Compressed primaries benefit fundraising-savvy candidates, McAuliffe tells Dems

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The recent reordering of several large states’ primary contests will favor candidates who can raise the most money early on, allowing them to compete in the expensive media markets of California, New York and Texas, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe – now chair of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign – told the Brown Democrats Monday.

Roaming the List 120 stage and speaking in a jocular tone, McAuliffe started his talk by describing the beginning of his political career. He told the audience how he started raising money for President Carter’s campaign while he was attending law school at Georgetown University and “living in a big blue house with 20 guys and kegs in the bathtub.”

After leaving law school, McAuliffe became the national finance director of Carter’s campaign when he was 23. The sparse crowd was amused by his story of wrestling “Jumper,” an alligator, for a $15,000 donation for Carter from a Seminole tribe in Florida’s Broward County.

After turning to policy and politics, McAuliffe’s remarks touched on a broad range of issues. He discussed the recent shifts in the primary schedule and advocated a national reconsideration of election procedure.

“After this year, we’ve got to take a real serious look at how we do our primaries,” he said. The change “benefits the candidates which can raise the most money. It used to be these four small states, but now who can play on Feb. 5? Not many,” McAuliffe said. “You might stumble in the first event or two, but now you have no time to recover.”

McAuliffe said he thought neither Carter nor President Clinton would have been nominated had this year’s schedule been in place at the time. He also discussed his initiative that changed the Democratic primary schedule in 2004, the first modification in more than 25 years.

He also discussed Republican campaign tactics he characterized as “tough.” Describing various disinformation and intimidation tactics attributed to Republicans in recent elections, McAuliffe argued, “You don’t sink to their level, but you can’t let one attack go undefended in this business. With Fox News and 24-hour cable, if something is said enough times, it becomes true. … I’m a strong believer that when you get hit, you need to hit back harder. Folks, when they come after you on patriotism, the American public wants you to hit back.”

McAuliffe repeatedly called for Democrats to develop a “noise machine” to match conservative talk radio and Fox News Channel.

The Brown Dems and Students for Hillary initially co-sponsored the event, but the University required that the latter group pull its sponsorship because it was construed as a political endorsement. University policy prohibits political campaigning on campus due to Internal Revenue Service tax regulations concerning Brown’s nonprofit status.

“Originally, Students for Hillary was sponsoring the event,” said Craig Auster ’08, head of Students for Hillary at Brown and former vice president of the Brown Democrats. “(McAuliffe) was coming as a favor to help get publicity for the group, and the Brown Democrats were co-sponsoring it because it is a Category III group.”

The event’s organizers disputed the argument that the speech was a political event. They told The Herald the event was not an endorsement of Clinton’s presidential campaign by the Brown Democrats.

“Having this lecture is good for politics at Brown because it’s important to be able to have these kinds of political discussions, and I hope in the future we’ll be sponsoring events with other candidates as well,” said Brown Dems Vice President Adam Axler ’08, who also serves as the Rhode Island state director of Students for Barack Obama and interim chair of the Brown chapter. “I think that just bringing someone involved with a campaign to campus isn’t the Dems endorsing somebody, but it’s endorsing this sort of political discussion.”

Auster said the groups informed the Student Activities Office of the lecture last Monday but didn’t get a response until Thursday. Although he said that they considered moving the event to the Avon Theater on Thayer Street – which would have satisfied University policy and allowed Students for Hillary to remain a co-sponsor – it was too late to arrange the move and easier for the Brown Democrats to sponsor the event alone.

Throughout the lecture, McAuliffe commented on the difficulty of speaking without seeming to endorse his candidate. “I’ve gotta be very careful about what I say because you have a lot of rules here,” he said. In his talk and his answers to audience questions afterwards, McAuliffe referred to Clinton as “a certain woman.”

Attorney General Patrick Lynch’s ’87 introduction of McAuliffe at the beginning of the lecture did not mention his role in the Clinton campaign.

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