If this story were a commercial about Robert Squier, media merchant, it would be shot in 30-second spots.
Squier with a pollster . . . Squier with a camera . . . Squier rushing in and out of the White House . . . Squier at an editing machine . . . Squier in an airplane (flying first class, of course) . . . Squier shot at a dozen unusual angles to make him look bigger than life.
He'd look forceful and energetic. He'd look boyishly handsome. Above all, he'd look solid, a man to be trusted with your wallet -- or government.
He'd be on the move. He'd be talking to farmers, mechanics, school children. Somewhere along the line, there'd be a nice bit of humor to let the viewer know he is plugged into the audience, like the character in one Squier commercial who said: "We're from so far back in the country that we don't get the Grand Ole Opry 'til Wednesday." (As everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line knows, Opry broadcasts reach most places Saturday night.)
The images and spots would blur together. And just as the viewer would start to place the face on the screen a slogan would flash on, proclaiming: "Bob Squier for Governor: The Toughest Job in Mississippi." Or "Bob Squier: A Businessman for Kentucky," or better yet, "Bob Squier, The Hottest Property in the Business."
Bob Squier is a political image-maker riding a hot streak, the hottest streak in his career. Of the last 14 primary and general-election campaigns he has worked in, Squier has lost only one.
During that time, he has gone up against the best in the business: David Garth, the New York media whiz; Charles Guggenheim, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker; David Sawyer, who is already shooting film for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy; Robert Goodman, the Baltimore consultant who specializes in "free enterprise Republicans"; and Bailey-Deardourff, the firm that went on a hot streak after doing Gerald Ford's 1976 campaign.
All are members of a tiny fraternity of media merchants who each election control millions of campaign dollars. All also appear to be heading toward roles in the Selling of a President 1980 -- a race Squier says he will sit out after he finishes a 30-minute campaign documentary on Carter aimed at disaproving criticism of Carter as an inept administrator. o
There are those who feel this decision could be crippling to Carter. "if Bob Squier does Jimmy Carter's media, you can add five points to any poll for the president. If Gerald Rafshoon (Carter's longtime media adviser) does it, you can take 10 points off," says one well regarded West Coast political strategist. "Squier is the only one in that relationship who has a sense of political strategy and creativity."
In a business where success is judged like baseball pitchers -- on won and lost records -- Squier's 1979 record is an impeccable 7 and 0. And all of his big winners were longshots: John Y. Brown Jr. in Kentucky, William Winter in Mississippi and Louis Lambert, who finished a surprising second place in Louisiana's primary and now faces a general election Dec. 8. In addition, Squier had two big southern winners in 1978, Robert Graham in the Florida governor's race, and Sen. Howell Heflin in Alabama.
When you ask people about Bob Squier, they tell you he is part hustler, part political operator, who has weathered his share of defeats. He is clever, glib and likable. He is tough and competitive, a man willing to go for the jugular.
Squier is also a self-promoter, who enjoys brushing shoulders with the great and would-like-to-be great. He enjoys being a kingmaker -- as long as the kings he makes are Democrats.
He has an active social life and a beautiful young wife (his second) and a fashionable office and home on Capitol Hill.
People who know him say Squier also works hard at what he does and has uncommonly good political instincts. "He's not just an artist with a camera," says one competitor. "He's a genuine political strategist."
"If we've been successful, it's because we stay at it. We work hard at it," he asserts in the Capitol Hill townhouse office that adjoins his home. "I really see a campaign as a long process with a beginning, a mid-point and an end."
It is noon Nov. 6, election day in Mississippi and Kentucky. Gerald Rafshoon is at a film-editing table in the basement reviewing film shot at the White House.
Squier is sitting in a white wicker chair on the third floor, talking to two reporters, one from CBS-TV who intends to follow him to a victory celebration in Mississippi that night. Squier is a sturdy man of medium height with short blond hair. His face handsome in an Alan Ladd sort of way. He looks slightly younger than 45. And with a dark suit, he looks like a successful, harried executive. This day he's wearing blue jeans and a red flannel shirt.
