NPR logo

Behind The Scenes Of The Presidential Campaigns

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96816032/96818667" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Behind The Scenes Of The Presidential Campaigns

Politics

Behind The Scenes Of The Presidential Campaigns

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96816032/96818667" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Now that Election '08 has finally come to an end and the balloons, banners, buttons have nowhere left to go to but eBay or to the Ken Rudin collection, it's time to say one last farewell to the Obama-McCain showdown. And if you really want the inside scoop, Newsweek Magazine has put together a seven-part in-depth look behind the scenes assembled by a special team of reporters, who were granted year-long access to both the McCain and the Obama campaigns, on the condition that none of their reporting appears until after Election Day. Well, now that story can be told. It's your chance to ask anything you want to know about the campaigns from Reverend Wright to Joe the Plumber.

If you want the back story on the Palin pick, debate prep, the money machine, the infighting or the ground war, our phone number is 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org and the conversation continues on our webpage. You can go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. Later on the opinion page, why white gays failed to persuade blacks to vote against California's gay marriage ban? But first, Daren Briscoe covered the Obama campaign for the Newsweek campaign. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. DAREN BRISCOE (Correspondent, Newsweek): Thank you very much. Nice to be here.

CONAN: Katie Connolly covered the McCain campaign. Good of you to come in too.

Ms. KATIE CONNOLLY (Correspondent, Newsweek): Thank you so much.

CONAN: They're both with us here in Studio 3A. You can read their work in this week's issue of Newsweek Magazine. Katie Connolly, let's start with you. You covered McCain, as I just said. I want to go back to that final town hall meeting in New Hampshire just a week ago which one of his advisers said that the best - his best event in New Hampshire probably ever. But probably also evidence that the candidate in something of a state of denial.

Ms. CONNOLLY: Yeah, in a way, it was a little bit of a sad event for McCain because the polls really weren't going that well for him. It was fairly evident I think to all in the campaign at that stage that they probably weren't going to take it on Tuesday. But New Hampshire has a very special place in John McCain's heart. It was the place that brought his campaigns alive. Both between 2000 and 2008, particularly after his campaign effectively imploded in 2007 - you can read about that in the magazine - but if you recall, you know, in the fall of 2007, people had sort of written John McCain off, and it was really the people of New Hampshire and his dedication to this town hall style of campaigning that really brought him back. And McCain just loves that style. He loves the give and take with the audience. He loves the questions. He's quite confrontational. He's happy to have a debate. He really invites sort of some - he kind of invites the conflict to a certain degree.

So, at Peterborough, it was actually a place that in the 2000 campaign was one of their first events. And they had actually sent out thousands of flyers, and they had to give away free ice cream to get people to this very first event, one of the very first events. And they only ended up getting between 15 and 20 people there and that was back in 1999. So, it was really sort of back to his roots going back to Peterborough and he personally really wanted to go there even though it meant an hour ride from Manchester Airport over to Peterborough. McCain had said to his advisers, look, this is where I want to have it. This is where I want to say goodbye to New Hampshire. So, that's what happened.

CONAN: And at the end of the day, I mean, he leaves the event saying, how we're going to do, how are we going to do in New Hampshire?

Ms. CONNOLLY: Yeah.

CONAN: And his advisers almost can't look at him.

Ms. CONNOLLY: I'm not sure if they can't look at him. But I think that they had such a great night and he enjoyed himself. They had a huge crowd outside, and there was really a buzz on the bus that night. And I think the advisers just didn't want to get into the fact that he'd look like he was going to lose the state. And so, the idea was, you know, well, let's just not talk about it tonight. Let's just, you know, bask in the glory of what this was, and it was a really great event for them.

CONAN: Daren Briscoe, let me bring you in. Ever since the last debate, the Obama camp was worried about overconfidence. And last Tuesday night, was there a moment when finally they could start to breathe easier?

Mr. BRISCOE: Well, you know, I don't know when the campaign is a whole sort of - got that feeling. I do know that I saw David Axelrod the day before.

