Washington Prowler

Sealed, Signed, and Undelivered

Terry McAuliffe's one lying spin too many. Howard Dean's secret life. Clintonistas' takeover of Clark.

By 10.10.03

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THE BIGGEST LIAR OF THEM ALL
Gov. Gray Davis may not have been the biggest loser in the California recall. Some Democratic National Committee members are calling for DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe to explain his odd behavior in the days leading up to Tuesday's election debacle.

McAuliffe appeared on cable news channels and gave print interviews citing DNC internal polling data that showed the recall election too close to call. He also claimed that he had numbers indicating Democrats would emerge unscathed from the election. He also claimed that even if Arnold Schwarzenegger did win, he'd do so with fewer votes than Davis would receive from voters opposed to his recall in the first place. In fact, Schwarzenegger outpaced Davis by more than 100,000 votes.

"I don't know where the hell McAuliffe got his info, but he was treating it like sacred writ, and it was just trash," says a California Democratic Party official in Los Angeles. "I know he likes to blow a lot of sunshine up peoples' behinds, but this was just embarrassing for us."

McAuliffe's misdirection -- and this is putting it kindly -- was even more egregious when you consider that on Monday night, Davis advisers showed their boss tracking poll data that indicated the Republican frontrunner had actually widened his lead over Davis in the previous 48 hours.

"Davis knew he was dead on Monday night," says a Democratic operative in Sacramento. "By Tuesday morning, this was all about trying to put a dignified face on defeat."

McAuliffe has attempted to beautify his party's electoral performance before. He willfully misled his faithful followers during the 2002 midterm elections, claiming his party would at least hold their seats in Congress, and instead saw the Democrats lose ground in both houses.

"We're getting tired of his shtick," says a DNC donor in New York. "He's been telling us how we're doing great in raising money for the convention in Boston, but there are more than a few of us who don't believe it. On the ground, we're hearing that we aren't raising much of anything to pay for the convention."

McAuliffe has defended his brand of optimistic spin as a necessity in times when the party is down in the dumps with no clear successes in sight. That said, his recent performances aren't helping in the fundraising front. The Democrats trail Republicans badly in almost all categories of fundraising. Things are so bad, the national party isn't in a position to help its state parties.

Recently, according to a DNC staffer, the South Carolina Democratic Party contacted the DNC for help in raising a little more than $500,000 to finance its 2004 presidential primary. The DNC couldn't help, and didn't. Now the state party is looking into other options.

THE SECRET LIFE OF HOWIE DEAN
Just what could former Vermont governor Howie Dean be hiding?

Once again, Dean's campaign has rebuffed media requests that he waive the ten-year ban he negotiated with the Vermont state archives to seal off much of his official papers from scrutiny.

At least he's up front about it. Dean has publicly stated that he requested the ten-year sealing of documents (Vermont governors in the past have gotten six-year deals) because he didn't want anything embarrassing to be used against him in a future political race. Dean's camp claims that only about 50 percent of his records are locked away, but according to several reporters who covered the Dean administration and the negotiations, better than 70 percent of the documents are sealed off and won't be read until 2013.

Further, the Dean camp claims that as governor of Texas, George Bush negotiated a similar deal, but Bush staff from that era say that less than 10 percent of Bush's records are completely under seal.

The Boston Globe, as well as several other media outlets, had formally requested that Dean lift his ban on the records, but Dean has thus far declined.

One Dean staffer in New Hampshire says that the candidate may lift the seal, but not before it's too late for damaging information to come out. "I wouldn't be surprised to see him lift the ban in early October [next year] if he has the nomination," says the staffer. "There is so much material, people wouldn't be able to sift fast enough to make a dent. Besides, this is more about having his Democratic competitors opposition-research him during the primary."

Recall that Al Gore's presidential campaign in 1988 did research on Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis's administration and uncovered the now infamous Willie Horton case. "That's what we're scared of," says the New Hampshire-based operative. "We know that Kerry is looking into us. We know Edwards is looking into us. We know that people from Dean's administration will talk, but that will be just talk. Without hard copy backup, those stories and charges are tough to prove."

INSIDE THE CLARKWAY
More hard-core Clintonistas are joining the Wesley Clark campaign, after the son of former DNC chairman Don Fowler, Donnie Fowler, stepped down as campaign manager.

Fowler, who with the help of a few longtime Clark and Clinton loyalists in Arkansas got the "Draft Clark" operation up and running a few months ago, locked horns with Bill and Hillary loyalist Mark Fabiani, who has been working as the retired general's communications guru. Fowler also clashed with the campaign's chairman, Eli Segal, another old Clinton hand, and campaign advisers Ron Klain and Mickey Kantor, two mainstays of the Clinton-Gore years.

Now, those four will assume most of the duties Fowler undertook, and bring in former Clinton White House spokesman and Sen. John Kerry flack, Chris Lehane, who is expected to officially join the Clark team sometime in the next week.

Fowler had attempted to steer Clark away from too many public appearances with former Gov. Gray Davis in California, but was overruled. He also lost in fights to bring in longtime supporters from the "Draft Clark" organization into the campaign.

"This is now a total Clinton operation," says a Clark volunteer in Little Rock, Ark.

What had the appearance of a grassroots groundswell for an American military hero now has the whiff of a Washington operation. Within the next few days, the Clark campaign intends to open a D.C. office, from which some of the staff -- Kantor, Klain and Lehane -- will begin putting together a policy and research team.

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