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Campaign Roadblog, 1/23/04

As the race for the White House heats up, CBS News reporters are out on the road covering the presidential candidates. They'll be sharing their observations, impressions and anecdotes from the campaign trail in our daily Roadblog.

Allison Davis, an associate producer for the CBS News Campaign Unit, recounts her experience producing the Howard Dean Top Ten segment for "The Late Show with David Letterman":

Fri. Jan. 23: 1:30 p.m. - The Chuck truck and I arrive in Hanover, N.H. After a brief chat with Lee from the Dean campaign, we head to the back entrance of Lou's Bakery. Chuck enters first and makes instant friends with the manager. Before I know it, he is running cables through the kitchen.

2:00 p.m. - Lee from the Dean campaign has showed up. The Top Ten List is not approved yet and she is waiting for the writers to fax the list to Lou's Bakery directly.

2:15 p.m. - A new Dean staffer arrives with Dean banners and mentions in passing to Lee that she sent out an email blog for students to arrive at Lou's at 3 p.m. This soon-to-be disaster does not initially register.

2:45 p.m. - The camera is in position; we are up on the satellite. New York is seeing a picture. I am feeling good.

3:00 p.m. - Dean's hit time is 3:15 p.m. There is no fax, no cue cards are written. The front door opens and 45 college students with Dean buttons and cardboard banners pile into the bakery. There are still customers enjoying a leisurely lunch.

3:10 p.m. - I place a call to Jill at the Letterman show. "Jill, a number of Dean supporters just got here with posters. They want to stand in the background while Dean does the Top Ten." Jill: "Absolutely not, no way. It has to be a clean shot." I run over to Lee while trying to talk Jill down. "There can't be anyone in the shot. These kids are not allowed to be in the picture." I am not popular.

3:22 p.m. - "Allison, this is Larry the director. Allison, how can we make this picture into a single shot of Dean and not a campaign rally?"

"We are working on that right now," I say. I am trying to move out of the way as sullen college kids climb over the lights and cables.

3:30 p.m. - Still no fax, no cue cards. I overhear that Dean has not approved the Top Ten list yet. Satellite space runs out at 3:45 p.m. It takes a miracle, I remember, to extend it.

3:45 p.m. - Trisha from the Dean campaign arrives. She is instantly upset that no one is allowed in the background of the shot. "It can be turned on us to look like he can't find anyone to have lunch with," she says into her cell phone. I am sure it didn't help that a few minutes later I tripped on one of the wires, sending her cell phone crashing to the floor. Not my finest moment.

3:50 p.m. - Still no fax. With an IFB cord hanging out of my ear, a microphone pack clipped to my jacket, I am instructed by the writer in New York to transcribe the Top Ten list as he says it into my ear. The anxiety mounts and the sweating is becoming uncontrollable. I grab the closest piece of scratch paper I can find, which happens to be the brown paper bag that used to carry the thick sharpie markers that are now sprawled all over the booth. I notice a snoopy little Dartmouth paper reporter leaning over the booth trying to copy down the jokes as I write them down.

4:00 p.m. - I am barely finished writing each joke out on large cue cards when I overhear that Rob Reiner has not approved this list. I am out of poster board.

4:02 p.m. - Jill gets back on the IFB line. "Allison, here is a new one that I need you to take down. Ready? 'I can't give specifics yet..." she starts. "Oh okay, I can wait." "No, Allison, that is the joke..." Could it possibly get any worse?

4:05 p.m. - The cards are done. Trisha has looked at them. They are all in order. The sweating remains uncomfortable but things seem under control.

4:07 p.m. - I hear cheers outside, indicating someone's arrival. They are calling for me on the IFB again. Jill says that the order of the jokes needs to be redone. Dean has walked into the diner. I am using his IFB to hear Jill from the Letterman show in N.Y., but the technician unhooked the microphone so I can hear Jill but she can't hear me. At one point, I have to move closer to Dean and lean in to the microphone that is now attached to his lapel.

"Jill, I can hear you just tell me the order." Jill reads out each joke in the correct order while I rearrange the cue cards and I gave a thumbs-up to the camera to let her know I had it down.