CONAN: The campaign manager.

Mr. BRISCOE: Sure. And I saw him on a baseball field in Florida - in Sunrise, Florida and I walked up to him, and Axelrod is famous for being sort of pessimistic and the guy who's always willing to see the sort of the dark side of things. And I walked up to him and I noticed a couple of things. Number one, he had looked for most of the campaign as if he were walking around with a 40-pound backpack on his shoulders, as sort of weighed down by everything that he was dealing with.

And number two, Axelrod has never been that spiffy of a dresser. He's a very sort of regular guy in his dress, typically khakis and kind of hiking boots and maybe a college shirt. But he was dressed, you know, particularly nice, I noticed especially that he had some new shoes on, some nice - looked like they were hand-stitched leather shoes. And I walked up to him and said, David how are you feeling? And he said, you know, I'm feeling pretty good here. I can - I'm sniffing the finish line. And for Axelrod, that was, you know the equivalent of jumping up and down, you know, doing cartwheels. I thought it's a pretty revealing moment.

CONAN: On election night itself, it seemed to be Ohio that swung the deal.

Mr. BRISCOE: I do think Ohio once - you know, I was told by one of their close friends who was with - in a suite at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago that they were - there was a group of friends and advisers gathered in this room kind of watching the returns, and the Obamas had gone home for a little while to spend, you know, steal a few moments at home. And they were, you know, just going back and forth with every twist and turn in the results and didn't know what was going to happen obviously. And I think when Ohio came in, this sort of feeling swept to the room and they thought, you know, finally we've got it. And I think not long after that, Michelle came into the room and this great cheer just went up in the room, everyone sort of went up and started hugging her. So, I think, you know, they felt then that they had it in the bag, I believe.

CONAN: We are going to talk more with Daren Briscoe and Katie Connolly. But we want to give you guys the chance to ask your questions too. Anything you wanted to know about campaign '08 but were afraid to ask, give us a call, 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. And Ken is on the line. Ken calling us from Phoenix Arizona.

KEN (Caller): Hi, there. Thank you very much for taking my phone call.

CONAN: Go ahead please.

KEN: Hey, I have heard reports to the effect that Governor Palin was none too friendly with some of the McCain staff. Also, the shopping spree for the clothes. I wonder if you could just shed a little light on that because I don't know if some of it is kind of convoluted or if there's any truth to that whatsoever. But we've heard reports to that effect and I'll just take your comment.

CONAN: An outraged indignation from Governor Palin's aides. But Katie Connolly.

Ms. CONNOLLY: Yeah, I mean, I think in the days after the election, some of this tenseness between the McCain and Palin campaigns has become a little overblown in the media. I mean, we like a good conflict story and I think it's probably a little exaggerated. But certainly, towards the end of the campaign, there were some real tensions, part of it was over the clothing that she had reportedly - well, aides in the McCain campaign had learned very late in the piece that she'd actually spent a lot more than they thought, and that some of the clothes that she'd bought had been for her husband Todd and some of it for her children, and these are large amounts. I mean, we're talking somewhere between 20 and $40,000 and I think that that really upset campaign aides.

At the end of what was a very long, very difficult campaign, to think that this person that had gone out and publicly said that she wasn't going to order clothes anymore and what have you and they were just brought to her room, that they learned that, you know, up until a week maybe a bit longer after she'd given that speech that she was still ordering clothes. So, there were certainly some frustrations there. But at the beginning, when she was first joined the ticket, I mean, she was a great addition to the ticket, really energized the base and she energized McCain. She was a very good advocate for McCain. She was able to tell his story better than he was himself at times. And so, I think she was a very, very welcome addition at first. But, you know, here's this woman, she's kind of headstrong. She's known for like taking the fight and making it her own. It's hardly surprising that she didn't like being told what to do. It's hardly surprising that this person didn't want - you know, she's a maverick. She's going to do mavericky things, that's her shtick. So.

