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Sipple foresaw a huge problem: if they released the economic plan before the convention, they would have no money for the TV spots they needed to sell it. "Clinton's gonna kill us with his ads," he warned Reed, but the campaign manager's mind was made up. The next day, Elizabeth Dole called Sipple. "How's the convention plan going?" she asked. He could tell from her voice that she was fishing.
"We don't have a plan," he said. "We don't have a message." He told her what Clinton's ad team would do to them if they released the tax plan before the convention, when they were broke. "There's a brick wall waiting for us," he said.
"Whoa," Elizabeth gasped. Then, in her most syrupy voice: "Would you mind sharing that with Bob?"
Sipple met that afternoon with Bob and Elizabeth. He repeated his view that Clinton would hammer the tax plan if it was released before the convention.
"Have you told Scott?" Dole asked.
Sipple had told him the day before.
"When?" Dole asked, amazed that Reed hadn't told him. He turned to his wife. "Wasn't Rumsfeld supposed to fix this?"
KILLING DOLE'S TAX PLAN
Schoen was convinced that taxes were the issue that lost elections for Democrats. If Dole succeeded in painting Clinton as a big-spending liberal, the race might tighten. Morris, Knapp and Sheinkopf fretted that taxes could give Dole the key to opening the "character door" by painting Clinton as a liar.
They began looking for ways to undermine the plan long before Dole announced it. Penn and Schoen tested variations on these themes: that Dole didn't know how to pay for it; that it would blow a hole in the budget and force huge cuts in valued programs; that it was less responsible than Clinton's modest, targeted cuts. They had long discussions about how best to describe the plan, as they did not want to sell it unwittingly. They honed a line that, according to their polls, sank the popularity of Dole's plan from 65% to 17%: "A risky tax scheme that will balloon the deficit and raise taxes on 9 million working families." Since Dole's plan reduced the earned-income tax credit for low-income families, the consultants could turn his tax cut into a tax increase. The slogan pushed every negative button. "It took his plan out of play," says Schoen.
SAN DIEGO BLUES
At the G.O.P. convention in San Diego, Dole knew his campaign was ragged. Staff members were at war with one another. Sipple and Murphy had been cut out by Reed. On Tuesday, Aug. 13, Dole invited the admen up to his 33rd-floor suite.
"What about Kemp?" Dole said, wondering how much bounce they could get from the new running mate.
"It's good for a week," Sipple replied.
"Maybe 10 days," said Dole.
Dole asked Sipple, who had run several successful California campaigns, "Are we right to leave Jack here for 10 days?"
"He's not ready," Sipple replied. "And the pictures of the two of you together are so good, you ought to keep it going."