New York City’s Top Corruption Watchdog Leaving For Federal Role

How a rogue genius in the game of political strategy became the most influential private citizen in America

By Eric Pooley

(TIME, September 2) -- Dick Morris' brain was in orbit. It was late July, and the President's political consultant--the co-author of his campaign message and advertising, the strategist who helped Clinton scoop up Republican issues and ideas on his way to a double-digit lead over Bob Dole--was returning again and again to a problem he thought might hurt Clinton's re-election. Not welfare reform, because Morris had already won that fight, but taxes. Clinton had promised a middle-class tax cut in 1992 but delivered a tax increase on the wealthy instead. Now Dole was getting ready to hammer Clinton with his own 15% solution.

"We must have our own proposal," Morris argued during a strategy session in the White House residence. Sitting in his usual pose--head cocked to one side, hands shaping the air in front of him, small frame pumped with manic energy--Morris urged Clinton to propose a capital-gains cut on Aug. 1, a few days before Dole was to release his plan. Clinton could say the cut would "pay for itself," Morris enthused, by stimulating investment and boosting tax revenue. But it was a brazen idea, an affront to the Administration's posture of fiscal rectitude. In fact, the White House was planning to ridicule Dole for using gimmicks to pay for his plan; Clinton would lose credibility if he went in for smoke and mirrors of his own. Even more awkward, Aug. 1 turned out to be the day after Clinton told the nation he was signing the welfare-reform bill. To Democratic loyalists, Morris' idea meant that the President would cast a million children into poverty one day and give a tax cut to the rich the next.

"If we do this, Dick," Clinton said, "people will think it's precisely what it is," a naked appeal to swing voters.

"Wouldn't matter," said Morris. "We need to get well on taxes."

"I'm not gonna do it," Clinton drawled.

"O.K.," said Morris. He saw it was time to move on.

Ever since Clinton reached for him two years ago in late-night phone calls to help steer his political comeback, the former Republican strategist has become famous for casting a mighty and mysterious spell on the presidency. But the true magic of Morris isn't so much making Clinton understand that the American majority dances to a Republican tune, or extracting great ideas from Mark Penn's and Doug Schoen's zeitgeist-tracking polls, or rummaging through the bureaucracy looking for programs that help the President appear relevant. Morris' gift is to be a psychological trip wire for Clinton, pushing ideological gambits so far across the spectrum that Clinton can just say no. When the consultant wanted Clinton to roll back racial preferences, impose constitutionally dubious restrictions on civilian militias and launch federal roundups of illegal aliens, Clinton vetoed the ideas each time. In that sense, the lesson of the Morris years may be that it takes an adviser with no core ideology to make Bill Clinton search for his own.

For Morris is a gleeful genius who preaches what he's paid to preach, who can teach it round or teach it flat. He is someone lost so far inside the game that he breaks its most basic rules--Don't leak to the other side, Don't sell out your clients--and doesn't seem to notice. "Dick has a blind spot on character," says a key Clinton aide. "The President sees that, and it makes him think about his own blind spots. That's a real service."

With Morris around, Clinton doesn't have to devote every waking hour to political calculation. He knows Morris will take care of that. He can concentrate on being the benevolent father that Americans--and his own self-image and strategy--seem to require. As Morris once told Clinton biographer David Maraniss, Clinton needs to be engaged in "some important, valiant fight for the good of the world to lend coherence and structure to his life. When he didn't have those fights, he would eat away at himself, he would become depressed, paranoid, surly and, one suspects, escapist." Morris neutralizes that side of Clinton--and makes this presidency possible--by playing the game so well that Clinton can almost forget he is playing it. So Clinton can go to a rally where voters scolded him for calling Bob Dole a quitter when he left the Senate, then berate Morris for making the TV spot that called Dole that--even though it was Clinton who approved it. "Dick always worked the dark side," says Rudy Moore, a Clinton aide in Arkansas, "so Bill could move toward the light." In a series of exclusive, wide-ranging interviews with Time, Morris put it this way: "He shaped me into his tool. He looked at his life and saw what he needed, and I became that."