The office is new and freshly painted. The hall walls are lined with campaign posters -- Hubert Humphrey, John Y. Brown, Bob Graham etc. -- and the kind of pictures one finds in a congressional office -- Squier shaking hands with Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. Among them are two Emmy Awards from his days as a documentary film-maker with the old National Educational Television network.
Squier likes to spend a great deal of time with his clients. And he tends to favor challenger races and candidates with a slightly liberal reputation.
"The way we work is to first pick a good candidate -- someone you can make into the good guy in the race," he says."We try to find out what the candidate's strong points are in terms of answers to polling questions and our ability to communicate them. If we have any real talent, it is translating what is good about a candidate onto television . . . What I like to do is put a camera on a candidate and see what happens."
Squire's current reputation is in taking little-known candidates and making them into something they aren't.
"There are six or seven or eight people on the national level who do political advertising," he says. "We're all kind of probing in the dark. "We're out there experimenting with what works.
"what sophistication has done is take the snapshot process that is the bread and butter of the business and turn it into a motion picture process in which you present a candidate over time as a complete person," he explains.
His textbook campaign was that of Robert Graham, a liberal state senator from Dade County, who had a penchant for putting audiences to sleep. Graham hired Squier three years before the 1978 Florida governor's race. "We started out with zero name recognition and zero vote," Squier says. "Graham was the perfect candidate. He trusted me and he trusted the new campaign technology. He was willing to sit down at one point in the campaign and write a check for $250,000 to keep us going."
With Graham, Squier concevied a strategy of putting Graham to work in 100 different jobs -- from bellhop to chicken plucker. It was, pure and simple, political gimmickry. And it worked.
Squire also tries to define campaigns in ways that attempt to disqualify the opposition. If he were to do a campaign against Kennedy, for example, he says, "I'd try to make Kennedy into a sweaty candidate as soon as possible."
June 7, 1979. William Winter enters the race for the Mississippi governorship, one day before the filing deadline. Everything seems against him. Five other major Democratic candidates have been campaigning for months, four of them younger men. Winter, a former lieutenant governor, is making his third try for the governor's office. And he has a reputation as an egghead. To make matters worse, he looks more like Ichabod Crane than Robert Redford.
Hart's polls show Lt. Gov. Evelyn Gandy has a huge lead in the race, but there is a strong undercurrent of sentiment against having a woman governor of the Magnolia State. Squier seizes that, and devises a media campaign directed entirely against Grandy, a 58-year-old spinster. He ignores the men in the race.
He films Winter with his wife and daughters. ("My family is one of the strongest assets I have," Winter says in one ad. 'I'd like to have my wife out selling Mississippi, I'd like to have my daughter out selling Mississippi.") He films Winter firing a pistol and talking tough to state police. ("William Winter is no stranger to law enforcement," a background voice says.)
But probably his most ingenious -- and misleading -- series of spots pictures Winter on maneuvers with the National Guard. It is a masculine setting. Tanks, guns and helmets. Winter looks like he is running for commander of the Fifth Army. "The governor is the commander-in-chief of the Mississippi National Guard," a back-ground voice says. We must have a strong National Guard."
The question raised was devastating for Grandy: Would you want a frail, unmarried woman running your government when you could have a tough family man? "Someone told us we'd transformed an egghead into a redneck in six weeks," one Squier associate says.
"Squier didn't try to stage anything. He just caught me talking to people.
I like to think he caught me as I really am," Winter said one night as he flew over southern Mississippi in a small plane.
It's hard to define what sets Squier commercials apart. He makes more of them than almost anyone else. His spots aren't heavy handed or arty.