CONAN: Yet you reported one item of tension was that Todd Palin, her husband, was apparently calling big Republican donors in the State of Alaska saying, hold your - keep your powder dry until 2012.

Ms. CONNOLLY: Yeah. And that's something that McCain aides heard rumors of sort of late in the week prior to the election and that really upset them. I think the other thing that upset them because it was embarrassing was this phone call from a Canadian radio station.

CONAN: The prank call pretending to be Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ms. CONNOLLY: And that was just really embarrassing for the campaign particularly after she'd had a couple of embarrassing performances with Katie Couric and some of the interviews hadn't gone so well. They were very frustrated that her aids would let something like that happen and the lines of communication clearly were not very good between the Palin and McCain camps for that to even happen.

CONAN: Let's get Christian(ph) on the line. Christian with us from East Lansing in Michigan.

CHRISTIAN (Caller): Hi there. I'm thinking about the Biden pick and at the time of the pick, it was characterized by the media as a conventional safe bet in part because it was endorsed by people like the Clintons. However, Biden didn't really offer some of the things that other vice-presidential picks are described offering. Another region of the country, a large number of electoral votes associated with their state and I was wondering within the Obama campaign, did people really think of it as a safe traditional pick for a vice president? Or did they think of it as something non-traditional and really just looking for a person that's qualified or maybe even taking a risk to get for a candidate that they liked?

CONAN: Daren Briscoe?

Mr. BRISCOE: Well, I do think, one way to look at it is as a somewhat non-conventional pick in so far as, typically, you hear presidential candidates or often, you hear for presidential candidates banding about names of potential picks based on the kinds of things you have mentioned that helped them in a certain part of the country. They will bring in maybe a couple of electoral votes here or there. I think that Obama was much more interested in picking someone who he thought would be able to help him govern.

Now, obviously, Biden did bring some particular strengths to the ticket in areas where Obama had been consistently criticized. Biden has been chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has decades of experience in Washington. And so that's an obvious sort of strengthening of an area where Obama again had some potential weaknesses. But again, I don't that he took it, I don't think he made this sort of tactical pick that you often see presidents do where its, maybe this guy can help me win a state here. I think it was a decision that was much more made in mind with this sort of long term. I'm going to have to run the country, who will be best? Who do I want next to me to help me run the country?

CONAN: There is a point in which though you say Senator Obama never seriously considered Senator Clinton as a vice presidential running mate, but every time they had the conversation, he would ask again and again what about Hillary Clinton?

Mr. BRISCOE: Right well, what I think what that does is sort of illustrate the committed pragmatism that I think Senator Obama or President-elect Obama has demonstrated throughout the campaign. I think it's pretty plain that there was a lot of animosity between the two camps that developed over the course of the primary season. And there were no small number of people in Obama world who the last thing they wanted to see was Clinton put on the ticket. There was a lot of worry about her own ambition. There was a lot of worry about Bill Clinton and what he might or might not do to hurt an Obama candidacy or an Obama presidency. But, you know, here again, Obama is saying repeatedly, I we sure this is not the right pick because Senator Clinton has a lot of strength that also would have helped Obama not just in campaigning but also governing. So he wanted to be sure despite the bad feelings, despite everyone thinking or many people thinking that it was a bad thing that they'd fully consider.

CONAN: And an interesting thing that was also reported in the Newsweek article, the long Newsweek article that among those who did not want to see Hillary Clinton on the ticket was the McCain campaign. Anyway, we'll have more with reporters Daren Briscoe and Katie Connolly, two of the Newsweek reporters who were - well didn't report for a whole year because they were reporting on a whole campaign. They couldn't reveal what they'd learned until after the elections. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. After two years, most of us feel like we know every detail of the candidates' lives and the campaign history. But we didn't get to see much during the campaign was who John McCain and Barack Obama really were behind the scenes and what the discussions with them and their top aids were really about. Daren Briscoe and Katie Connolly are two of the Newsweek reporters who spent a year following the candidates in exchange for their remarkable access. They agreed not to publish until after the election.

