Dick Gephardt campaign manager Steve Murphy

Excerpts from a Monitor breakfast on the Democratic presidential campaign.

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Dick Gephardt's campaign manager, Steve Murphy, got his start in politics as a University of Delaware student volunteering for Joseph Biden's 1972 Senate campaign. Mr. Murphy is now a partner in the political consulting firm of Murphy Putnam Media. Before co-founding that firm, he worked for or managed more than 20 political campaigns stretching back to Jimmy Carter's in 1976.

On whether an improving economy makes President Bush harder to beat:

"No, I don't think so. Regardless of his political fortunes, regardless of his approval rating, even when his approval ratings were in the 80s, his reelect numbers were always around 50 [percent] ... it hovers around 48 right now. I think you are definitely headed for exactly the same type of race in 2004 that we had in 2000, almost a dead-even split and obviously we feel that Dick Gephardt is the best candidate to win a race like that because he plays best in the swing electoral states."

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On the Gephardt campaign strategy versus Howard Dean:

"We have enough money to get through February 7, to get through Michigan [caucuses]... Our scenario ... is to win in Iowa [January 19], take that momentum into New Hampshire [January 27], finish in the first tier there, and then dominate on February 3, which is the Achilles heel of the Dean strategy. Which is why Dean is pushing so hard to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire, because he understands his vulnerability on February 3. Those are just not Dean type of states - South Carolina, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Missouri. These are states that we expect to do very well in."

On what Democratic voters want:

"Dick Gephardt was pretty straightforward about this in his announcement speech that the way to defeat George W. Bush and what he wants to do as president is effect change with bold ideas and not by frittering around the edges of public policy. I do think that as a group, Democrats are in a mood to present a stark choice with George W. Bush rather than policies that just sort of moderate the Bush policies to a slight extent."

On Wesley Clark:

"Well, he is not taking away from anybody right now. Since he got into the race, his poll numbers have declined almost everywhere. He purports to be raising significant amounts of money and if this is true, he will be a tactical factor in some states. But he has not been able to espouse a rationale for his candidacy."

On John Kerry:

"He has kind of reinvented his candidacy a half-dozen times over the course of the year and eventually the hourglass is going to run out on him."

On running as an insider:

"Electorally, to be honest with you, this is Dick Gephardt's greatest strength and his greatest weakness. Our challenge as a campaign and his challenge as a candidate is obviously to make it overwhelmingly into a strength. ...There are a lot of voters who are initially attracted to that outsider rhetoric but there are a lot of voters who over time become highly suspicious of it as well."

On free trade:

"There is less geographical differentiation on this issue today then there has ever been in the past. There is basically a consensus within the Democratic Party today that trade agreements without any labor standards, without any environmental standards that result in jobs being lost to unfair foreign competition or being outsourced to places where workers are making 30-40 cents an hour are just bad for everybody. As Dick Gephardt discusses this issue, it is not just a matter of American workers unfairly losing their jobs. It is a matter of human rights around the world ... an international race to the bottom is not what is intended by our support for free trade...."

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