While the rest of the Clinton team cautions that the race will tighten, Morris predicts a rout. "The President will win by at least 10 points," he says, "and take back the House and Senate too." His cocksure style is a foil for Clinton's indecision. Morris likes to plunge into action; Clinton would just as soon wait and see. "Clinton loves to shop, and Morris loves to buy," says a White House official. "Clinton wants to browse forever; Morris wants to make off with the whole bookstore. It's a perfect marriage."

With apologies to the candidates, Morris may be the most intriguing character in this campaign. And what's astonishing about him is that he sits at the right hand of a President who cannot quite trust him. He's a Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat again, a longtime Clinton adviser who for two years traveled the country telling Republicans that in 1996 Clinton would be defeated--if not indicted. Which begs a question: How did such a rogue become the most influential private citizen in America?


Morris, 48, is one of those rare humans who seem to burst into life fully formed, already knowing what they know. His subject from birth was politics--not the liberal idealism so fashionable during his youth but the fierce, old-fashioned power plays of the New York City clubhouse system.

Growing up in Manhattan, Morris often joined his father for long walks through the city. Eugene Morris would give his only child lessons in political organization, patronage and the favor-bank system. A top real estate lawyer who did the deals that created Lincoln Center, Gene Morris had learned from a master: his uncle Al Cohn, the Democratic boss of the Bronx. Cohn had raised Gene like a son after Gene's natural father abandoned him. Cohn's youngest child was Roy Cohn, who grew up to be one of the most hated and feared right-wing power brokers of his generation. Another Morris cousin is the liberal cartoonist Jules Feiffer. The tug of opposing ideologies is encoded in his genes.

Young Morris jumped into politics early, running his first campaign in fourth grade (his candidate won the student-council presidency). In 1960, at 12, he canvassed his apartment building for John Kennedy and gave street-corner speeches extolling the Democrat. The next year, at elite Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, Morris joined the debate club, displaying a talent for arguing any side of any issue ("Truth is that which cannot be proved false," he said) and teaming up with a group of budding pols that included future Congressman Jerrold Nadler and state assemblyman Richard Gottfried. "Dick was always the leader," says Gottfried, "the most creative thinker, the most energetic worker, the one on the phone at 2 in the morning telling you what had to be done. He was already that way at 14."

In 1964 Morris organized his West Side district in support of a local candidate; by sending students to ring every doorbell he tripled the district's Democratic turnout. Graduating from Columbia University in three years, he worked New Hampshire for Eugene McCarthy's 1968 presidential campaign, butting heads over budget and turf with another West Side Democrat, Harold Ickes. Twenty-eight years later they're still at it: Ickes, now Clinton's deputy chief of staff for policy and political affairs, uses his control of the campaign purse strings to torment Morris. Eight years older than Morris, Ickes belonged to the Democratic reformers who had taken power on the West Side in the early 1960s. Morris came at them in 1969 as leader of the "West Side Kids," setting up his own political clubhouses, running a slate of candidates for party district-leader slots and getting all seven elected--which gave him de facto control of a 30-block stretch. He flirted with the idea of running himself, then stashed those ambitions forever. "I preferred to be the cat with nine lives," he says. "If we lost, I was still employed." Says West Side activist Ross Graham: "Some of us wanted to change the world. Dick wanted to run it."

Morris earned serious policy credentials to go with his political smarts. He spent six years as an analyst with a city-budget watchdog group, became issues director for a failed New York gubernatorial candidate (meeting his wife, litigator Eileen McGann, during the campaign), then hung out his shingle as a free-lance issues adviser. "It didn't hurt that candidates thought I could deliver the West Side," he says. He helped a raft of local Democrats hone their positions but found that policy alone didn't fire his engines. "I wanted to find some way to connect issues with electability," he says. He teamed up with pollster Richard Dresner, who Morris says did some work for Hollywood studios, asking audiences which blurb made them want to see the next James Bond movie and which of three alternate endings they preferred. Morris had an idea: "Let's do the same thing for politicians." And then he met Bill Clinton.