4:10 p.m. - I am behind the camera and things are rolling. Letterman's control room is talking to Dean in his ear and he is practicing the jokes. He is a bit of a stiff. The line about his showing more skin took a number of takes because he couldn't get he whole blazer off the shoulder movement.

4:15 p.m. - We get to number three: "I can't give specifics yet but it involves, Ted Danson." Dean reads the line but looks confused. "Shouldn't that say, 'I can't give specifics yet but it involves, tap dancing?'" he says. Everyone looks around with no clue as to what he is talking about.

4:16 p.m. - Someone that I swear I have never seen before pipes up: "Ted Danson is a running joke at the David Letterman show." Everyone seems to buy it because before I know it we are back on track and counting down.

4:20 pm - Rob Reiner taps me on the shoulder. "Do you know the Ted Danson joke?" "Uh, no. I don't know what it means."
He gives me an uncomfortably dirty looks and storms away from the set.

4:25 p.m. - We end with Dean taping an awkward wave to Dave and everyone is out of the bakery as quickly as they came.

I never saw Rob Reiner again. And After a long breath, I realized how badly I needed a shower.


Fri. Jan. 23: The Lovebirds.

Hadassah and Joe are a touchy couple. Whenever they're together, they're touching; which is often these days. The Liebermans rented an apartment in Manchester for the month of January. No Judith Steinberg Dean syndrome, here.

It's actually quite nice to see a couple so in love, especially since it's a second marriage for both and because it seems quite stressful to have a spouse away for such a long amount of time, let alone one who is running for the nation's highest office.

Tonight, after the New Hampshire debate, the Lieberman campaign and supporters celebrated at a bar near the Joe 2004 Manchester headquarters. Hadassah stood by her man in a tweed suit and heels, looking all first lady-y. When Joe finished revving up the crowd and sharing his vision of "a political uprising", i.e. building on momentum following his "best debate ever," the two stepped off the riser to greet the crowd and thank them for their support. The music started playing (blasting is probably more accurate) and, swept up by the mood, Hadassah took Joe's hands and began to dance with him. Before you knew it, the crowd had cleared a path for the twirling duo and, for a split-second, it almost felt as though, for those two, no one else was in the room.

Unfortunately, in real life as in politics, "West Side Story" moments only last so long.

A staff member soon whisked them out through a back door to the SUV waiting to take them home. The lights in the bar flickered on, the music got low, a few supporters hung around to have some beers and everyone else headed back out into the night.
--Tali Aronsky

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. Army (retired)

Thurs. Jan. 22: Ever since John Kerry was knighted with the title of "frontrunner," Gen. Wesley Clark has had to tweak his pitch just a bit.

Instead of simply touting his military service (as he did when the perceived frontrunner was Howard Dean), Clark now has to qualify that experience, given Kerry's own service in Vietnam. Clark uses phrases like "high-level" and "executive leadership" to distinguish his role in the armed forces from Kerry's.

After discussing patriotism and issues pertaining to veterans at a Portsmouth, N.H., Veterans of Foreign Wars hall Wednesday morning, Clark told reporters, "My military experience has been executive leadership so I know how to set goals, lay out the standards, bring people together, and get the mission accomplished."

Executive leadership is what Clark says sets him apart from Kerry. "We were both junior officers in Vietnam and we both did the same kinds of things in Vietnam, and we both won the Silver Star. That's not what's at issue here; it's two different paths of public service."

While Gen. Clark returned from Vietnam on a stretcher and stayed with the military, Kerry left the military and ran for public office – a different path Clark hopes will bolster support among veterans like Dennis Durpin. "I don't think legislators have the executive experience," said Durpin. "I think Gen. Clark's experience being the head of such a large organization such as the military is important."

According to Clark's head veteran mobilizer, Eric Massa, the campaign has more than 500 "Veterans for Clark" and "thousands" more who have expressed interest in Clark's campaign. While the veteran vote is important, one of Clark's handicaps is the fact that he is, well, a general.