Daren Briscoe covered the Obama campaign. Katie Connolly was with the McCain campaign. To read the entire Newsweek series, you'll find a link on our blog, that's npr.org/blogofthenation. And this is your chance to ask anything you want to know about the campaign, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. Let's go to Gary. Gary with us from Memphis in Tennessee.

GARY (Caller): Thank you, Neal. It's a great show today.

CONAN: Go ahead. Thanks.

GARY: My question is about not necessarily to your guests to you today because I understand they held off their reviewing of their reports till after the campaign was over. But I question the journalistic ethics of reporting on these things going on in the McCain-Palin situation without revealing who the sources are because for all we know, many of those things reported about Sarah Palin could possibly have been pure slander for all we know. How can we trust what was said? I mean, they claim she didn't know Africa was a continent and not a country, that's just sounds so ridiculous.

CONAN: That's not in the Newsweek story, I don't think. But Katie?

Ms. CONNOLLY: Yes, certainly there are some things that are reported by Carl Cameron from Fox about her knowledge of the world which are a little damning now, from anonymous sources. But the things in the Newsweek article that are from anonymous sources were confirmed by several sources, and we also went to the Palin campaign for comment and that was included in our piece as well. So we feel that we have actually jumped through the right hoops and all that sort of stuff to actually make sure that what we reported is accurate.

GARY: It just seems like these people that we so undisciplined in the McCain-Palin camps that they couldn't keep it within their own camps without letting it out to the press. These people were so unprofessional with what they do. They deserved to be revealed so that they don't ever have another job like this again.

CONAN: And also, I mean, after the campaign is over, is anonymity still extended to people who call her a whack job?

Ms. CONNOLLY: Well, if these people want careers in the Republican Party - and she's going to be a future leader of the Republican Party, I'm sure that there's - people will want to keep their heads down. And I think that the McCain actually, throughout the whole time, it was characterized by being a fairly leaky campaign. It was a source or frustration, I know, to people like Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt that there's very little that could go on in that campaign that wasn't on the Politico or the Atlantic blog within minutes or days or you know, it was a characteristically leaky campaign and I think that that's something that Republicans have to think about in the future when confronting something like the Obama ticket which was incredibly disciplined and incredibly media-savvy in that sense.

CONAN: Gary, thanks very much.

GARY: Thank you.

CONAN: And let me ask, the New York Times was excoriated by the McCain campaign for reporting that in fact, Sarah Palin was a last-second pick, that John McCain wanted Joe Lieberman all along and the reason that Sarah Palin wasn't vetted properly or extensively was in fact that she was not chosen till shortly before the Republican Convention after people talked McCain out of selecting Joe Lieberman. Did that story turned out to be right?

Ms. CONNOLLY: That fits exactly with my reporting. I mean, certainly, Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt had kept an eye on Sarah Palin for several months. She was someone they had personally identified. But Senator McCain really wanted to have his friend and political ally, Senator Lieberman, on the ticket. Even as late, my reporting tells me as the Wednesday night, she was picked on the Thursday and announced on the Friday. Even as late as the Wednesday night, John McCain hadn't decided and was on the phone with Senator Lieberman that evening.

The campaign was having daily meetings about a roll-out strategy for, if he had decided on Lieberman, how they would reach out to Christian conservatives and social conservatives right up until that Wednesday. So he was very seriously considered, and I think that they decided - the choice became could we heal the Republican Party in the two short months between the convention and the election knowing that a lot of the conservative base would react very strongly to a pro-choice candidate like Senator Lieberman.

CONAN: Let's get Erica on the line. Erica with us from West Hartford in Connecticut.

ERICA (Caller): Hi. I'd like to know if there's one visionary person producer who is behind those big Obama events. I'm thinking of the acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention and then the Grant Park acceptance of the presidency of the United States. I just found them amazing. I found them better than the Olympics, better than anything I've seen, an interesting mix of grandeur and humility at the same time. I'll take my answer off the air.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Erica.

