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Campaign Roadblog, 2/15/04

With the primaries as hot as they get, CBS News reporters are out on the road covering the candidates' every move. They'll be sharing their observations, impressions and anecdotes from the campaign trail in our daily Roadblog.


Sun., Feb. 15: Back in early October, when Howard Dean boarded his charter jet for a leg of the whirlwind Generation Dean tour, he was invited by a reporter to join in for a game of Hearts. Dean accepted and joined three reporters at a table on the plane for a casual game of cards. One of the reporters quickly bailed out of the game due to a lack of understanding of the game's nuances; Joe Trippi, still campaign manager at the time, filled in the fourth seat.

The competition was intense with Dean and Trippi seemingly more determined to outdo the other, seemingly more in the spirit of good-natured rivalry than to win the game. The two remaining reporters did their best to keep up but suffered drastic defeat.

Reporters, thinking the casual hangout time with the then front-running Democratic candidate was over as the game concluded, were surprised when Dean offered to teach everyone a new game he liked to play: Oh Hell.

Perhaps you've heard of the game. President Clinton, widely know as a big time Hearts player, in fact also played Oh Hell during his travels. The game quickly became popular among the Dean press corps - the occasional marathon session has helped through many a road trip - and rivalries run intense. The governor has continued to play the game with reporters throughout the months of his campaign; however, as reported in Time, he almost always loses - even though he taught everyone else how to play.

So for all the Deaniacs out there looking for elements of the campaign to hang onto, here is how you play Oh Hell, at least the version played by the staff and press on the Dean campaign:

The number of players can be pretty much anywhere from three to seven, though four or five is the ideal. With five players, begin by dealing out ten cards to each player. This will leave two cards undealt - turn the top card of those remaining to determine the trump suit. Based on the cards in your hand and what suit is trump, you must "bid" on how many "tricks" you expect to win. (Strategy note: it is easier to lose tricks than to win tricks).

The person to the left of the dealer bids first and the dealer bids last. If you make your bid, meaning if you win as many tricks as you bid and no more, you get 10 points plus the number you bid. If you miss your bid by going either over or under, you only get as many points as tricks you take.

Whoever bids highest leads the first trick. To play a round, the person who goes first lays out a card. That card establishes the "lead suit." The Thornell corollary tells us that YOU MUST FOLLOW SUIT IF YOU HAVE THE SUIT. (The Thornell corollary is named after Dean's press secretary Doug Thornell, who often struggles with this rule of the game.)

Each player throws out one card and whoever plays the highest card (aces high) in the suit that was led, takes the trick - unless you are void in the suit that was led, in which case you may play a trump card that beats everything. Should a trump be played on a trick, the highest trump card played wins the trick. Whoever wins the trick leads the next one. (Note: if you are void in the suit led, you may, but do not have to, play a trump card.)

Now, one other side note: the Thornell Theorem states that if you only have one card left on the last trick of the hand, there is nothing to debate. Throw in that one card!!!

The two tricky parts of the game are this:

1. Each hand, one card less is dealt. So if you start with ten cards each, you work your way down to one - and then back up if you have enough time.

2. The number of tricks bid cannot equal the number of tricks available. The last person to bid - the dealer - cannot bid a number of tricks that will make the total bid equal how many cards are dealt that hand. So, yes, every hand, someone is sure not to make bid.

That's it! You are now fully prepared to play Oh Hell. If you are playing with a total of five and one person gets out in front, often the four others will concentrate, maybe even work together, on bringing down the frontrunner. After all, until the person in the lead is knocked off, no one else playing has a chance at winning.

When you get good, try some of the moves that have earned special names on the campaign trail:

The Gold Maneuver - leading with the king of trump and following up with the ace to take the first two tricks.

Doing A Perry - holding the ace of trump for the last trick.

While flying home to Burlington, Vermont, Saturday to see his son's hockey game, Dean again engaged in a game of Oh Hell with members of his press corps. For the first time since October, he won.
--Eric Salzman


Sat. Feb. 14 and Sun. Feb. 15: A warm Saturday morning in Las Vegas greeted the bleary-eyed press. (Bleary-eyed due to late-night gambling that Kerry did not participate in: "I chickened out," said the candidate.) And while the press corps has been subjected to weeks and weeks of sub-freezing temperatures (even in South Carolina), it was the transportation to Milwaukee that provided the most excitement.

The exterior looked like any other 727 on the tarmac at McCarran Airport in Vegas, however, once inside, it was a different world - one more likely to be featured in a profile on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous than in a campaign story on the CBS Evening News.

"You're in the 'middle section,'" the charter director told this reporter, without hinting about the alternate universe I'd soon be entering.

After walking past a couple of first-class rows and a few enclosed seating areas - much like a private cabin on a train - the reporters entered the "middle section," complete with a bar (mimosas, vegetable, fruit and cheese plates), a couch directly across from the bar, and several rows of leather first-class seats.

