Michelangelo is said to have once said modestly that he did not so much create great sculpture as uncover immortal artworks hidden in the marble blocks he carved. Similarly, the political consultants of modern America would have us believe that they do not so much create winning candidates as unveil great men waiting to be found. Meet the media artists of the Virginia gubernatorial campaign:
Robert Squier for the Democrats -- instinctual, quick of tongue, subject to brilliant flashes of imagination. He is credited with helping elect Jimmy Carter, Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and governors in Mississippi, Florida and Kentucky, and loves nothing more than the come-from-behind campaigns of underdogs.
Doug Bailey for the Republicans -- intellectual, methodical, a believer in detailed planning and meticulous editing. He was the media adviser to Gerald Ford and nearly a dozen Republican candidates for governor, and is known for developing "soup to nuts" campaign books that, among other things, advise workers to carry Polaroid cameras for times when voters want autographed pictures of themselves with the candidate.
For several months now, these two men have been carefully planning the multimillion dollar media campaigns for Democrat Charles S. Robb and Republican J. Marshall Coleman. They have spent long hours studying poll results, conferring with the state's political savants, searching for the qualities in their candidates they hope to make magical on television. And before it is over, they will spend many more hours in their Washington editing rooms, carefully selecting from the tens of thousands of feet of campaign film the few hundred that could make the difference in the contest for Virginia's highest office.
What follows is a look at how Squier and Bailey operate.
Long before Chuck Robb and Marshall Coleman announced for governor earlier this year, they began casting about the nation's tight political circles for the political consultants best qualified to put their images before Virginia voters. It was no surprise that they settled on Bob Squier and Doug Bailey, who had joined the ranks of media stardom during the 1976 presidential campaign.
Neither Squier nor Bailey had ever worked in a statewide Virginia race, but both lived in Virginia: Bailey in McLean and Squier in the Blue Ridge foothills of Clarke County. And both were readily available for work in this off-year when only two of the 50 states featured gubernatorial campaigns. As one of their colleagues put it, in a year like that "they'd be ready for city council races in Des Moines."
And ready they were. Bailey, the more methodical of the two, got right to work last November, when he and his staff began interviewing the state's top Republican political figures as well as Coleman, his wife Nicki and some of the candidate's avowed enemies. Bailey says it was his traditional beginning -- "living, in effect from day to day with that candidate, until we get a comfortable feeling for who he really is and what he's really like" and "trying to get a kind of seat of the pants feel for the politics of the state . . . what will sell and what will not sell."
The result was a 264-page campaign "bible," a strategy manual outlining Coleman's campaign through Election Day, complete with cash-flow charts, detailed plans for buying television time and the concepts of the Coleman image.
Squier, known better for his instincts than his method, interviewed Democratic leaders as well as Robb's advisers before writing his 20-page memo on the campaign media strategy. "I've had the advantage of living in the Shenandoah Valley. If you live in a place you have a feeling about it that's different from someplace you're traveling to."
Both media wizards quickly found that their candidates had ideas of their own about what they would and would not do to win the governorship. Coleman and Bailey had no problem agreeing on the imagistic and moral terms of their work together. With Squier and Robb, there was a bit more negotiating. Explained Dave Doak, Robb's campaign manager: "Chuck is not the kind of guy that's going to let some media guy come down and package him. He packages the media man."
To a large extent, of course, the battle lines for this personality campaign had already been drawn by the time Robb and Coleman announced their candidacies in April.
The Coleman and Bailey plan would depend on several factors viewed as distinct advantages for Coleman: his service in the state legislature, the more advanced Republican organization, a decade of Republican governors and the Ronald Reagan presidency. "Our theory . . . was that Coleman had one distinct disadvantage in this race. Only one. And that was Robb's name identification . . . . If you went into the campaign from Labor Day roughly even in name identification, Marshall would win."
The Robb and Squier plan, meanwhile, would try to paint the opponent as an unpredictable and immature challenger, with Robb coming off as the man tested in war and firm in his convictions. "I sense in Coleman a man who is very transactional," says Squier, "that he wouldn't know exactly what he would do until he found himself in a situation . . . I think Robb is the kind of man who has a set of things that guide him and you could predict what he would do."
Both campaigns would turn to the Virginia sense of tradition for their point of departure, the sense that politicking in The Old Dominion has not changed since the days of Thomas Jefferson. "It is a place steeped in tradition and pride in history," says Bailey. "All candidates and all things that happen are somehow viewed by Virginians from that perspective." Therefore:
Coleman's slogan: Keep a Good Thing Going.
Robb's slogan: For a Virginia Future Worthy of Her Past.