Mr. BRISCOE: That's a really interesting question. It's not one that I have and absolutely an answer to. I don't know that there is one person who is behind those productions. I do know that there was fair amount both at the convention and at Grant Park of sort of tailoring and tinkering with the presentation so as not to seem that they weren't over doing things and Senator Obama, ever since his trip overseas to Europe had been fighting against this character of him that the McCain camp was painting as this empty celebrity. And so, I do know that they scaled back somewhat at the convention some of the things that they had with the columns that you saw. The show that you saw was not quite as elaborate as the one that they'd originally come up with. But I don't have a name for one person who is behind. I don't think that there was a single person. I think it was more of a collaborative effort.

CONAN: Let's go to David. David with us from Birmingham in Alabama.

DAVID (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my phone call. My question is regards to the McCain campaign's decision to shut down its campaign and return to Washington DC after the economy turned south. To what extent was McCain's advisers pushing him to do that and also, how was he actually dealing with the economy in that time that he was back in Washington?

CONAN: That would be, I guess, to you, Katie Connolly.

Ms. CONNOLLY: Well certainly. He was in New York preparing for the debate - you recall the debate was that Friday and he suspended his campaign a couple of days before that when they made that decision. And my reporting tells me that he was certainly advised by key people in his campaign that that was the right thing to do but he also felt like he had bad options. He had Harry Reid saying that he needed to take a position on this bill. They were getting a word from friends on Capitol Hill that possibly, only four House Republicans were going to support the Bailout package. And people were calling for his leadership. So he felt that if he stayed aloof from the process, that he would be blamed for its failure.

DAVID: Thank you very much.

Ms. CONNOLLY: And if he tried to offer a different bill, then that would just be killed also by the Democrats because that would be seen as political maneuver. So McCain himself didn't see it as a stunt, I believe. I believe that McCain actually thought that this is his really only good option to go back to DC and try and work his connections on Capitol Hill. I think his advisers saw the political opportunity for that and had hoped that it would actually play very well, they had hoped that that would be able to take credit for this huge leadership move.

Obviously, when he got back to Capitol Hill, his help was not wanted. In fact, he became sort of a distraction to the process rather than an aid to the process. I think that surprised Senator McCain, and I think it surprised his advisers. And I think that the Democrats are quite savvy in how they operated during that period to sort of marginalize McCain's involvement and make him look like a bit of a fool for doing it.

CONAN: And Daren Briscoe, though they worried initially that they've been wrong-footed, that they've been caught by surprise by Senator McCain's move.

Mr. BRISCOE: By the suspension of his campaign you're talking about?

CONAN: Yes.

Mr. BRISCOE: Well, I think that that was a little bit of concern about how it ultimately play out but my reporting is that when - there had been this phone call between Senators Obama and McCain earlier that same day, where they were trying to work out this joint statement on the economy. And they got off the phone, Senator Obama was waiting for a return call from Senator McCain. And there was a long gap, I think it was about six hours, where he did not get this. He was waiting for this call back from Senator McCain and it did not come.

And then, I think the next thing that they knew, Obama had given a rally in Florida that day and he was on his way back to the hotel and the next thing they knew, Senator McCain was announcing the suspension of his campaign. So it definitely caught them by surprise but there was a lot of skepticism inside the Obama campaign from the very outset that number one, they were skeptical of Senator McCain. They didn't think that he was actually going to spend the campaign. And number two, Senator Obama was particularly skeptical.

CONAN: He didn't cancel the hotel room to give an example.

Mr. BRISCOE: Exactly. And Senator Obama was also skeptical that going back to Obama to Washington won't accomplish anything. This is one of his big concerns. He thought that it would be an intrusion in politics into this huge mess.

CONAN: Katie?