In 1977, when the Arkansas attorney general was trying to decide whether to run for Governor or Senator, he began thinking about Morris. They had met a few months earlier, when the New Yorker was traveling the country pitching himself to politicians, fast-talking his way into their offices and dazzling them with his ideas about using polls to shape policy. Morris believed that key issues, if objectively researched and properly framed, could move segments of the electorate in predictable ways. "No feelings get into anything he does," recalls G.O.P. consultant Bob Goodman, who worked with Morris for years. "He's a supremely rational creature. He'll never stop into a roadhouse to get the feel of a place; he'll take a poll."

A Clinton aide called Morris down from New York, and Morris did some polling that helped Clinton decide to declare for Governor. Since that race proved to be a breeze, Clinton and Morris worked together with far more intensity on a concurrent campaign in 1978, helping Governor David Pryor in his successful race for the Senate against Jim Guy Tucker, a rival whom Clinton wanted to see defeated. Clinton and Morris became Pryor's consultants, with Clinton writing ad copy, Morris revising it. In that context, Morris once said, he came to see Clinton as "a highly sophisticated colleague" who knew that you "do what you have to do to get elected."

Once in the statehouse, however, Clinton felt he had less use for Morris-style issues manipulation and let him go. But Clinton made a hash of his first term by taking on too many issues and angering key constituencies, and by the time Hillary Clinton placed an emergency call to Morris late in the 1980 re-election campaign, it was too late. Clinton lost. Morris flew in to plot the comeback--Clinton apologizing for his mistakes, hacking at his opponents--that returned him to power. "It's very important for me to convey how deeply I care about this man, what an inspiration, even a guide he's been," says Morris. "He is the essence of my career."

What Morris calls "the incredible metaphor of 1980" remains at the heart of their rapport. In 1980 as in 1994, Clinton suffered a shattering defeat and sank into depression. In both cases it seemed impossible for him to climb out of his hole. And in both cases Morris' confidence jump-started the candidate--and began a "permanent campaign" in which Clinton defined himself partly through polling. In Arkansas, as the two men dueled over strategy, they would throw poll numbers back and forth from memory--10 different surveys, each one yielding different slices of voter sentiment. Still, the notion that Morris dictates policy to Clinton, says former chief of staff Betsey Wright, fundamentally misreads their relationship. Clinton controls the dynamic; Morris reads his grunts and silences and knows when they mean no. "I have never seen Dick move Bill on an issue," says Wright. "I watched him propose positions, like a no-tax pledge, that would have been fabulously popular, but Bill said no. Dick huffed out of the room, pouted overnight, then came back with a way to minimize the damage. But he always accepted that Bill wouldn't budge."

The marriage lasted until 1990, when Morris and Clinton had a blowup during Clinton's last gubernatorial campaign. A friend of Morris' remembers the morning Morris called and told him about the fight he'd had with Clinton the night before. Morris and Clinton had been up late arguing about the race against challenger Sheffield Nelson, who was pulling near with just weeks to go. Clinton complained that Morris was spending all his time with G.O.P. clients while Clinton skidded toward defeat. "Clinton, all I get is grief from my Republicans for doing you," Morris replied. "I'm leaving--and I'm going to work for Nelson." Morris told the friend he had slammed his briefcase shut and started out the door when Clinton came up and tackled him. A security guard separated them. Morris went back to his hotel, and Hillary called him at dawn: "You've got to come back. He only does this to those he loves."

Clinton recently told an interviewer that he'd merely "grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him around" during the incident. At the time, Clinton gave another version to former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer. "Bill told me he slapped Dick," says Roemer. And Morris says the whole thing never happened.


Like Clinton, many of Morris' early clients were attorneys general, and he ran them as crusading "people's lawyers" in populist campaigns attacking rapacious utility companies and other targets. A rare pollster who can really write, he championed staccato, issues-based TV-ad campaigns that cloaked the negatives in a neutral, newsy style. "I didn't sell candidates through images," he says. "My motto was biblical: 'By their acts shall ye know them.'"

