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The team members paced nervously in Room 1120. Gorton damned Yeltsin for ever predicting outright victory in the first round. Braynin wondered if the low turnout was owing to Russians' watching the Germany-Russia soccer match, and the four argued about whether Russia's defeat would cause voters to hit the vodka bottle rather than vote during the two hours remaining before the polls closed in the country's western region. "We peaked too soon," Dresner screamed. Only Shumate seemed cool. He had long before concluded that Zyuganov would never get more than 32% of the vote in the first round--the combined total the Communists and their ideological soul mates had reached in the December 1995 Duma election. "This stinks," Dresner repeated every few minutes as he checked the turnout around the nation. "It won't fall below 65%, and our model shows we win with that," answered Shumate, who then left with his wife Joyce to attend a production of La Traviata at the Bolshoi Theatre.
A bit of relief came when a CNN correspondent reported that "the only thing voters we've spoken with like less than Yeltsin is the prospect of upheaval." Dresner howled. "It worked," he shouted. "The whole strategy worked. They're scared to death!" After months being cooped up in the President Hotel wearing blue jeans, sneakers and PETE WILSON FOR PRESIDENT T shirts, the Americans headed for the building where Russia's central election commission would be announcing the results as they came in. "The hell with security," Dresner said. "I want to see this." And there they sat near the back of the auditorium, six guys in suits with computer projections in their hands and a lap-top computer. The place was overrun with reporters, but Yeltsin's secret American advisers were never recognized.
The final tally for the first round showed that Yeltsin had edged out Zyuganov 35% to 32% (the Communists had indeed been held to the level they reached in December). Gorton began drafting a memo designed to guide Yeltsin's remarks, and Dresner began plotting 20 emergency focus groups to determine what voters were thinking. In less than an hour, another memo was written urging the quickest possible runoff date. "We've got to try and keep Zyuganov from capitalizing" on the first round's surprise tightness, Shumate said. "July 3 would be good," said Gorton. "That's about as soon as possible, and it's in the middle of the week so that people will be in town rather than at their dachas." "We need turnout," Dresner said over and over. "We've got to have turnout."
Why, with unlimited funds, expert advice and the media in his pocket, did Yeltsin win the first round by only three points? The Americans identify several points:
--The continuing underlying hostility toward Yeltsin. "He never overcame the fact that most Russians can't stand him," says Dresner. "Anyone but a communist would probably have beaten him."
--Zyuganov succeeded in softening his image despite numerous self-inflicted mistakes. "He said some really scary things to appease his hard-core backers and ensure that they voted," says Gorton. "If he had moved more astutely to broaden his base and if he'd aped Clinton and said, 'It's the economy, stupid,' he might have pulled it off."