Robert M. Teeter, GOP Strategist and Public Opinion Pollster, Dies
By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2004; Page B06
Robert M. Teeter, 65, a Republican strategist for former president George H.W. Bush and a political pollster who conducted public opinion surveys for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, died of cancer June 13 at his home in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Mr. Teeter, known for his even-tempered manner in the mercurial campaign arena, participated in the senior management of seven Republican presidential campaigns, from Richard M. Nixon's in 1968 to the 1992 Bush reelection bid, of which he was national chairman. For the past 15 years, Mr. Teeter worked with Democratic pollster Peter Hart of Peter D. Hart Research Associates on the NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls.
Mr. Teeter was credited with guiding the Bush team into the White House in 1988. However, some also blamed his strategies when Bush failed to become president a second time in 1992.
Hart called Mr. Teeter the "Joe DiMaggio of the political field . . . the ultimate professional." Mr. Teeter always brought his work back to first principles, said Hart, who had known him for more than 30 years. "He had heartland values. Whether he was working with presidents, governors or CEOs, he did not change."
Hart added: "He understood the importance of the two-party system. It was not just about winning; it was about setting an agenda, governance and making society better."
Mr. Teeter was president of Coldwater Corp., a business consulting and research company in Ann Arbor that bears the name of the home town in Michigan that he cherished. Since 1989, he worked with senior managers from such companies as Ford Motor Co. and Verizon Communications, providing guidance in strategic planning, marketing and communications.
His work in research and analytical techniques became standard for many of today's political opinion researchers when he worked at Market Opinion Research, one of the country's largest marketing research and consulting firms. He joined the company in 1967 and became its president in 1979. The firm conducted opinion surveys and voting analysis for Republican candidates across the country and for the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada.
Mr. Teeter had a passion for politics and campaigns that reached back to his teenage years at Coldwater High School, where he was elected student mayor. He came of age as a political consultant in the 1970s, when he guided moderate Republicans in marginally Democratic states in the Midwest with winning strategies.
Robert Teeter was born and grew up in Coldwater, where his father was mayor and a prominent businessman.
He graduated from Albion College, his father's alma mater, with a bachelor's degree and in 1964 received a master's degree from Michigan State University. He discovered a competitive outlet in politics when he followed his father, a Republican state delegate, to the 1964 GOP national convention in San Francisco -- where Barry M. Goldwater was nominated.
By 1967, he had joined Michigan Gov. George W. Romney's unsuccessful race for the White House. Within six years, he was trying to make a name for himself as a pollster and met Bush, who had recently become chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Teeter became senior adviser to Bush, then vice president, in 1987 and co-director of the Office for Presidential Transition in 1988.
"In 1988, Teeter was part of the team guiding Bush's campaign," said a 1992 article in the Boston Globe. "When Bush outflanked Democrats by proclaiming that he would become the environment and education president, he was following Robert Teeter's battle plan. When he mocked his opponent for clumsily donning a helmet and climbing into a tank, he reflected Teeter's belief that people don't just vote for president but for commander-in-chief. And when Bush needed a running mate, he turned to a former Teeter client, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle."
A turning point in his political career came in 1992, when he became national chairman of the Bush reelection campaign. The effort faltered when it underestimated Patrick J. Buchanan's rival candidacy in the primaries, and Bush eventually lost to Bill Clinton.
Mr. Teeter was a member of a number of boards of directors, including United Parcel Service, Visteon Corp. and Kaydon Corp. He also was on the grant steering committee of the Gerald R. Ford Library.
Survivors include his wife, Elizabeth Teeter, and two children, Katherine Teeter and John Teeter, all of Ann Arbor; and two brothers.
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