The lunch menu offered a choice of either chicken marsala or New York strip steak. Entertainment was provided in the form of personal DVD players, complete with a selection of 100 DVDs ranging from "GoodFellas" to "Ice Age" (I chose "Airplane!") Buzz soon started about others said to have used this plane: the Rolling Stones, the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls.

The opulent setting was a far cry from the 737 charter that the campaign has been using since New Hampshire. And apparently it's all a mistake. A staffer explained that the campaign didn't book the 737 in time and now has to, ahem, settle for the extravagant 727 for several days until the 737 is available again.

Prior to the flight out of Vegas, Kerry stopped by a caucus site where he was greeted by a thousand caucus-goers along with Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Shelley Berkley and Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman. Kerry, who Reid said was the only candidate to visit the Silver State, wound up winning big there and in the District of Columbia caucus Saturday, bringing his win total to 14 out of the first 16 contests.

After landing in Milwaukee, Kerry spoke to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's Jefferson-Jackson dinner where he vowed to stand up to attacks from President Bush and the GOP.

"We say to George Bush, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie: You're not going to get away with it this time," Kerry said. At a candidates' debate Sunday at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Kerry continued that theme adding, "I'm prepared to stand up to any attack they come at me with... I'm ready for what they throw at me."

On Sunday morning, Kerry stopped by Miss Katie's Diner in Milwaukee, which features Blatz Beer on tap (!), to greet patrons. Most were interested in speaking with the candidate though one man was quite frank, to Kerry's dismay, when he was asked who he planned on voting for.

"Either Edwards or Dean," the man responded, adding that he felt the nomination process could be stretched out a little longer "so long as it's not so ugly." Kerry then said, "OK" and moved to the next table.

Kerry then spent the day preparing for the Marquette debate, participating in the debate and attending a post-debate party at Flannery's Pub in Milwaukee.

Monday, Kerry will hit Wausau, Wisconsin, with Rep. David Obey and Green Bay with Sen. Ted Kennedy.
--Steve Chaggaris

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. Army (retired)

Tues. Feb. 10: It was during a three-hour drive to Memphis, where the campaign was set to hold its victory rally, that the sun began to set, literally as well as figuratively, on Wesley Clark's candidacy. Early election returns showed Clark was losing decisively to both John Kerry and John Edwards in Virginia, and also placing third in Tennessee.

An early travel schedule issued to the press the day before suggested Clark was set to begin campaigning in Wisconsin the next day for the state's primary the following week. But as Kerry and Edwards' leads grew, those on the press bus began to wonder if and when we would be rerouted to Little Rock, Clark's hometown. Since there was no staff member on the bus, speculation spread down the aisle unchecked.

The motorcade stopped at a Memphis polling site so Clark could shake more hands before idly watching election returns in his hotel room. While greeting the crowd of mostly supporters, the tone of the campaign was noticeably subdued.

"I hope you much success," one woman said as she hugged her candidate.

"Thank you very much," Clark responded, wistfully continuing, "It's what we need, it's what we need."

Clark always maintained a Tennessee victory was important to his campaign, but he never addressed whether or not he had a contingency plan. When asked by a local television reporter if the primary was a "deciding factor," on the premise that returns were unfavorable for a Clark win, he replied, "Well, it might be."

As the traveling press corps tried to get a feeling as to whether or not the campaign could recover from the Tennessee blow, multiple staffers suggested there was no scheduling change, at least not "right now," one stressed. The decision had not been made.

Nor had it been made by the time General Clark came into his "victory" party to a crowd chanting, "Stay, Wes, Stay!" Clark's speech was an ambiguous salute to Tennessee voters and his ideals of America; there was no language indicating he would either stay in the race or pull out.

"We may have lost this battle today, but I'll tell you what. We're not going to lose the battle for America's future. Our goal remains the same – to change the direction of our country and bring a higher standard of leadership to the White House." In hindsight, only in the first "we" was Clark referring to himself.

Clark closed his eight-minute speech through the applause of a mix of volunteers, supporters and teary-eyed staffers. "And we'll leave Tennessee even more full of hope and even more committed to building a better America than when we began this journey five months ago. And that's because of all of you. That's because of your commitment, your determination, your support and your belief that in this United States of America, we can move our country forward. We can do better than George W. Bush, and we must," he said.

When the speech ended, Clark briefly shook hands, telling one of many confused reporters, "We're going to talk about everything tomorrow." When he disappeared behind the curtain, so did his staff. Reporters tried fruitlessly to contact any of the Little Rock staff members who descended on Memphis for Clark's speech. As media deadlines fast approached, it was decided that if the campaign wouldn't come to us for answers we would go to them.

About 20 reporters poured into a Marriott elevator to stake out General Clark's 18th floor hotel room. A staffer peered out to tell the frustrated group that the general was not in the room and that the campaign would send a representative downstairs to the press filing center. When the horde of reporters didn't budge, another staffer broke the group up by giving a more specific answer. Communications director Matt Bennett would address the group in about an hour's time.

Less than ten minutes later, the Associated Press reported that Clark was dropping out of the race. Bennett appeared shortly after that. "It's a very simple announcement: General Clark has decided to leave the race," he said, matter of factly. "He did it after the final results were in for Tennessee and the decision is final, and we're leaving the race."