Sometimes the Morris approach backfired. When Clinton decided to become the "education Governor" in 1983, raising taxes to improve Arkansas schools and taking on the education lobby with his call for teacher recertification, voters loved it. A year later, another Morris client, Governor Mark White of Texas, tried the same thing, but got booted out of office because of it. "Teachers make up about 7% of the vote in Arkansas," says Morris sheepishly, "and 17% of the vote in Texas. I didn't know that. I didn't think to ask."

White respects Morris but is sore about his polls. White has told friends, "That boy came down here and said he had a poll that proves 70% of Texans are in favor of something. So we did it. Then he came down again and said 70% favored this thing over here. So we did that too. Another poll, another 70%, so we did it. By then I had 90% of the state pissed off at me."

For years Morris was dogged by rumors that he made up his poll numbers and skewed his samples to support his own strategic arguments. "We got to the point where we didn't really believe his polls," says Roemer, who hired Morris during his upset 1987 victory over Edwin Edwards for Louisiana Governor. "We used another pollster. With Dick, numbers were never the point. Ideas were." Though Morris denies cooking his figures, he too may have realized that poll taking wasn't his strength. He became a general strategist and let professionals like Penn and Schoen do the polling.


By the time he parted ways with Clinton in 1990, Morris was a solo operator who worked almost exclusively for Republicans. His partnership with Dresner had ended badly--he left the firm in 1982, shortly before it went bankrupt--and his combative nature had burned many bridges. Morris has considerable charm--along with deep knowledge of history and an abiding love of all things French--but he used it on candidates, not on their campaign teams.

His usual m.o. was to swoop in to seduce the candidate, caroming among five different campaigns, calling from a pay phone and needing the big guy now. "He's like a cult leader," says Stuart Stevens, a Dole media consultant who once worked with Morris. "The client has to get in there, drink the Kool-Aid and look him in the eye, get the whole mystical connection going."

Candidates find him odd but endearing--he tells them they can win, knows all about their state, cites chapter and verse on their careers. Roemer calls him "the weirdest guy I ever met in politics"--and Roemer is friends with another eccentric, Clinton's strategist, James Carville. "A wild man, yelling and screaming, all over your back. I said, 'Give that man a machete! I want him on my side.'" But sometimes candidates wonder whose interests come first with Morris. Roemer's campaign against the scandal-plagued Edwards was based on Roemer's pledge to reject all PAC money and large contributions. Morris was a big booster of the plan--until he wanted to put TV spots on the air and Roemer lacked the money to pay for them. "Dick wanted me to break my word," says Roemer. "I wouldn't do it."

Campaign managers, meanwhile, just find him threatening. Brose McVey, who worked with Morris on the 1992 campaign of Indiana Senator Dan Coats, compares Morris to "a fly on a screen door--buzzin' all over the place, trying to get past the organization so he can one-on-one the candidate and cut everyone else out of the deal." McVey fired Morris during the campaign.

Morris can get so immersed in the game that he barely recognizes his own bad behavior. In 1988 he almost went to work for the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis, then ended up on George Bush's campaign. Bush commanders Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater, according to two sources close to Ailes, became convinced that Morris was leaking information about Bush's media strategy back to the Dukakis camp. "Roger didn't confront Dick," says a source. "Instead he used Dick to send disinformation to Dukakis." Years later, pushing for more business, Morris had lunch with Ailes. "We should work together; I know how to beat the Democrats," he told Ailes. "I don't want to work with you," Ailes replied. "You have no character." That afternoon a friend asked Morris how his lunch had gone. "It was good," Morris replied. "He told me I had no character. I really learned a lot."

