I was working in Rep. Dick Gephardt’s 1988 presidential campaign when our internal polling showed that we had fallen to last place in Iowa just weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Days later the Des Moines Register poll showed us in last place, and the world knew what we already knew. We were in trouble.
Far from firing our pollster, we dug into the poll deeper and caught a glimmer of hope in some answers to questions about Gephardt’s position on trade. The campaign manager, media team and candidate got together and decided to throw a Hail Mary pass. The Hyundai ad (as it became known), with Gephardt delivering a tough trade message on South Korea and a passionate defense of American workers, is credited with taking him from last place to winning Iowa over the course of a few weeks.
In 2004, when I was campaign manager for Howard Dean, the bad news from our pollster also came just weeks before the Iowa caucuses. We were riding high and had moved into the lead nationwide largely on Dean’s opposition to the war in Iraq. But onDec.13, 2003, Saddam Hussein was captured. The media coverage of his surrender and capture dominated for days, and President George W. Bush looked more formidable.