He recalls beginning each day of Carter's failed reelection campaign with primal screams in the shower. Despite the disastrous result, Caddell felt he was at the top of his game during the Carter campaign, developing, for example, a more accurate polling technique.
By 1983, he was on to a new theory. The baby boomers were coming of age and it would take a generational leader of the kind the country had not seen since John F. Kennedy to corral them into the Democratic Party. He called it "a generation whose political allegiance is yet unformed and up for grabs."
One lesson Caddell had taken from the Carter Administration was that electoral victory in itself was not enough. "The legions of political experts and consultants, like myself, are the hired guns who sensitize the candidates to every nuance and wisp of public reaction, and who shape the images and illusions to entrance the masses," he wrote in a 144-page memo entitled the State of American Politics, a document produced as a form of catharsis and circulated among friends.
"We have mastered the short cuts to triggering recessed emotions and forcing attention to issues often insignificant . . . . This process is terrific for winning elections. Unfortunately, it is generally disastrous to governing. To succeed in governing demands that the election require that the people 'buy in,' not on every specific, but on the broad designs, priorities, intentions and sacrifices that will be required."
Invents a Candidate
Caddell surveyed the Democratic field, then dominated by Walter F. Mondale and John Glenn, and did not see a candidate who could pull off his electoral adventure. He then did an extraordinary thing. He invented a candidate.
He conducted polls pitting a fictional Senator Smith against two opponents. Smith was described as a young, generational candidate, giving voice to vision, calling the nation to service. Descriptions of the opponent candidates, also fictional, matched those of Mondale and Glenn. Smith won.
Next Caddell sought to convince at least three senators--among them his longtime friend Sen. Biden of Delaware--to adopt his campaign. All declined. In January, 1984, he was summoned by Gary Hart. Though independently voicing many of the generational themes Caddell had proposed, Hart appeared to be going nowhere fast. Withdrawal from the Iowa contest was under consideration.
Caddell convinced Hart to stay in Iowa, arguing that a strong finish there would provide crucial free publicity and momentum for New Hampshire. He helped the candidate sharpen his message. He even worked on body language. Hart came from deep within the pack to finish second in Iowa. He beat Mondale outright in New Hampshire. It was a great upset victory for Hart, and vindication for Caddell.
The breakthrough left Caddell "almost in tears. I thought, 'God, I was right.' I was so relieved not to be crazy. Ever since that moment, I have resolved never to back off of something that I really believed in again."
Mondale eventually beat back the charge, and Hart and Caddell did not end the campaign on good terms. There was a dispute over money and trouble over a television spot aired just before the Illinois primary. Hart was upset with the commercial's negative tone and, at great political cost, ordered it pulled. Caddell denies it, but he was suspected of sneaking the spot past the candidate.
Caddell's reputation for dominating campaigns like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla by then had become a Washington staple. Prospective clients sought to extract promises of good behavior from him in advance. In the 1984 general election, the senior officials of the Mondale campaign debated for weeks whether Caddell was worth the trouble. They decided he was.
"If we had spent as many hours working on the voters in August as we did debating whether to bring Caddell into our campaign," said Robert Beckel, the campaign chairman, "we probably would have been a lot better off."
Caddell concedes some character flaws. He cops to charges of insensitivity to colleagues, to stepping on toes in campaigns. But, he wonders, can't they see it is only because he cares so much, because he wants so badly to win? "I can't help it," he says. "I have never been able to lose my passion."
By the end of 1986, Caddell declared himself fed up with politics. He was tired, he said, of manipulating voters--and of his role as Democratic whipping boy. Caddell announced his retirement at a Halloween press conference, saying he would return only if Biden ran for President in 1988.
"I knew I needed to get away," he said.
And so he went to California. It was supposed to be temporary. He achieves rhapsody now as he discusses his experiences teaching a semester at UC Santa Barbara, and the sense of relief and possibility California inspired in him.