Republicans didn't accept Morris any more than Democrats had. He got plenty of work--Trent Lott, now the Senate majority leader, talked him up in the Republican cloakroom, and Jesse Helms became his most right-wing client ever in 1990--but he was always valued, never trusted. Helms media man Alex Castellanos accused him of grabbing credit for a TV spot Castellanos had made, the infamous ad showing a pair of white hands crumpling a job-rejection notice while a voice said, "You needed that job ...but they had to give it to a minority." A number of G.O.P. operatives, led by Paul Curcio, then the political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, warned candidates that Morris was a closet Democrat. Morris promised he wouldn't work for Democrats, but Curcio learned he was handling one in Mississippi. "He always had an excuse," says Curcio. "'Oh, that guy's going to change parties.' Then I found out he was working for the Connecticut Democrats. He had an excuse for that too. He thought he could talk his way out of anything."

Bashing Bill for Fun & Profit

Wherever Morris went in the '90s, Republicans wanted to talk about Clinton. They wanted to hear about the robocampaigner. They wanted to hear about the rumors. And either because he believed it or because he was proving his G.O.P. bona fides by telling Republicans what they wanted to hear, Morris seems to have served up a good deal of gossip about his old friend.

During the 1992 primaries, Castellanos called Morris to talk about Clinton, whom Castellanos felt would be tough to beat. "Dick said not to worry," Castellanos remembers. "He said, 'Bill Clinton is a fatally flawed candidate who's running around the track with a time bomb strapped to his back. And I have the detonator.'" Castellanos asked him what he meant, and he says Morris talked about the Clinton peccadilloes that would become infamous during the Gennifer Flowers eruption. Morris denies the story. But operatives in four other campaigns told Time they heard Morris make similar remarks. Consultant Goodman says he was sitting with Morris in Lott's Washington office in 1994. "It was during health care, the lowest time for Clinton," Goodman recalls. "Dick said, 'It's not going to be health care that brings down Clinton. It's going to be corruption.' I'll never forget that. If I thought a guy was corrupt, I wouldn't re-elect him President. But it's not personal with Dick. He needs clients so he can play the game. He doesn't care who they are."

Morris denies most of the specifics but admits to being a rogue. "If I knew I was going to live so long, I would have taken better care of myself," he says. "Had I known I was going to end up in the public eye, I might have rounded off some rough edges."

Those edges include talking secretly to Clinton in the fall of 1994 while working for a roster of prominent Republicans--including Lott, William Weld of Massachusetts and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania. Morris told Clinton to prepare for a Republican rout and "get out of the way." In December 1994, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Clinton had turned to Morris for help, Morris called the story "totally fabricated" and claimed fealty to the G.O.P.

Why did Morris lie? It would have destroyed him if it had got out. "Remember, this was a transitional period," he says. "Bill Clinton was making no staff changes. He wasn't willing to commit to me, and I wasn't to him. I didn't know how long he would have me. He said, 'Let's see how this works out.'" Still, it was worth a shot. "I'd just had my best year ever," says Morris, "but this was the ultimate moment in one's life. If Clinton lost, we'd both be finished. I had to ask myself, Is his presidency worth defending? And I decided it was. He is the end product of the debate between Democrats and Republicans in this century. By marrying the Democratic doctrine of opportunity to the Republican doctrine of responsibility, Clinton could achieve a Hegelian synthesis. And on a personal level, this was as close as I'd ever get. What do I believe? I don't believe there is a single issue where Bill Clinton and I disagree. I'm just like him."

Last summer Dole media consultant Stuart Stevens sat next to Morris on a shuttle flight to New York. "He detailed his involvement with Clinton," says Stevens, who still respects Morris' skills. "He said he 'ran' the Gennifer Flowers response in New Hampshire, polled for Clinton in 1992 and advised him in the fall of '94. Then he said, 'But I never hurt any client we worked for, and I never hurt the Republican Party.' I said, 'Dick, you just told me you helped elect Clinton. I don't think that helped the Republicans much.' He thought about it and said, 'I guess you could look at it that way.'"