Mr. BRISCOE: Yeah. I think one other thing is that it kind of speaks to McCain's character and his sort of impulsive nature, this idea of being the man in the arena is the phrase that he really likes. He wanted to come back to DC because he loves being in the thick of the action. He likes to be surrounded by that and I think it was really sort of a gut instinctive move for him. And of course, I have to go back. Of course, I have to be involved with this. I'm a United States senator, and he doesn't necessarily always - somebody described it as a blind spot in his thinking to me that he doesn't always think about other people's reactions to how he acts. And so although he thought he was doing the right thing, I don't think Senator McCain thought through fully how other people would react to that decision that he had. It just appealed to his romantic streak.

CONAN: Yes. Go ahead, Daren.

Mr. BRISCOE: I just wanted to add one thing that this period here is a really crucial one obviously for the Obama campaign and I'm told by his aides that it was one of his most engaged points in the campaign. He's very much a delegator all throughout the campaign and very much comfortable with having people who he designates to take care of this or that. But here was an instance where he was personally working the phone, calling Secretary Paulson, calling leadership on the Hill and very much sort of taking the reins because the campaign - you know this was - this did come out (unintelligible) and there wasn't unanimity about how to approach it or how to deal with it. So again, he was very involved but very leery of going to DC and making a public spectacle out of it.

Mr. BRISCOE: An email question from Bob in Mountain View, and I think that's in Idaho. Did his grandmother - then Senator Obama's grandmother know that the polls were not in aberration on the Sunday she last met with him and that he was going to win?

Mr. BRISCOE: You know I don't know anything about their meeting other than that they had - and this is obviously a very personal moment and the senator was determined to have some private time with his grandmother before she did pass away. So I know nothing about whatever conversations they did have.

Mr. BRISCOE: And this email from Laura. How much input, if any, did Michelle Obama have in the strategy of the campaign?

Mr. BRISCOE: You know Michelle Obama has from the outset had a very sort of a well-defined role that expanded a little bit over the course of the campaign in that she started doing more events once people saw how good she was with crowds and on the stump. But she has been very much sort of hands off. She has shown very little interest in being a sort of a player in either in the campaign and I think she's already sat in the White House. She has no intention of sort of being the second commander-in-chief. She has been almost completely dedicated to raising the girls, to trying to keep their Sasha and Malia, their two daughters, to trying to keep their existence and their lives as close to normal as possible and again has not shown a lot of interest in strategizing behind the scenes and that sort of thing.

CONAN: And one more Obama email here from Grass Valley in California and Jack. Why didn't the Obama campaign agree to this series of town hall meetings proposed by Senator McCain? It seemed like he would have been able to ad lib much better than McCain.

Mr. BRISCOE: Well you know that's debatable. I do think at the time they were offered - this was before the final round of debates between Senators Obama and McCain. And earlier in the race, Obama had been criticized for his debate performances. People thought he was too tentative. He was too professorial. He was 'uhh-ming' and 'ohhing' too much and that sort of thing. Obviously, town halls are a format that have long been considered a strength of Senator McCain's and the Obama campaign didn't reject the offer out of hand.

What they did was kind of counter propose and say - well, I think the McCain campaign camp proposed 10 town halls and I think the Obama campaign came back and said, well why don't we do - I think it was three or four that they suggested, partly because they didn't want to just exceed completely to what McCain was suggesting. I guess as a politician, you never just want to take your opponent's offer because then he can say, well, you have to follow my lead. You don't know what you're doing, but also because they had a schedule mapped out. A campaign schedule, states they needed to hit areas that they needed to focus on, and I think they didn't want to just abandon that at the mere suggestion of the McCain campaign. So they counter offered.

CONAN: If they were also ahead - and if you're ahead, you don't necessarily want to share the stage with your opponent.

Mr. BRISCOE: Sure. But my point is that I think Senator Obama was generally intrigued by the idea. It wasn't that he just said, no way, we're doing this. It was OK. Well, this is interesting. Let's see how we can work it out and they came back. And I think one of the other things that they had proposed was sort of a more Lincoln-Douglas format where they would have longer exchanges because Senator Obama's aware that he's not best at the sound bite answers, not best at the sort of quick hit answers.