In the next two months, Squier and Bailey will earn their salaries, for without saying what Robb or Coleman would do as governor, they will make Virginians feel that one of them is the better man for the job. It is a battle for people's emotions, fought with the techniques of subliminal persuasion for which television is suited so well.
In his first five-minute film, Virginians will see Charles Robb not as the White House Marine where he became famous, but as the combat soldier in Vietnam, commanding his troops while machine guns chatter in the background and helicopters fly overhead. Although campaign officials insist that the film was already made before Coleman's record as an "average" Marine was known, the Robb campaign was quick to inform the press once it got a copy of it.
"Don't get me talking about this," fumes Bailey, who barely mentions Coleman's service in his own film. "I'm liable to get very angry. It used to be true that an "average" Marine was the definition of an American hero . . . We think that's a little irrelevant."
But the Robb campaign is happy to draw the contrast, drawing strength from Coleman's apparent weakness. Squier has used the technique before with huge success.
In the Mississippi governor's campaign of 1979, Squier's candidate was William Winter, a former lieutenant governor who was considered a loser, having lost two previous bids for the state's highest office. The front runner in the Democratic primary was a woman who was 15 points ahead. The problem was getting Winter into a runoff with her without running a negative campaign. "You can't attack a woman in Mississippi," says one of Winter's aides. "It would be political suicide."
Instead, Squier sent Winter out on maneuvers with the National Guard, setting him against a backdrop of rumbling tanks and chattering machine guns while his opponent, Evelyn Gandy, was seen in her ads on a picnic spread surrounded by children. "The Toughest Job in Mississippi," was the slogan (a phrase Squier uses in the Robb film.) The ad was so successful it dropped Winter's opponent eight points in three days and had to be taken off the air to assure that she would still be around for the runoff.
Similarly, the Coleman ad plays heavily on the Mountain Republican's childhood in the Shenandoah Valley, pointing up the fact that Robb grew up out of state. Squier is careful, however, to show Robb at his announcement rally introducing the marching band from Mount Vernon High where he went to school.
Early on, Robb established the guidelines for his campaign. He would not condescend to tricks of any kind. "He's not going to pose in artificial situations," said Doak. "He detests gimmickry and he just won't do it." A part, says Doak, of Robb's "mature image."
But in the Coleman ads, viewers will see the kind of campaigning Robb refused to do, a kind of campaigning that could, if successful, set a new style for Virginia politics.
It is called "Workdays," and, strangely enough, it was Robb's consultant, Squier, who invented it to help elect an unknown state legislator governor of Florida a few years back. Late last year, Coleman took a look at what Squier had done in Florida and decided to work one day each week at a common man job around the state. What voters will see are still photos of Coleman on the job in coal mines, construction sites and factories, explaining how much he has learned about the problems of everyday Virginians. And Marshall Coleman, as his ads repeatedly say, "has had to work for everything he's ever gotten."
While Coleman campaign officials say he "jumped at the chance," the candidate was determined he would do it differently than it had been done before. He refused to have his workdays publicized. At first he wasn't sure he really wanted to do it, that he did not want to "get locked into it because somebody had discovered it or that he had made some public committment to do it," Bailey said.
Coleman, apparently concerned about the "gimmickry" tradition-bound Virginians might see in the ads also refused to be filmed while he was working, and picked jobs that visually are not very interesting. "Of course I wanted to film him," says Bailey, who would have preferred to have had Coleman haul trash or climb steel girders rather than teach school or stack books in a bookstore. "He insisted on the jobs and most of them have no visual attractions at all."
Still, this portion of the five-minute ad bears a strong resemblance to Bailey's campaign for Lamar Alexander in the Tennessee governor's race of 1979, where he took a pin-striped Nashville lawyer who had been trounced trying to get the job four years before, dressed him in a red plaid Levi Strauss shirt and sent him walking across the state and into the governor's mansion. In the end Bailey wove a story around the walk, drawing from the candidate's memories and those of the people he met along the way.
"I look at Lamar Alexander and think he's real close to the people," says one man in those ads. In the Coleman ad, a tobacco farmer tugs at a tobacco leaf and says, "I just couldn't figure what I thought was a city man being out working in the fields so well."
The Coleman campaign is hoping voters will see Robb as a candidate without the warmth or interest to relate to people in the same way. Robb as "wooden android" is an image Squier has to dispell. One of the ways he does it best is by filming Robb meeting and talking to voters in informal situations.
The days of candidates talking right into the camera are largely over. "When I'm the candidate and you're the viewer sitting in your living room and I'm looking right at you," says Bailey, "I'm a politician trying to convince you of something. It has to get over the credibility barrier to make it's point."
