POLITICS JULY 31, 2000
The day after the Super Tuesday primaries, it looked as if Vice President Al Gore had wrapped up not only the Democratic nomination but also the presidency. He seemed poised to capture the great political center from Texas Governor George W. Bush, who, in order to secure his party's nomination, had mortgaged his convictions to the religious right. But since then the Bush campaign has made a fundamental transition—from a primary-election strategy based on party activists and interest groups to a general-election strategy based on wooing a broad electorate. The Gore campaign has not. While Bush focused single-mindedly on reestablishing his image as a moderate, Gore shamelessly courted Cubans in Miami and Jersey City.
The vice president's public troubles have fed private factionalism. Divisions between "new Gore" staff and "old Gore" supporters, mostly lobbyists, who remain officially outside the campaign resurfaced this spring. One Washington lobbyist familiar with the Gore campaign described it as a "snake pit." Campaign chairman Tony Coelho deepened these divisions with his management style, which was described as "autocratic." As for Gore, he increasingly bypassed Coelho, raising questions about who was really running the campaign. Gore finally answered them last month by replacing Coelho, who resigned due to ill health, with Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley. It was a very good choice. In Washington, Daley is known for his humility and loyalty, two qualities in short supply in presidential campaigns. But, even more important, Daley is extraordinarily good at politics.
Throughout his career—in Chicago, during the nafta fight, at the Commerce Department, and most recently in the battle over permanent normal trading relations with China—Daley has displayed a kind of empirical intelligence peculiar to the best political consultants and diplomats. He has shown himself able to adjust quickly to change and willing to consider unlikely means to achieve desired ends. It's ironic that Gore, a man perceived to shift with the latest wind, needs Daley, a man raised in a rigid, authoritarian political milieu, to give his campaign the flexibility to finally adapt itself to the demands of a general election. But it's on such ironies that presidential elections are won.Although Bill Daley has spent much of the last eight years in Washington, he learned his political skills in Chicago. The youngest child of legendary Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, who ruled over city and family like a beneficent feudal lord, Bill Daley was expected to subordinate his own ambition to that of his brother Rich, the firstborn son. "It was kind of a given that we all helped Rich," Bill Daley told me. And, of the six younger Daley children, he most clearly carried out this injunction. Like the young Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Bill Daley was the voice of reason and practical intelligence within the family, providing crucial counsel to Rich, who resembled the impetuous Sonny. "Bill was much quieter, calmer, sort of less impulsive, less emotional, more of a strategist," says former State Senator Dawn Clark Netsch, who worked closely with both brothers. Bill Daley was the one best able to see that in order for the next generation of Daleys to win power, they would have to embrace a style of politics radically different from the one practiced by their father.
No one thought they could do it. Rich Daley had been elected to the state Senate in 1973 on the strength of his name and, while there, had blindly done the Chicago machine's bidding. Chicago magazine rated him one of Illinois's ten worst legislators. As a result of their laziness, both Rich and Bill also acquired reputations for being stupid. Rich Daley flunked the bar twice before passing, and a state insurance examiner was convicted of perjury for denying to a grand jury that he changed Bill Daley's answers on a 1973 state insurance exam. (The conviction was later reversed on technical grounds.) Newspaper columnist Mike Royko described the brothers as "too dumb to tie their shoes." When Richard J. Daley was alive, he kept his oldest son in office in Springfield and made sure his other three sons profited from city business.
But, after he died suddenly in December 1976, his children lost what one Chicago politician called their "protective cocoon." The late mayor's former lieutenants, proteges, henchmen, and flunkies rushed to seize control of the Chicago Democratic Party for themselves, at the expense of the late mayor's children. "There were a lot of knives out for them," recalls Chicago political consultant David Axelrod. But the death of his father seemed to make Bill Daley grow up, and, through some shrewd strategizing, he managed to keep those knives at bay. Although Bill credits his father for realizing before he died that "the machine was a big fallacy," it was probably the youngest son who first grasped that the Democratic machine, which had dominated city politics for almost 50 years through patronage and ethnic loyalty, had become a hollow shell.
