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So in August the D.N.C. went up with Medicare ads minus the class-warfare tag line. The consultants made protecting Medicare a noble and patriotic duty and turned the Republicans into traitors to America's common values. The words in the ad were temperate, while the grainy, black-and-white images chosen by Squier and Knapp made Dole and Gingrich look like villains from a silent-picture show. They gave way to sun-dappled shots of the American President, steadfast and true. And so was born a key part of the 1996 message: attack spots that hid their harsh negative material inside a lush pro-Clinton wrapping.
To finance the massive TV buys while staying within Federal Election Commission spending limits, the consultants used Democratic Party soft money for many of the buys. A D.N.C. lawyer sat in on the creative sessions to make sure the ads were defensible as "issues advocacy." The law calls for such spots to be created independently of the campaign--yet Morris, Penn, Squier and Knapp handled all the D.N.C. spots. "If the Republicans keep the Senate," said a consultant, "they're going to subpoena us. Our only defense is that Dole did it too." The Democrats' ads blanketed the country. But Dole never responded--and never recovered from the blows.
SHUT OUT BY THE SHUTDOWN
Bob Dole never cottoned to Newt Gingrich's contract with America but realized that his party did. The conservative activists in the "early" states just ate it up. There wasn't much point in criticizing it, even if a lot of it did not make sense to him.
So Dole resolved to make his separate peace with the Contract, telling a New Hampshire audience in June, "We want to downsize government, not dismantle it." He even tried to get some of Gingrich's agenda through the Senate but found himself stymied by Democrats at every turn. Dole knew a lot of Senate Republicans distrusted the Gingrich agenda, but he couldn't say that in public lest Gramm accuse him of being the M word--a moderate. But by the fall, Dole sensed people rejecting the Contract and its creator. He could feel it, hear it from everyday folks. This was a new problem: if people were turning against the Contract, against Gingrich, against the G.O.P., they could turn against Bob Dole too.
Dole could see that Gingrich was determined to play a very public game of chicken with the President. And while Dole thought that was batty, he was willing to let Gingrich take the fall. Through the autumn, as the Democratic ads were raining on the Republican parade, Dole marched on, his fear of a backlash growing. A government shutdown was not what he wanted, and he could see it wasn't what the people wanted either. "There are people out there who live from paycheck to paycheck," he told Sheila Burke, his longtime chief aide. At a closed-door meeting in which Gingrich laid out plans for a shutdown, Dole had heard just about enough. "Look, it doesn't make sense," he told the Speaker.
BRIDGING THE UNBRIDGEABLE