Instead, voters see the traveling pol -- in this case Robb -- talking to people along the campaign trail. "With a film of me talking to somebody else, you are an observer and can sit back and judge me." These shots give the impression of cinema verite or documentary, that this represents the way the candidate is all the time, even though he knows he is paying more than $2,000 a day for the cameras to be there filming him.
"What they want to find are those sort of perfect little moments in a mass of material and put frames around them," says an industry tradesman who has worked closely with both Squier and Bailey. "I've been at these things where you spend three hours and walk away with nothing but a lot of garbage." Indeed, with Robb, much of the film was unusable simply because he stuttered too much.
In the Robb film, the candidate confronts an old man on a Clarke County farm.
Old Man: Four years ago you ran for lieutenant governor. Know what you got, dontcha? Another baby.
Robb (laughing): Wait a minute. A m-m-m-m-minute ago we were just discussin'. Now you've gone to meddlin' . . . But I'll tell ya, she's the cutist thing you ever saw.
Old Man: I'll bet she is. I'll bet you'll have another one before the year's through.
Robb: Now wait a minute.
"Exquisite," says Squier of the exchange. "It certainly says a lot about Chuck, in terms of being an approachable person, about being a person with a sense of decorum, which the guy breaks."
Though Robb puts on his best twangy accent for the encounter, he insists on wearing his tie. While Coleman believes Virginia tradition isn't so strong that a governor can't "roll up his sleeves," Robb "would be in a tie if he were running for governor or not," Doak says. "That's the way he feels most comfortable."
There is a scene in the Robb ad in which his wife Linda sits on the family couch with their 11-year-old daughter Lucinda explaining, interspersed with photographs of Robb in Vietnam, that she was born while her Daddy was away at war. "When you came home from the hospital," she says, "I Scotch Taped a bow, a little yellow ribbon, to your hair because there's an old song, war song, that says, 'In her hair, she wore a yellow ribbon. She wore it for her lover that was far, far away.' "
This might not immediately explain why Robb is qualified to be governor. But in political television, tweeking people's emotions is important.
When Squier went into the 1980 U.S. Senate race in Indiana, incumbent Birch Bayh was fighting for his political life. Despite a 67 percent popularity rating, polls showed that against a hypothetical articulate, conservative Republican, he would lose.
For support, Squier turned to the memory of Bayh's wife Marvella, who had died of cancer the year before. "It was to set a tone," said Bayh's former political director, Bob Blaemire. "We knew there was a lot of sympathy out there for Birch Bayh on the Marvella death . . . You want to put across a positive approach and prick people's emotions . . . So there was always that suggestion of Marvella that was in those ads without ever mentioning Marvella."
Hoosiers saw Bayh autograph a copy of his wife's autobiography, "Marvella." His son, accompanied by a guitar strumming a mournful tune, played a prominent role, reminding viewers of the broken family. And Bayh was heard saying: "Campaigning has always been a family affair for the Bayh family. There's no way it can be the same this year."
Bayh supporters wept when they saw it, even though it wasn't enough to reelect him. In the Virginia campaign, Bailey is playing a similar theme with a Coleman ad that shows the candidate at age 9, the announcer explaining that "his father died when he was 9" and that he "worked at extra jobs to help the family budget."
Two themes emerge consistently in Bailey's advertising: that candidates have to earn the voters' trust and that people have to feel good, both about themselves and the candidate, to vote for his man. In the Gerald Ford campaign song Bailey wrote, a chorus cheers, "I'm feeling good about America." Which was echoed later by a woman saying: "Mr. Ford makes me feel good about America."
The Coleman ads are designed to make Virginians feel good about Virginia, Bailey hoping, of course, that some of that good feeling will rub off on his candidate. Parts of the ads, stock films borrowed from the University of Virginia, feature a veritable travelogue for the state, the images matching the lyrics in Bailey's down-home, bluegrassy theme song.
A hiker reaching the top of Big Stone Gap. Pictures of Mount Vernon. Aerial shots of a sailing ship on the Bay and of the Richmond skyline, pictures of happy people dancing and playing music at the Galax Fiddlers Convention, a basketball player performing a slam-dunk to cheering crowds at U-Va., even a long shot of Coleman and his son Shawn in a hilly meadow outside Galax, reminiscent of the Coca-Cola commercials that invited the world to "sing in harmony."
"We got a good thing goin' and we're gonna keep it goin' from the Blue Ridge to the Bay," the Coleman song chirps. Needless to say, the ad doesn't show the dire poverty of blacks on Virginia's Eastern Shore, nor for that matter, are there many blacks in the ads at all.
"I think a lot of people, the critics, the press, tend to pooh-pooh what I think everybody on the inside of this business understands," says Bailey. "That most elections are decided on the basis of traditional American values. In Virginia, let's call them traditional Virginia values."