaign Manager for Walter Mondale in 1984.


That explains it -- the Peter Clavelle for Governor Campaign was based on the Mondale model. As early as August, there were definite signs it was on the fritz.

MacWilliams, you see, is the D.C.-based political consultant who charted the Clavelle course, or rather the "path" that Mayor Moonie, the Democratic Party's candidate for governor of Vermont, followed. Followed right off a cliff with 38 percent of the vote.

MacWilliams is the mastermind professional consultant who analyzed the polling data and drew up the plan to get Clavelle, the born-again Democrat, elected governor. On paper it looked great.

Since polling indicated "health care" was the top issue on people's minds, the candidate offered a major health-care reform proposal (based on the Maine model).

MacWilliams also "discovered" Dubya was not popular in the Green Mountains. And every time Clavelle mentioned Jim Douglas, he mentioned George W. Bush's name in the same breath. Birds of a feather.

Back in August, when we first wrote critically of Clavelle's campaign strategy, the candidate and the columnist had a little chat behind closed doors. Moonie was his old self. He assured us there was no need to worry. Looked us in the eye and told us that his campaign had "a path" to victory.

A "path?"

Never heard that one before.

MacWilliams, architect of Clavelle's "path," is not returning our phone calls this week. Perfectly understandable. His firm's website -- www.macropartners.com -- lists only its victories. Losses, like the one suffered in the liberal, left-wing Green Mountains last week, will not be posted.

After all, MacWilliams' candidate got the lowest percentage of the vote a Democratic candidate for governor has gotten in 24 years.

The Clavelle campaign had a funny, unpolished, out-of-state feel to it. As Mayor, Clavelle frequently held press conferences over the years to discuss city, state and national issues.

As a statewide gubernatorial candidate, however, he rarely held a press conference. It's normal for a challenger to hold one a week after Labor Day. It's a free shot at the incumbent on the evening news and in the morning papers.

The one time Clavelle did hold a big press conference was to unveil his progressive health-care reform plan. Unfortunately, staff had not prepared him to handle questions, and his stumbling attempt to explain his plan became footage for the Douglas Campaign's best campaign commercial.

Moonie never really bounced back from that one. Even though the last week of the campaign was his best week, with the juices flowing in candidate debates, it was too little, too late.

In the most liberal state in America, the state that turned a Park Avenue-bred Republican named Howard Dean into a national leftist firebrand, the Democratic candidate for governor couldn't even get more votes than George W. Bush.

We wanted to get Clavelle's look-back this week, but he's on a beach in Puerto Rico with his lovely wife. Just as well.

The upside is, he's still got a job to come home to at Burlington City Hall.

One Wrong -- Yours truly's predictions turned out pretty good. All except for Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie. Doobie-Doo cruised.

As it turned out, Progressive Steve Hingtgen spent $100,000 to get 7 percent. Democrat Cheryl Rivers couldn't get outside the Democratic base and was held to just 36 percent.

Should be a fun winter for Brian, presiding over a Vermont State Senate with 21 out of 30 chairs filled by Democrats.

The Vermont Democratic Party ticket of Clavelle and Rivers was a major disappointment. Neither broke 40 percent. Back to the drawing board; 2006 looks wide open.

Meanwhile, living legends Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders cruised to landslide victories.

Sanders, as we mentioned last week, has his sights set on Jim Jeffords' U.S. Senate seat, which is up for renewal in 2006. Many observers think, despite public assurances to the contrary, that Vermont's oldest member of Congress will retire.

Howard Dean, also mentioned as a possible 2006 U.S. Senate candidate, is topping the national political news this week. A report by Asssociated Press writer Chris Graff floats a trial balloon about Ho-Ho replacing Terry McAuliffe as chair of the DNC.

Post-election, Dr. Dean has been drawing large crowds to campus speeches. More are scheduled. Dean lost the nomination, carrying only Vermont in the primaries, but he won the hearts of millions, and the glow is still there.

Tuesday morning Laura Gross, the press secretary over at Ho-Ho's Democracy for America political action committee, called to say Dean was not available for an interview.

On Sunday, you see, we'd bumped into Democracy for America Executive Director Tom McMahon at Shaw's. Mr. McMahon was buying sushi for the drive to Dartmouth with the Big Guy. We mentioned that if Ho-Ho got a free minute Tuesday, we'd love to hear his sweet voice.

McMahon, by the way, doesn't mention his duties as campaign manager for Doug Racine in 2002 in his online bio. Talk about a nice comeback, eh?

Laura Gross, not to be confused with Terry Gross, left an eight-year career with NPR in Washington to join Dean's post-primary organization in South Burlington. Very professional. Still has the D.C. look.

"He isn't doing any interviews with anybody," Gross politely informed Seven Days. "Not the networks, not print, not anybody."

Apparently Ho-Ho wants to let his DNC trial balloon get some loft without any distractions.

But Dr. Dean is not laying low. He's got a speech at Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois, later in the week, and on Wednesday, Gross said, he'll attend an event at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government that will be closed to the press.