After a round of questions, Bennett revealed that the general made the decision with his wife and son, calling to inform campaign chairman Eli Segal from a cell phone. The news was still spreading to lower-level staffers as Bennett addressed the press.

Kerry's lead became insurmountable, according to the campaign. "I think the pressure came for a variety of reasons, one was Senator Kerry's momentum in the race, the other was financing, but those are kind of a piece. When your momentum dies, your financing dies with it," Bennett explained.

And although Clark was "disappointed," he was also practical and optimistic. "He's a first-time candidate for any office, and getting in the race in late September – two things that are almost impossible to overcome for anyone. So he was realistic, and I think at the end of the day, proud of what he accomplished," Bennett said.

Early Wednesday morning, Clark and his family slipped past the few remaining members of the traveling press corps onto their bus to make the drive back to Little Rock, where the retired general will officially retire from the race for the Democratic nomination. But don't count on Clark disappearing into the woodwork just yet.

When asked if the former candidate would consider a role as vice-presidential nominee, Bennett responded, "He's neither ruled in or out anything at all. Anything."
--Bonney Kapp


Sat. Feb. 7: On a day that Edwards' main rival John Kerry is hoping to do well in the Michigan and Washington primaries, Senator Edwards spent his day jetting from Tennessee to Wisconsin to Virginia. Since he decided to skip Washington and not focus on Michigan, he's now putting all of his efforts into the February 10th and 17th primary states (Virginia, Tennessee and Wisconsin).

A critical component of Edwards' campaign is that he can do well in the South. Last week he proved that he could win his home state of South Carolina, but with the primaries moving to Virginia and Tennessee, Edwards is not as confident that he will have the same results as S.C. In fact, at a press avail earlier today, Edwards said that this is a long term process and they need to be competitive and place in the top two (but not that he necessarily has to win). He said that this is a war of attrition and they are narrowing the field down to two.

Edwards began his morning at the University of Memphis. As the crowd waited for him to arrive, they were playing the Beatles, Bill Withers and Marc Cohn ("Walking in Memphis"). There was also an Elvis impersonator that was trying to attract a lot of attention, but much to his dismay, the focus this morning was on Edwards and not Elvis.

While the campaign has moved from city-to-city/state-to-state, the stump has more or less remained the same, with the exception of a few tweaks here and there.

For instance, today he talked a little more about health care in Tennessee than he normally does, and he criticized Bush for not having his own proposal for what he'd do about this issue. "Bush leads a sheltered existence and needs to be out in the real world doing what I am doing," said Edwards.

Furthermore, Edwards usually ends his stop by mentioning all of the petty attacks by the other candidates. He constantly says, "If you are looking for the presidential candidate that can do the best job sniping at the other candidates, then you have lots of other choices. That's not me."

Along those lines, this morning he added that the attacks have been as recent as yesterday and voters will continue to hear them. What Edwards was referring to were the attacks by Clark about Edwards' record on support for veterans. He was asked about it again today and Edwards said that he will continue to focus on his positive message.

As for his rivals, Edwards is also asked repeatedly if he plans to attack Kerry. Edwards response is that he will continue to campaign the same way that he has been doing all along - outlining a positive vision for America.

However, he did say that he'd point out the distinctions between his rivals, particularly Kerry and himself. It seems like the media and political analysts are desperately waiting (and in some ways hoping) for him to go negative, but so far he has not strayed far from his original optimistic course of action.

After Virginia and Tennessee, the next big state is Wisconsin. While many of the pundits are characterizing it as a must-win state for one of the candidates, Edwards says that this is also part of the nominating process and not one single state is the end-all be-all. He already has ads up in Wisconsin and plans to put up a big fight there. He says that Wisconsin is "wide open" and he thinks that in the next 10 days more people will begin focusing on the state.

Edwards anticipates that the same thing that happened in other states (I assume he means Iowa in particular), will happen in Wisconsin and the momentum will become even stronger after Tennessee and Virginia (especially if he does well in the Feb. 10th states).

At a stop in Milwaukee this afternoon, Edwards was greeted by hundreds of members of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), a union of 500,000 members nationwide that have endorsed him.

Edwards reminded the crowd that the union stood by him when he ran for the Senate in 1998 and because of them he was able to defeat the Jesse Helms political machine and now he's the senior Senator from North Carolina. He also told the union members that his mother and brother were part of unions and because of that they were able to get health insurance. A common message for Edwards is to remind people that he is one of them and that he understands what they are going through.

Even if Edwards does not win any of these three states, he'll still continue to fight for the nomination. There are several big primaries on March 2nd, and so long as the Edwards camp has enough money (which they keep saying they are in the best financial shape they've ever been in), it seems like he will fight til the very end.

For now, the strategy is to do well in Virginia, Tennessee and Wisconsin and to dwindle it down to a two-man race between Kerry and Edwards. Then the real showdown will begin.
--Alison Schwartz