...slip sliding away...
Beebe, Hillary Link?
Governor's Operative Off To Help Clinton
This article was published on Wednesday, June 13, 2007 7:30 PM CDT in Columns
By John Brummett
Arkansas News Bureau
Email this story Print this story Comment on this story Zac Wright was the young political operative from Tennessee whom Democrats sent Mike Beebe to keep the Beebe campaign on message.
Major Democratic candidates in the state don't use homegrown spokesmen anymore. There's this national pool of 20-somethings that gets tapped instead. A bright young adult gets parachuted in for the obsessive 24-hour assignment, to sleep on a mattress on an apartment floor and live by a cell phone, probably with some other area code, and work with local yokels like me.
Everyone knew that Arkansas would be a certain gubernatorial gain for the Democrats unless someone blew it. Beebe had plenty to offer as a candidate and tons of money, but, after all, he'd never run a contested campaign before, much less a statewide one against a veteran Republican with a 527 group political hit squad in his arsenal.
Wright's job was important. That's what I'm trying to say. And he was a Southerner trained in the culture and keen on how Democrats compete in the region.
Now, let me rephrase that opening paragraph, for precision: Wright came recommended by out-of-state consultants. Beebe interviewed him and liked him and hired him.
So that's how Wright, formerly of Harold Ford's congressional staff and the Tennessee Democratic Party and the Nashville-based national press office of the Gore-Lieberman campaign, came to be "communications director" and "spokesman" for Beebe's campaign last year.
Here's what those titles meant: Wright's job was to speak for the candidate when it was best to keep the front-running candidate above the fray. He was to be the attack dog and counterpuncher. His job was to consult on tactics and implement those tactics through news releases and general rhetoric.
Did he do his job acceptably? I'd ask you to name the current governor, and to recall that he got 55 percent. The proof is at the polls.
When Beebe got elected, he offered Wright honest work on his gubernatorial staff. That was as director of communications, meaning overseer of the gubernatorial message and the boss of people like Matt DeCample, who is the press secretary and daily spokesman. Wright accepted.
The other day, Wright went in to see Beebe to say he'd like to take a leave of absence into February. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign had offered him a job, as communications director for her perhaps vital campaign in a Southern state, South Carolina. That state's primary will come just after Iowa and New Hampshire, and just before the nationwide primary with more than 20 states representing more than half the country's population.
South Carolina might need to be her fire wall if she slips in Iowa and New Hampshire. It won't be easy with John Edwards coming from North Carolina and Barack Obama having certain potential advantages by race.
As a Democratic communications operative, this would be what it was all about. This would be big-time work. And it was quite flattering to be offered it.
Beebe said fine. He said go and do your thing. He told Zac he'd see him in February.
On Monday, Zac was notifying local press contacts of his new circumstance, preparing to go to Washington for a briefing from Hillary's top people and then take his mattress, TV and personal cell phone (still with a Tennessee area code) to South Carolina.
That was swell, I told Zac. But I wondered: Did this mean Beebe supported Hillary, lending his communications guy as he was for such a vital assignment?
No, Wright said.
Of course not. It probably wouldn't hurt Beebe with the state Democratic establishment to support Hillary. But his political coalition entails moderates, cultural conservatives and business people who may not be crazy about her. It's better for Beebe to sit out the Democratic presidential primary, which shouldn't be hard considering that the national primary Feb. 5 will render irrelevant our state's little participation.
The front line is South Caroline, and Zac Wright is off to it.