Looking at how politics was changing nationally and in other cities, Daley realized in the late '70s that if his brother wanted to win office, he would have to use television and opinion polling to craft an appeal to the city's new immigrant groups and increasingly independent electorate. Equally important, Bill Daley understood that his family had to break with the growing conservatism of Chicago's white Democrats.
Typically, he insists that this was not a betrayal of his father's legacy but a return to the politics that Richard J. Daley espoused when he first ran for mayor in 1955 as a liberal, anti-corruption reformer. "He came in as a reformer and cleaned up," Bill Daley says of his father. In this case, Daley's history is correct. As political scientist Paul M. Green has shown in The Mayors, Richard J. Daley abandoned liberalism only after challenger Benjamin Adamowski attacked him in the 1963 election for devoting too many resources to the city's poor. Before then, his principal critics were reactionary white ethnics, not the lakefront liberals and militant South Side blacks who later banded together to deny his delegation seats at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Bill Daley encouraged his brother to defy Chicago's mayor, Jane Byrne, and the remnants of the Chicago machine and make common cause with the same liberals who had battled their father in 1972. In Springfield, Rich joined Netsch in fighting to remove the sales taxes on food and medicine. Then, in 1980, Bill Daley advised his brother when he ran for Cook County state's attorney. His opponent was their father's former protege Ed Burke, who was endorsed by Byrne and Representative Dan Rostenkowski. With Bill as his campaign manager, Rich Daley ran as an anti-corruption liberal, backing, among other things, merit selection of judges, which removed a traditional source of patronage.
Through the skillful use of advertising, Daley also successfully appealed to suburban and lakefront voters hostile to the machine. Rich Daley's victory signaled the final collapse of the machine—and the reemergence of the Daley family as a power in Chicago politics. But Bill Daley didn't save just his family's political fortunes; he also helped save Chicago's. In the '80s, Chicago looked like it was becoming a racial Beirut. Some of the city's blacks, long denied an equal role in the machine, were turning toward demagogues like former Representative Gus Savage; ethnic Democrats, meanwhile, were increasingly practicing the politics of white backlash.
But rather than follow Los Angeles's Sam Yorty or Philadelphia's Frank Rizzo and turn sharply to the right, the Daleys developed a Chicago version of the Third Way. In 1983, Rich Daley ran for mayor, with Bill Daley as his campaign manager once again. Facing off against Byrne and Representative Harold Washington, an African American, Bill Daley ordered that the campaign avoid any appeal that could be construed as racial. "One of the things Bill was quite adamant about was no ugliness, no racial anything," recalls Netsch, who was the campaign's chairman.
After Washington won the primary, Bill Daley broke sharply with other white ethnic leaders and attended Washington's unity dinner. Rich Daley quietly endorsed Washington, while Byrne and many other prominent Democrats either sat out the election or endorsed Washington's Republican opponent. After winning reelection, Harold Washington died in office. And, in 1989, Rich Daley ran for mayor again, with Bill Daley again in charge of the campaign. In the general election, Rich Daley faced the extremes of Chicago politics: a former machine Democrat turned Republican defender of white power and an African American Democrat turned independent who was backed by black nationalists. At his brother's urging, Rich ran as the candidate of racial reconciliation. Bill Daley recruited Avis LaVelle, a prominent black radio reporter, to be his brother's press secretary, and he won the support of Latino Alderman Luis Gutierrez and, more broadly, of the growing bloc of Hispanic voters. Bill Daley's legacy in Chicago has been obscured by his brother's subsequent success in office—Rich Daley has been reelected three times and now enjoys support throughout the city, including in black wards. As the youngest brother, Bill Daley remained perpetually behind the scenes—"he had an unusual ability to subjugate his own ego," says David Axelrod, who worked with the Daleys in Chicago. But, according to people close to the campaigns, Bill Daley crafted the new approach that won his oldest brother the mayor's office. He developed the strategy of moderate reform and racial reconciliation that allowed Rich Daley to navigate the troubled waters of Chicago politics in the '80s and become in the next decade one of the most successful mayors in the country.
