After nearly everyone had written him off, John Kerry turned a limping campaign into a force that couldn't be beat. Here's How
Enter Michael Whouley. Suddenly it was not just John Norris on the phone to headquarters begging for money, but Michael Whouley saying we need the frigging money and we need it now. And the money came: for phone banks and mail and television and those "signature" items that made Whouley Whouley. Among Kerry's ground troops in Iowa, Dec. 19, 2003, is a day they still talk about, a day that is burned in their psyches and a day they will probably bore young staffers with for decades to come. "December 19," a top Kerry aide in Iowa said, "is the day the field staff got to meet Michael Whouley." The meeting took place in Des Moines's First Unitarian Church, which was appropriate. "To them, Whouley was almost a godlike figure," said the aide. "Norris and I had given the field staff many, many pep talks. But Whouley electrified them. He lit the room on fire with his passion for John Kerry. 'We're not just going to do well,' he told them. 'We're going to win!' "
Because it was Whouley who said it, they believed it. And if there were any lingering doubts as to whether Whouley was truly magical or not, it was settled on the day he decided he wanted a helicopter. A helicopter, Whouley believed, would make Kerry look even more presidential. The public is used to seeing presidents climb in and out of helicopters. Helicopters also reminded people of Vietnam, and anything that reminded people of Vietnam was good for Kerry. So Whouley picked up the phone to Washington and said he wanted a chopper. Whouley's friend and associate at the Dewey Square Group, Joe Ricca, was worried about the cost. The campaign was running on fumes, but Whouley wanted a helicopter. "It sucked up a lot of money," Ricca recalled. "I remember yelling, 'I want the frigging helicopter!' " Whouley recalled.
Whouley got the helicopter, but only after Kerry mortgaged his half-interest in his Boston home for $6.4 million. "The helicopter was a good idea," Whouley said. "It was worth it. I wanted to keep him in that goddamn helicopter." The press loved it, Kerry loved it, and it became a Whouley trademark: the man who could come into a losing and broke campaign, demand a helicopter, and get one.
On January 19, caucus morning, Michael Whouley's phone rang at 6 a.m. "Ahh, Michael," the familiar voice said. "Ahh, Michael, we are going to make history today."
And John Kerry turned out to be right.
Having it...losing it
Joe Trippi could feel it in his bones, smell it in the wind, sense it in his gut: Howard Dean was doomed. It was a burden to see things others could not, but it was a burden Dean's campaign manager was used to. Wasn't he the only one, early on, who said Dean could get the nomination? Wasn't he the only one who saw how the power of the Internet would transform the Dean campaign? But now his insight was less pleasant, and, like Cassandra, Trippi knew nobody would believe him. He may have felt a twinge of anxiety, a palpitation of doubt, a tremor of fear before, but on Sept. 13, 2003, in a muddy, rain-swept field in Indianola, Iowa, the truth could no longer be ignored. Iowa was a catastrophe that had only one solution: Pack up and leave. The event was Tom Harkin's annual steak fry, and everybody except Trippi was feeling great. It was a Woodstock for political junkies, and despite a cold and steady rain, cars were backed up for miles on the two-lane blacktop leading to the field. The big draw wasn't the presidential contenders but Bill Clinton, who, dressed in a work shirt and jeans, managed to sound sincere (a specialty of his) when he told the sodden crowd of 5,000: "I know all these people, and this is the best field of candidates we have put together in decades!" The crowd roared.