Once inside the Clinton operation, Morris drove staff members crazy just as he'd made Republican operatives boil over--by becoming Clinton's secret agent, bypassing the hierarchy and talking privately with the President on the phone and after hours. "Mystery," he likes to say, "is an integral part of power." For a while he was known only as Charlie--so named by Clinton--the unseen force that hijacked speeches and made policies change course. Chief of staff Leon Panetta threatened to quit unless Clinton brought Morris into the structure. Deputy chief of staff Ickes, his adversary since the 1960s, bollixed Morris wherever he could, refusing his hotel minibar bills and cutting the commission that Morris and his team earned on Clinton's enormous TV-ad budget. Last summer, when Morris urged Clinton to "bust the cap"--refuse federal matching dollars so he could spend limitless amounts on TV--he courted a conflict of interest a Clinton aide calls "obscene."

Morris' first masterstroke came in June 1995, when he nudged Clinton to embrace the G.O.P. idea of a balanced budget within a fixed period of time, which succeeded in getting him back into the debate that was defining Washington. But as the budget battle heated up and congressional Republicans moved toward their "train wreck" strategy of ramming a G.O.P. budget down Clinton's throat by threatening to shut down the government, Morris believed Clinton had to get a deal no matter what--it was the key to his re-election. Last fall, Time has learned, when the Gingrich Congress was going after Medicare, Morris urged Clinton to agree to a proposed increase in premiums paid by Medicare recipients. It was a responsible policy position--middle-class entitlements are devouring the budget--but Clinton didn't take it. Instead he cast the G.O.P. as granny-bashing extremists and saw his popularity soar as the government closed and Gingrich took the blame. Morris got credit for that strategy, though its chief architect was George Stephanopoulos.

Morris' outstanding achievement has been to help his client re-create his image through "triangulation"--standing between and even above the two parties by embracing issues that lie "outside the box" of traditional two-party politics. Many of them dovetail with the family-values agenda that conservative Republicans have long counted as their own. In 1992, when Vice President Dan Quayle began working this territory, Clinton called it divisive. But Morris has been drawing on these ideas since at least 1990, when he first worked for Senator Coats, a conservative protege of Quayle's. Morris tried to get Coats to take on the same kinds of issues Clinton is talking about now, which had been considered beyond the realm of presidential concern: school uniforms and youth curfews; TV violence and teen smoking. Other Clinton ideas--like using tax credits to encourage responsible behavior--were picked up from Coats.

Clinton's message has resonated with young, middle-American parents who are worrying about how to raise their kids inside an amoral culture. Using presidential symbolism, Executive actions and old-fashioned exhortation, the Morris-driven campaign has pulled 10% of Republican-leaning voters into the Clinton camp--enough to make Morris talk about "the geology of the New Clinton Majority." Says former Clinton strategist Carville: "Morris is running a different campaign than I would. He thinks the way to go is to trivialize big issues and harp on small stuff. I think that's stupid, but you notice who's running things."

Though he cultivates an outsider's air and stands apart from the Clinton establishment--making the weekly commute from his rural Connecticut home, conducting business out of a suite at the elegant Jefferson Hotel--Morris has an insider's ability to push his agenda. His allies are the First Lady, Vice President Al Gore, press secretary Mike McCurry, communications director Don Baer, policy adviser Bruce Reed and presidential counselor Bill Curry. But his closest confidant is the President himself, for whom he prepares exclusive briefing books that sometimes critique Clinton's other advisers. Some aides say Morris sees the Executive Branch as his playground, and anyone who disagrees with him as an obstructionist, a fool or both. In a late May meeting to discuss the President's tax credit for college tuition, Morris berated National Economic Council chief Laura Tyson for insisting that Clinton's economic team make sure the proposal was revenue neutral. "The President's giving a speech at Princeton," Morris told Tyson. "The tax credit will be part of that speech. So if you have any little concerns, take care of them." Tyson's chief of staff, Tom O'Donnell, stalked out of the room. Morris called after him. "Message to the front: I'm trying to elect the President!" But for all Morris' histrionics, Tyson prevailed in the end, fine-tuning the proposal and protecting the NEC's turf.