She wouldn't describe the "event," but sources say Ho-Ho will be the lab specimen in the class that former Chief Justice Jeff Amestoy has taught there for years. Ol' Jeff loves bringing in samples from back home. Years ago yours truly went along to explain Bernie Sanders to the outside world. Later, Chris Graff did the same for civil unions.

Dean's hot right now in the wake of Kerry's defeat. He's the only former presidential contender with a following. He has very skillfully extended his assigned 15 minutes of fame. And he's not Hillary Clinton. Get used to it, eh?

Of course, had Dean consented to an interview, what we really wanted to know was whether he felt his endorsement of Auditor Elizabeth Ready explains why she got 42 percent instead of 41 percent.

The national press didn't notice, but locally the last-minute endorsement for Ready prompted a few snide comments about what a Democratic Party "whore" Dean has become in his reborn, post-gubernatorial life.

Ho-Ho, after all, was the new kid on the block who took 'em all by surprise. When the big boys got around to taking him out in Iowa, it was over quickly. In his place they gave us John Kerry, the longest face in America.


Statehouse Shift -- The only problem we ever had with homosexuality was that it made Republican Rep. Walter Freed, the Duke of Dorset, the Speaker of the Vermont House for four long years. The civil-unions backlash turned the lame GOP House Caucus into a born-again majority, and the longtime colorless minority leader was suddenly ejaculated, shall we say, into the corner office.

Speaker Freed saw the writing on the wall and did not run for reelection. Now he's just another ordinary retired Vermont oil & gas millionaire.

Jim Douglas cruised to a second term, but what a different term it will be. Without Freed to cover his back, Gov. Scissorhands is facing insurrection under the golden dome. He will have no control of the agenda. The season ahead promises to be all about defense for the Douglas administration.

With Freed gone and just 60 GOP seats in the 150-seat chamber, there's talk of new leadership in the House GOP caucus. Rep. Connie Houston has been the Republican leader. Rep. Rick Hube, the assistant leader.

One name floating around is that of Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright. Kurt won a third House term as the lone Republican legislator from the People's Republic of Burlington.

"I'm not knocking or blaming the current leadership," said Wright, "but I'd like to see some new blood."

While a Wright challenge appears a possibility, the politician formerly known as Kwik Stop is quick to tout the credentials of Rep. Doran Metzger of Milton. Doran-Doran, a Vermont Guard helicopter pilot, was elected in 1996 when he was just 22.

That's the same year the next Speaker of the House, Demo-cratic Rep. Gaye Symington of Jericho, was first elected to the legislature.

Time to pass the torch.

Fallujah -- With the Commander-in-Chief reelected, war is job number one in America. President Bush may have dodged the Vietnam War, but from behind the big desk in the Oval Office, war sure can be fun. Especially as broadcast by American TV news.

Fallujah's an ancient trade stop on the Euphrates River. It's the western border of the Fertile Crescent. The cradle of civilization.

Once small, it grew into a city of 300,000 under Saddam Hussein. Looks like it could handle three or four Wal-Marts. Maybe a Costco, too. In fact, the latest TV footage from Fallujah indicates there's plenty of new space for parking lots.

Look at the bright side.

War is good for business, eh?

Pardon the cynicism, but last week was one of the most depressing we've observed in some time. Downtown Burlington was quiet. A city in mourning.

Four more years of Dubya &. Co. running the American government and waging their wars of whim is quite sobering. It's obvious that, with Karl Rove on your side, you could convince many Americans that Canada was behind 9/11 if you really wanted to.

Jailbreak -- Chittenden County State's Attorney Bob Simpson is a little worried the Douglas administration is going to release 400 inmates from jail to ease Vermont's prison crowding and save the state money. It was the top recommendation released a couple months back by the Governor's Commission on Prison Overcrowding.

It was a one-day story, quickly buried in the blizzard of election coverage and never to be heard again.

Prosecutor Simpson makes the case that Corrections finds it difficult to supervise the people it already has.

Citing Corrections figures, he points out that, of the 2337 Vermont prisoners released in 1999, more than half re-offended within three years.

As things stand, says Simpson, "every day in Chittenden County people under the supervision of the Department of Corrections are selling drugs, committing burglaries or breaking into cars."

"It makes little sense," says the prosecutor, "to propose to solve Corrections' problems by releasing another 400 people that it will have difficulty supervising."

By the way, Vermont ranks 47th in the per-capita number of citizens incarcerated. Our violent crime rate is one-fifth the national average.

Bottoms Up -- Actually, last Thursday's colonoscopy deflected the pain of Bush's reelection. Perfect timing for an anal probe, eh?

Since last week's mention, we've since learned that colonoscopy is a very popular procedure. Fletcher Allen's doing about 7500 a year and, at almost $3000 a pop, it's got to be good for business.

Having a colonoscopy appears to be the social equivalent of a driver's license. One's a rite of passage for teenagers, the other a rite of passage for the over-50 set. It's recommended for both men and women as an effective way to detect colon cancer early. The doc said about 6 percent of us will eventually get it.

We've since heard from state-wide office holders, judges, de-partment heads and many more who have had the same experience of watching their large intestine probed on the TV screen.

The only downside was too strong a dose of Demerol through the IV. I had a front-row seat, but only remember selected scenes.


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