They are skillfully targeted. While another media adviser may make 18 or 20 spots for a primary and general election. Squier may do more than 70, as he did in Mississippi. He makes ads to play on early morning farm shows, ads with school children to show with afternoon soap operas and ads attacking opponents to show on news programs. He may make one series of commercials to show one week, then turn around and make another series for the following week.
Squier got his first shot on the national scene in 1968 when Lyndon Johnson called him to the White House and asked him to be his television adviser. (He had been woking at the old National Educational Television network as an assistant to the president.) Johnson withdrew from the race two days later, but Squier stayed on with the Hubert Humphrey campaign.
It was back in 1956, when Squier, then a student at the University of Minnesota, did his first TV campaign for Orville Freeman, the Minnesota governor and later secretary of agricultue. "At that time it was appropriate to have a college kid do television because it wasn't considered important," he recalls.
Since then, he's worked for big winners and big losers. He's won with former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel (his first term), Rep. Gladys Spellman (D-Md.), Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) and Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm.
He's lost with Howard Samuels, who wanted to be governor of New York, Sen. Edmund Muskie, who wanted to be president, and Robert Moretti, who was defeated on his way to the California governor's office by a young upstart named Jerry Brown.
Not everyone like Squier' ads. New York Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo, for instance, hired Gerald Rafshoon and Squier during his campaign for mayor of New York. "They tried to make me look like an ethnic peanut farmer," he complains. 'I quit watching television when my daughter said I looked better on radio.
"They didn't portray me as I really am," he says. "Maybe if they would have I would have lost even worse. You have to remember I was the guy who was against capital punishment in the year of Son of Sam. I was the wrong candidate for the wrong time."
Cuomo says he likes Squier. Most politicans do. The big complaint about Squier is that as his success has increased, the qulaity of his candidates has decreased.
Oct. 17, 1979. Squier is on his way to meet his best know candidate of the year, John Y. Brown Jr., the Kentucky Fried Chicken king.
Brown's upset win in Kentucky's spring Democratic primary was a victory of campaign technology -- sophisticated polling, phone banks and TV ads. Brown was an ideal television candidate. He was handsome, glib, and, best of all, filthy rich. He and his new bride, former Miss America Phyllis George, were celebrities. Squier capitalized on this, filming crowds flocking around George for autographs. He also put the pair in a series of 30-minute informal shows.
They were tremendous hits. They made Brown and George appear warm, sincere and down to earth, anti-politican politicians. But there was still the question whether they were too glamorous.
So Squier filmed them both in a coal mine. "It was a brilliant stroke. He put hair on John Y.'s chest with that one," says Robert Goodman, who made ads for Brown's GOP opponent, former governor Louis B. Nunn.
It was in the closing days of the campaign and Brown was far ahead in the polls. Squier was on his way to the first of two debates between the candidates. Nunn had been charging Brown with hobnobbing with book-makers and drug smugglers and questioning his gambling habits. But it wasn't working. "Nunn make John Connally look like a choir boy," Squier said.
Nunn had prepared for the debate for two days. "Where's the raw meat," he said before the debate. "I'm ready for him."
After carefully checking the lighting and positioning of the cameras, Squier conferred briefly with Brown, then retired to an adjoining room to watch the debate on television with Phyllis George.
Nunn came on hard. But he looked sweaty and ill at ease, another Richard Nixon on a bad night.
He accused Brown of being a jet setter and big-time gambler. He said he couldn't imagine why he and his wife slipped away from the campaign one night to attend a Broadway cast party to Xenon, a New York disco.
At that, George stood up and flipped her hip at the television screen. "But Louie, I'm a Miss America," she said.
Nunn said he'd never been to a New York disco. George glared at the screen with a childish whine: "That's because you weren't invited -- nah-nah-nah-nah-nah."
Brown slaughtered Nunn in the debate. He was cool, precise and sincere looking.
Brown that night went back to his room at the Lexington Hyatt Regency and watched the reruns of the debate for hours. He liked the image the image-maker had made of him. And he was beginning to believe it.