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Dole nodded. It was a rare moment of unanimity. The very next day--one that should have been the most triumphant of Dole's candidacy--his campaign almost imploded. For weeks Dole had been irked at Buckley for briefing reporters about what the plans were: the date of a speech, the schedule for the week, the details of the economic plan. Dole hated all that. Why spill the beans? And now Buckley was telling reporters that Dole would mention abortion in his acceptance speech. It got under Dole's skin. By Thursday, he wanted Buckley's head. Reed told Dole that if Buckley went, so would he. Conscious of his image as a man who reacts to bad news by sacking his staff, Dole backed down. But he never again attended a meeting with Buckley. If Dole stopped by Reed's office and Buckley was there, he'd say, "Whupp. Have to come back later," and sidle away.
There was, miraculously, a plan for after the convention: do the economic message for four weeks, switch to crime, drugs and moral decline, then pivot back to economics to set up the first debate. Sipple and Murphy opposed this, preferring to stay on morals for the duration. But they lost, and their days were numbered.
On Aug. 15, the campaign's long-awaited $62 million in federal funds arrived. Sipple put the first postconvention ad together--14 months after the Clinton air war began. Sipple's debut was an old-fashioned, positive commercial about Dole: Midwestern childhood, war wound, man of his word. Reed approved it, and Sipple showed it to Dole. But Dole was in a lousy mood. He hated it.
"Did you test it?" Dole barked, watching it for the fourth time. Damn right I've tested it, Sipple thought. He had shown it to focus groups in four cities over two nights. But Dole was on to something; the ad had not scored well. It was too corny. The Clinton spot it was running against tested better. And the crime and drug ads Sipple was testing did better but didn't send Clinton's numbers down either.
Sipple had also put together a tax-cut spot focusing on the fact that the average voter would get an extra $1,600 from Dole's plan. Again Dole didn't like it. Sipple's tests showed that viewers didn't believe the tax cut would ever happen. Dole growled that the tax cut should be mentioned but only along with balancing the budget, streamlining regulations, lowering capital gains.
Sipple revised the ad, inserting a long list, making it even duller. He turned the master copy over to the campaign. A week later, he was gone. Sipple's work, said Buckley, "lacked edge."
21ST CENTURY EXPRESS
For Clinton, the economic news was all going in the right direction. As Clinton was preparing for his train trip to Chicago, Penn called Baer to report that the country's mood was improving. "Almost as many people think the country is on the right track as think it's going in the wrong direction," he said. The metaphor was staring Baer in the face: train track, right track. He proposed the slogan, "On the Right Track to the 21st Century," and Clinton repeated it at every whistle-stop along the way. And each day he said it, the "right track-wrong track" numbers inched up. Penn was right: Americans did need to be told the country was moving in the right direction.