Most seasoned operatives know not to take Morris personally. He has helped Clinton focus, and if they want Clinton to win again, that should be all that matters. Stephanopoulos, for example, has good reason to resent Morris, who replaced his war-room comrade Carville as chief strategist. But Stephanopoulos found common ground with Morris, slipping into the same role he played for Carville as an antidote to the resident genius' screwier ideas. He saves Morris--and Clinton by extension--from crashing and burning. On the night of the Israeli election, when the race was too close to call but exit polls had Prime Minister Shimon Peres in front of challenger Benjamin Netanyahu, Morris wanted Clinton to go in front of the TV cameras to congratulate Peres on his victory, which would have been a blunder of Dewey-beats-Truman proportions. Stephanopoulos quietly killed the idea.


For months Morris has been telling other political players that Clinton "has the race put away." In truth, Morris frets at night, imagining that he's running Dole's campaign and plotting against his own best moves. His basic strategy over the next two months is simple and familiar. Just as Clinton's 1996 State of the Union speech was a blueprint for six months' worth of Executive actions--each one ensuring press attention--so Clinton's acceptance speech this week will lay out some 30 policies (like taking handguns away from men convicted of spousal abuse) to be rolled out between now and November. Morris believes Clinton will win, but he also thinks a backlash will follow again and that 1998 will be another disastrous year for Democrats.

By then, of course, Morris may be out of the game. "When this is over, I'm going to leave consulting," he says. With as much as $45 million to be spent on television during the general election and Morris getting a piece of it (he won't say how much), he'll have enough money to retire. But being out of politics would surely make him restless. "I've never met anyone with as much need to be on a plane scheming and plotting as Dick," says media consultant Goodman. But after a campaign he compares with "climbing Everest," what other race could get his juices flowing? Al Gore's in 2000? Though a host of Republicans have vowed not to let him back into the G.O.P., some predict he'll wind up next to Trent Lott, the most interesting Republican around. And even if he does bow out, the outside-the-box strategy he and Clinton popularized will surely be used by others.

Recently Morris has been coming out of the shadows to claim his share of credit for Clinton's lead. Morris' message is that, like Clinton, he has been misunderstood. He wants people to know, for example, that he and Clinton both have concerns about the welfare bill that Clinton has signed. At the convention, Clinton will promise to "finish the job" with tax incentives and other proposals designed to create 1 million jobs for welfare recipients. Morris is confident that next year Clinton will be able to fix the bill's biggest problems--food-stamp cuts and the benefits it strips from legal immigrants. "Welfare reform is a process, not a bill," Morris says. "This was a historic beginning, not the end of the story. I'm convinced the story has a happy ending."

In short, Morris wants to be known as brilliant and true blue, not brilliant and double-crossing. It's the ultimate spin and, for Morris, the ultimate professional challenge: himself as a client. It makes those who work with him smile because it shows that on some level, the egotist remains insecure. As a pro, White House colleagues say, Morris should know that his reputation can be scrubbed only by a Clinton victory. He's the next political millionaire: Carville '96. He should be content that people think he's a great strategist. And they will--as long as Clinton wins.

The Pollsters

The Clinton White House takes a poll a night. Gathering this intelligence for Clinton is the firm of Mark Penn and Doug Schoen, old confreres from Harvard who share a devotion to rigorous methodology, have survived many Democratic campaigns (from Ted Kennedy to Ed Koch), and have refined their political instincts through corporate marketing battles. (Penn was AT&T's corner man in its fight with MCI.) Inside the White House, Schoen made his mark with polls that helped persuade Clinton to embrace a balanced budget in his battle with the Republican Congress. Penn's surveys pinpointed the issues that redefined the presidency in 1996 around actions (TV violence, teen smoking) meant to address the concerns of American families. These days the pair is known for using kiosks in malls, where individual voters are asked to view potential TV spots. "Alone with their thoughts," says Penn. "Just like in the voting booth."

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