One of the more frequent questions Clark is asked by voters in his town hall-style forums is whether or not his military credentials offer broad enough experience to lead a country. Usually he cites his varied duties as commanding officer, which included everything from ensuring healthcare and education, fixing potholes in the streets and stocking the commissary with pampers. Sometimes he even goes so far as to say he was a camp counselor at the age of 14.

Not all voters think that experience cuts it, however. After a "Conversation with Clark" in Rochester, N.H., Wednesday evening, one Kerry supporter explained her choice, saying, "He served in Vietnam and he has a very distinguished senatorial career, which is very important to me."

In a tactic that didn't jibe with the Clark's mantra of conducting a "positive" campaign, the veteran and commander of a local VFW, Brian Hardy, who introduced Clark to Rochester voters, sharply criticized Kerry.

"John Kerry has had an extreme makeover in Iowa. He's gone from a Boston-bred man of privilege and wealth to the man of the people. Don't buy what he's selling," Hardy told about 200 voters in the VFW hall, and thousands watching live on C-SPAN.

Hardy continued, "Wes Clark has led an army and he's administered to the health, housing and education needs for hundreds of thousands of military families across the globe. Mr. Kerry has run a Senate office, and now he wants to run the White House."

When Clark took the microphone from Hardy, he did not address the comments, but did so toward the end of the event.

"[John Kerry] is a friend of mine and whatever people say, I consider [Kerry] a patriot, I consider him a distinguished senator. I consider him a fine presidential candidate. And it's really up to the people of N.H. to make the distinction between the two of us. I'm here telling you what I believe in, what I stand for," Clark said, putting his diplomatic skills to work.

Clark's staff was quick to inform the press that Hardy's comments were unsolicited and denied the campaign knew the content of his introduction.

Hardy later confirmed that to reporters, saying, "This campaign didn't see any of my remarks and they never suggested I say a thing."

Clark may have put out a fire by addressing the situation. "That was really gentlemanly of you," said Kerry supporter Elaine Baillargeon, while asking Clark for his autograph.

"Well, I didn't know he was going to say anything like that," he said under his breath.

The battle for the veterans' votes is a tossup between Gen. Clark and Sen. Kerry, but one thing can be sure: the chances of the words "executive leadership" being used in tonight's Democratic candidates debate are pretty good.
--Bonney Kapp


Wed. Jan. 21: The Lovebirds

Last night, Howard Dean was supposed to return to Vermont for a previously scheduled day without public events. Instead, he spent the night in New Hampshire in order to address staff and supporters at his state headquarters in Manchester this morning.

Dean, sounding hoarse and looking a little tired, presented his plan for an overhaul of the financing of presidential campaigns. The candidate wants public financing for all federal elections. Dean also wants a tax credit for the first $100 of contributions to a presidential candidate. Tomorrow, at yet another Democratic candidate debate, Dean will call for a $250 limit on campaign contributions with a 5:1 public match.

After his speech at headquarters, Dean headed for the van waiting outside to take him to the airport. As was the case twice last week in Iowa, the campaign ended up in a heated moment with the gathered press. With reporters, photographers and camera crews gathered outside the door and in the path to Dean's van, word went out to staff to clear a way for the governor.

Before the staff could react, Dean was on his way out. An aide tried to barrel his way through the waiting press, only to end up flailing with a determined reporter. The aide fell against some of the people in the crowd and another staffer was struck during the commotion as Dean moved toward the van.

On the way to the airport, Dean stopped by a Dunkin' Donuts, where he shook hands with patrons, received a $500 check from a supporter and again tried to work within the confines created by an abundance of photographers. After the stop, Dean flew back to Vermont where he did a whirlwind round of satellite interviews with television stations located mainly in New Hampshire or Feb. 3rd primary states.

Advisers to the governor expect their candidate to focus for the next few days on his message of removing special interests from politics. Staffers, however, are scrambling to come up with a way to shift the kind of press Dean has been receiving over the past week, and particularly, the past 48 Hours. Some staffers see New Hampshire as a must-win state for Dean and are making contingency plans should the governor fail in a state where he once held a commanding lead in the polls.
--Eric Salzman

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