While Bill Daley was helping his family, he was also making forays into national politics. He served as his father's liaison both to the McGovern campaign in 1972 and to the Carter campaign in 1976. After his father's death, he kept his hand in national politics, working for Walter Mondale's presidential effort in 1984 and for Michael Dukakis in 1988. During his brother's early years as mayor, Bill Daley, according to Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council, was the "one to see in Chicago." In 1992, he organized Illinois for Bill Clinton. Clinton's victory seemed to represent Bill Daley's big break, and Clinton was expected to appoint him secretary of transportation. But at the last minute Clinton chose Federico Pena because he wanted a Hispanic Cabinet member. Rich Daley was reportedly furious and lashed out at Clinton during the president's first year in office. But Bill Daley maintained his cheerful exterior, and when Clinton asked him in August 1993 to lead the effort to pass nafta, he assented. Even though overseeing nafta was widely viewed as a thankless task, Daley agreed to help Clinton for the same reason he helped his brother: a sense of loyalty. He took the job, he told The Washington Post at the time, out of "a strong feeling for the Democratic Party, a loyalty to the principles it stands for—and a loyalty to the leader of the party. The fact that he Clinton feels so strongly about this as a way of creating jobs is very important to me." Unfortunately for Daley, Clinton did not feel very strongly about nafta at that moment. When Daley came to Washington that August, he faced not only a daunting array of opponents—from Ross Perot to the afl-cio to two of the three leading congressional Democrats—but the indifference of the Clinton administration as well. During his first month on the job, Daley didn't even have his own office; he worked out of a cubicle in the U.S. trade representative's office and sometimes made calls from a bench in Lafayette Park.
When I recently asked former U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor what role Daley played in the administration's nafta push, Kantor said that he "forced an administration into putting its effort into something." Kantor then tried to correct himself—to say that Daley "led" rather than "forced" the administration—but it is clear from other participants that "forced" is the more accurate verb. Once he had the administration behind him, Daley led the charge on the Hill, coordinating one-on-one negotiations with some 100 members who had not yet made up their minds. With some House members persuasion was enough, but with others Daley had to wheel and deal: the administration ended up passing out some $20 billion in programs to House members. When Daley arrived in August, nafta opponents counted 220 House members as opposed to the treaty—two more than were needed to defeat it. When the final vote was tallied three months later, nafta passed easily with 234 votes. After nafta, bill daley returned to Chicago and to his lucrative law practice at Mayer, Brown & Platt. But, in December 1996, Clinton, as a reward for nafta, called him back to Washington to become secretary of commerce. Some reward. Under Ron Brown, who had died in an airplane crash in April, the Department of Commerce had become embroiled in one scandal after another—first over Brown's personal business dealings and then over trade missions that appeared to reward campaign contributors.
In 1995, House Republicans had actually voted to eliminate the department, but the Senate had failed to vote on the measure. Then, in fall 1996, the press revealed that John Huang, a Clinton fund-raiser charged with arranging illegal foreign contributions, had been working out of the Commerce Department. As Daley came up for confirmation, there was renewed support for dismembering the department. As in Chicago, Daley found new allies and altered the existing political dynamic. He defused opposition on Capitol Hill by removing any partisan taint from the trade missions, drastically reducing the number of political appointees and replacing them with career civil servants. (The number of political appointees had actually skyrocketed under Bush administration Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher and had merely been maintained by Brown.) He charmed Arizona Senator John McCain and other Republicans on the Commerce Committee. Ivan Schlager, who served as an aide to the committee, says of Daley, "He had been around power all his life. He had a good feel for how to deal with opponents, how to treat someone with respect because you are going to need him later." Daley also won his two biggest battles as commerce secretary: using sampling for the census and establishing permanent normal trading relations (pntr) with China. On the census, Daley wanted to follow the recommendations of the Census Bureau, which favored sampling as a means of ensuring that new immigrants and the poor were not overlooked.
