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Clinton Team Is Reflective of Its Boss : Unlike Bush's hierarchical, corporate structure, the Democratic nominee runs an amorphous, though highly flexible, organization.

October 27, 1992|DAVID LAUTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Campaigns reflect the candidates they serve, and as voters begin to focus on what sort of White House Bill Clinton might run if he were to win on Nov. 3, some of the best clues can be seen in the structure of the campaign he has put together.

Some of the campaign's top officials have made clear they would not take part in a Clinton Administration. "I wouldn't want to live in a country that would have me in its government," says Clinton's top strategist, James Carville. "My world ends Nov. 3."

Others, however, such as communications director George Stephanopoulos, speech writer and strategist Paul Begala and longtime friend and counselor Bruce Lindsey are widely expected to move into senior White House posts should Clinton win.

More important than the names of individuals, however, is the structure of the campaign.

In sharp contrast to the hierarchical, corporate structure of Bush's campaigns, Clinton's has an amorphous, sometimes frustrating, organization. At its worst it absorbs endless hours in meetings, but at its best has proved highly flexible in handling the many unexpected contingencies of a presidential race.

That informal structure has served Clinton well during most of his campaign--reflecting his desire to diffuse power among several aides rather than concentrate authority in one chief deputy. But even within his staff, many wonder if the same free-flowing, slightly anarchic, structure would work in a Clinton White House.

Clinton has proved adept at shuffling his aides from post to post, shifting the balance of power within the campaign as different needs arose. He has kept together a team whose often deep differences over ideology--they range from committed liberals to the moderate conservatives associated with the Democratic Leadership Council--had convinced many outside observers that an explosion was only a matter of time.

Moreover, he has done so with a group many of whose members have known him for only a few months--a sharp contrast with the pattern of most presidential candidates who surround themselves with longtime aides from their native states--from Jimmy Carter's "Georgia Mafia" to Ronald Reagan's California coterie.

The Clinton teams' operating style could be seen in the coffee shop of the candidate's hotel in Williamsburg, Va., the morning of the second presidential debate as Clinton's campaign brains trust gathered for breakfast.

Carville sat admiring the latest in a series of adulatory profiles of him that have appeared in the nation's press. Stephanopoulos scanned the morning papers, checking to see whether the campaign had succeeded in selling its previous day's spin. Pollster Stanley B. Greenberg chatted with a reporter.

Not a tie was in sight--only Greenberg wore a jacket, a somewhat beaten tweed befitting his status as a former Yale professor.

As the three ate, the campaign's advertising director, Mandy Grunwald, strode in. "We've got some decisions to make," she said, her tone leaving no doubt that she meant "now."

As a visiting reporter left, the four got down to work. A few minutes later, decisions had been made to buy several million dollars of television time in targeted markets around the nation, making way for two new Clinton advertisements that would be released later that day.

Informal and spur-of-the-moment, such meetings typify the Clinton campaign's top staff.

Five months ago, as Clinton struggled to be heard over the roar of Ross Perot's cresting campaign, the same group that sat at the breakfast table hatched the strategy that launched Clinton on the last, and most successful, comeback of an improbable political year.

The strategy combined substance--the release in June of a detailed economic plan--with appeals to popular culture in the form of frequent appearances on talk shows, interview programs and other non-traditional forums. And, as Clinton has ever since, the strategy focused tightly on a single topic--"the economy, stupid," as a sign proclaims in the "war room" that serves as the nerve center of Clinton's Little Rock operation. Now, Clinton's eclectic group of aides by all indications stand on the brink of completing the most successful Democratic presidential effort in a generation.

Carville, Stephanopoulos, Greenberg, Grunwald and Paul Begala--Carville's partner who serves as Clinton's chief speech writer and on-scene campaign strategist--serve as the core of the campaign's message team, determining both the campaign's day-to-day tactics and its overall strategy.

All are young. Stephanopoulos, the youngest, is 31, while the oldest, Carville, is only 48. None have previous experience in a senior position of a presidential campaign. Of the group, only Greenberg had worked for Clinton before, having conducted polls for his last gubernatorial race along with Grunwald's partner, Frank Greer, who continues to serve as a media adviser to Clinton.

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