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Paul Manafort, a Washington lobbyist who had run the convention for Dole, picked up the flag after Sipple left the field. The picture was grim. After Labor Day, Bob Dole was worse off than when he started. By early September, according to his own poll, Dole was actually 6 points behind where he was in August. Manafort drafted a 20-page memo dated Sept. 5 titled "Dole Campaign Strategy Document," in which he wrote, "The strategy for the campaign must be finalized now...Otherwise, we will be adrift without a compass."
Manafort recommended pressing on with the tax cut, moving to crime in September and then reaching out to swing voters with the debates. But Castellanos, who had worked for Jesse Helms and Phil Gramm, had other ideas. He had always been convinced that Clinton's great weakness was not policy but character.
Castellanos crafted a series of ads called "How to Speak Liberal." But the L word he was concerned with was not so much liberal as liar. The first spot showed Clinton saying, "I will not raise taxes on the middle class to pay for these programs." Announcer: "In liberal talk, that means...I lied and raised your taxes." The ads were both serious and funny, and Castellanos wanted to run them on the eve of the first debate. Reed refused. Dole, he said, could not call the President a liar.
In frustration, Castellanos showed the spots to Fabrizio and Manafort, who loved them. "Blast away," they said. Castellanos then called Elizabeth Dole, who called Reed and told him she wanted the ads reconsidered. Reed was furious that the consultant had made an end-run around him. Reed told Manafort, "I don't think this is the right time." One ad in the series ran. The word liar was excised, and it aired just once in Hartford, Connecticut, on the night of the first debate.
DOLE'S LAST CHANCE
Penn may have been an expert at interpreting figures, but he was still a novice when it came to reading his candidate. At the first big debate-preparation session, in a lovely wooden theater on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, Penn counseled Clinton to "engage, engage, engage." Stephanopoulos, however, thought Clinton should treat the debate like a press conference. When Penn saw Clinton losing his temper with a smooth George Mitchell (who was playing Dole), he realized his mistake. "Mark immediately dropped the engagement line," said Stephanopoulos. "It was very Dick-like."
Penn and Stephanopoulos became Clinton's chief trainers. Stephanopoulos worked defense (on Whitewater, Filegate, character), while Penn worked offense (sunny economic statistics, vision of the future). Penn prepared what he called "Debate on a Page," a handy one-page primer with shorthand versions of Clinton's key messages. Like a college student cramming for an exam, Clinton kept the crib sheet near him at all times.