The Republicans in Congress—recognizing that the census determines how political districts are carved up and how federal funds are allocated—wanted a simple head count. After three years of battling, Daley, the child of Chicago machine politics, outmaneuvered the Republicans by putting the decision in the hands of the nonpartisan census director, who favored sampling on technical grounds.Then, last January, with support for China's entry into the World Trade Organization waning on Capitol Hill, Clinton bypassed U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and appointed Daley to head the administration's campaign for pntr. As with nafta, Daley distributed his share of pork. Democratic Representative Bud Cramer of Alabama, for instance, voted for pntr after a fruitful discussion with Daley about a weather station in Huntsville that the administration had threatened to tear down. But Daley's most important contribution was his unexpected alliance with Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat who had close ties to labor and to Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. Daley worked with Levin to back a commission that would monitor China's human rights record and allow the president to limit unexpected surges in Chinese imports.
The commission brought in the 20 to 30 additional Democratic votes pntr needed to pass. Levin gives Daley full credit: "We had a close relationship, and I think he played a decisive role. Every time I met with him I had a still higher opinion of him, and that is not always true in relationships. I found him direct, I found him open-minded. He was willing to change his mind." Levin adds, "Those same traits will serve him well in the Gore campaign." When Gore called Daley last month to offer him the job of campaign manager, Daley initially thought he was going to be asked to be Gore's running mate. Instead, he was once again asked to toil for someone else's glory, and he responded accordingly. "He said he had been given a great honor to serve here, and he felt if they call, he has to do it," Bill Reinsch, Daley's undersecretary for export administration, recalls Daley telling him. "He was getting deeply into substantive issues here, but he is a loyal soldier."
Turning the Gore campaign around will not be easy. In contrast to the Bush campaign, whose inner core consists of people whose careers are inextricably joined to the candidate, the Gore camp is deeply divided between insiders and outsiders. Strangely, though, the insiders are on the outside: the campaign has been run by a group of professionals led by Coelho, who, with the exception of media specialist Carter Eskew, do not have deep ties to Gore. Gore's closest political friends and advisers consist of former colleagues and staff, most of whom work as lobbyists in Washington and do not have positions in the campaign. It's a dangerous situation—in 1980, Ronald Reagan finally had to fire his campaign manager, John Sears, because Sears insisted on keeping Reagan's old friends and allies out of the campaign. Coelho, who was insecure in his position, tried to insulate Gore from his circle of friends and advisers. That worked during the primary, but, once Gore began to lose momentum, his friends started to complain and Gore himself began to look beyond Coelho for advice, leaving the campaign itself without a functioning leader.
Daley brings a powerful example of political loyalty. He also has the confidence and ego strength to heal the divisions between the campaign's insiders and outsiders. Indeed, people close to the operation are more hopeful than they have been in months. Jack Quinn, a Washington lobbyist who was Gore's chief of staff from 1993 to 1995, draws a sharp distinction between Coelho and Daley. Coelho, Quinn says, "relied on a very small circle of advisers and didn't reach out to a lot of people. That's not the kind of guy Bill Daley is."Daley is also well-equipped to improve the campaign's awful relationship with the press. Coelho, fearful that he would be asked about his questionable business dealings, refused to give interviews. Daley, by contrast, is very comfortable with reporters. When I asked to speak to Daley for this story, he called me himself in the evening. When I came to see him at the Commerce Department, he talked to me alone, without media consultants hovering in the background taking notes. Daley can't provide the Gore campaign with the kind of tactical leadership that Lee Atwater gave George Bush in 1988 and James Carville provided Clinton with in 1992. Others will have to fill that role. But Daley, because he feels comfortable reaching across traditional divides, instinctively understands the differences between a primary campaign and a general election.
One administration official who knows Daley well and is close to the Gore campaign says, "Coelho had more of an interest-group approach. Bill Daley looks at politics in a much more big- picture way. As opposed to thinking of interest groups, he thinks of larger values and themes that the public will respond to." Says a senior administration official who advises Gore, "Daley is not a grand strategist, but he creates the conditions, he will make it possible for Gore to operate better." The results are only beginning to trickle in—Daley officially assumed his position on July 15—but if Bill Daley can pull off this one last salvage operation, his days in the political shadows will be over at last.