CONAN: We're talking with Newsweek reporters Daren Briscoe and Katie Connolly in exchange for extraordinary access to both campaigns they agreed not to publish until after the election. Well, you can find some of their results on the news stands in this week's issue of Newsweek. You're listening to Talk Of The Nation from NPR News. And let's go to Lee. And Lee is with us from Oakland, California.

LIA (Caller): Hi, it's Lia(ph).

CONAN: Lia, I apologize.

LIA: That's OK. So I'm really interested in sort of a gossipy thing. And is it true that in the McCain camp, there was someone crying pretty much everyday out of frustration or anger or being embarrassed or humiliated by someone in the upper echelons of the campaign?

CONAN: No, I think that was Katie. No, no.

Ms. CONNOLLY: Yeah, I cried a lot. No.

CONAN: Katie Connolly.

Ms. CONNOLLY: Actually, no. I think it was a happier place to work than what is currently being said. Sure - I think there was one event that caused a lot of problems and that was when right before Senator Obama did his overseas trip. The McCain campaign had orchestrated this sort of this counterattack saying that it was a political opportunistic move, and Senator McCain himself had signed off on this attack and they had put Jill Hazelbaker, the communications director, on TV that morning, another adviser had organized people in Capitol Hill to give a statement they had put out the policy memo.

They had this coordinated attack. Obama's doing this for political reasons. And then McCain comes out and says, oh, no. I'm glad he's going to Iraq. You know I'm glad he's doing this. I think he should have gone to Iraq. Don't worry about Jill I'll speak to her. And that caused some tears and that caused some people to not come to work the following day. And that weekend I believe Steve Schmidt had a long conversation with McCain and had said, you know what, if you want to do these sort of things, sure. But if you want to be president of the United States, then you have to stick to the plan.

CONAN: Lia, thanks very much for the phone call.

LIA: Thank you.

CONAN: In a way, any political observer could have said last January 1st before the aisle of caucuses that whoever gets the Democratic nomination given the situation around the country - the unpopularity, the president, the war, even before the economic crisis - more than likely, the Democrat is going to win; more than likely, any Republican that gets the nomination is going to lose. Greater forces than the campaigns were at large in the country. In the end of the day, briefly, what do you think we learned as a result of the process that might have been able to have been predicted all those months ago? Daren?

Mr. BRISCOE: Well, you know, I guess the simple lesson that I think is learned is that probably organization beats disorganization in a political campaign and strategy beats tactics because I think that's one of the main differences we saw in the campaigns. It was a very strategic one in Obama's case and a very tactical one in McCain's case. You know the politics were what they were going to the race obviously but you can't - it's easy now I think to underestimate the challenges that Obama faced at the outside, not just of the campaign against Hillary Clinton but even against McCain who was - if you recall, his stature as sort of an American hero that sort of thing and as an unambiguous American, it was a big advantage against someone like Obama without questions being raised.

CONAN: And Katie Connelly.

Ms. CONNELLY: Well, I think one of the interesting things was you had this incredibly prolonged campaign on the Democratic side which we forget between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

CONAN: No, we don't forget that.

Ms. CONNELLY: We don't forget but it was sort of, it pales in contrast now. So those two were sort of tearing each other apart for months and months and months while McCain was going around the country doing all sorts of speeches and what have you and just struggling to get any sort of real recognition for what he was doing. So I think there was a whole point - someone said to me once campaigns are won and lost between March and June and I think that - perhaps, Senator McCain just fell off the radar in that period.

CONAN: Thank you both very much. I appreciate your time. Great article. This is Daren Briscoe and Katie Connelly of Newsweek magazine. And when we come back, we're going to be hearing an argument that California's white gay community took many black votes for granted and lost Prop. 8. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.