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2008: Halperin and Harris Describe the Winning Formula

Regular readers of this blog know well that The Fix is an unapologetic addict when it comes to the 2008 presidential campaign. With both parties set to stage wide-open nomination fights and names like McCain, Clinton, Obama, Romney and Gore (oh my!) being thrown around, how could any political junkie not be excited?


Imagine my glee when I got my hands on the new book -- "The Way To Win" -- by Post national politics editor (and Fix friend) John F. Harris and ABC News political director Mark Halperin (creator of the influential tipsheet, "The Note")

The book offers itself up as a blueprint for aspiring 2008 candidates. It provides tips -- or "Trade Secrets" in the Harris/Halperin lingo -- of what to do (and, as importantly, what not to do) when running for the nation's highest office.

They write: "The long reigns of the Bushes and the Clintons are not a curiosity. They are more than a historical accident. These families have dominated American politics because, over years in the business, they have learned specific principles and practices. We call these the 'Trade Secrets' of modern politics."

In other words, there is a formula to winning a presidential campaign. Harris and Halperin postulate that former President Bill Clinton spent years studying the failings of his party in preparation for his 1992 presidential campaign. In turn, President George W. Bush, with a major assist from political guru Karl Rove, studied the Clinton model (both for its successes and failures).

From The Fix's vantage point, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is continuing in this copycat game -- employing a similar strategy to that used by Bush as he went about winning reelection as Texas governor in 1998. Clinton, like Bush eight years ago, refuses to talk about a White House bid but is also careful not to rule it out -- a strategy that effectively freezes the field until after the November midterm elections or until Clinton decides to go public with her choice.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of "The Way to Win," however, deals with losers -- specifically Al Gore and John Kerry.

While Kerry's foibles have been well-documented, Harris and Halperin propose that the man most responsible for the Massachusetts senator's defeat was not the candidate but rather Matt Drudge -- founder of the widely read Drudge Report.

Harris and Halperin call Drudge the "single most influential purveyor of information about American politics" and go on to add: "Drudge, with his droll Dickensian name, was not the only media or political agent whose actions led to John Kerry's defeat. But his role placed him at the center of the game -- a New Media World Order in which Drudge was the most potent player in the process and a personifications of the dynamic that did Kerry in."

How was Drudge so influential? By serving as the online platform for carefully planned leaks of damaging information -- some of it personal, some of it professional -- that effectively defined Kerry negatively in the eyes of the voting public.

Example: Kerry got his haircut at a pricey Washington salon? First reported by Drudge.

One more: Negative comments by Kerry about the city of Dubuque? First reported by Drudge two days before Kerry made his first visit to Iowa as a presidential candidate.

Harris and Halperin write: "Presidential campaigns are about storytelling. A winning presidential campaign presents the candidate's life story to voters. A losing campaign allows someone else to frame that story."

Wise words for any candidate considering the 2008 race. Make a reasoned assessment of the strengths and weaknesses in your life story and your policy positions early on and work to highlight the strengths and minimize the weaknesses.

There's a whole lot more in "The Way To Win" worthy of discussion here on The Fix. Read the first chapter online here, and use the comments section below to discuss your reactions to the book.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 4, 2006; 2:41 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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