GQ: Kiss the Ring

Today, Carville is lecturing Lapp about how toxic the post-Foley environment has turned, insisting that the Democrats must dramatically expand their playing field. This is the best political environment for Democrats since 1974, Carville screams into Lapp's ear. Whatever it takes, the party must beg, borrow, or steal an additional $5 million to $10 million to fund the effort. If Carville had seen the decisions Lapp was just forced to make, he would have blown a gasket.

Lapp's only response to Carville is, "How well do you know Howard Dean? Why don't you call him up?"

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AS THE CHAIRMAN of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean is the one man who could provide the DCCC with a large influx of cash. So Carville followed Lapp's advice and reached out to him through a donor pal who knows Dean. "This [expletive] has got to stop," Carville told the friend. "We need to go see Dean. He's got one thing we need—borrowing power." Word came back the next day that Dean wouldn't meet with them. (Later, asked about the incident, a top aide to Dean tells me the chairman has no idea what Carville is talking about.)

The "[expletive]" Carville was referring to was the long-running feud between Rahm and Dean, which boiled down to Rahm's wanting Dean to give him more money—a lot more—and Dean's refusing to do it. Normally, the chairman of the DNC is installed by party leaders, but after the Democrats' 2004 debacle, there were no party leaders, and Dean won the chairmanship by winning over the anonymous state-party chairs and much neglected members of the DNC, the folks who actually vote on the matter. The state parties became his base of support, and Dean promised them two things: more money and more power.

It drove Rahm and Carville nuts. "The thing that stuns me," Carville says, "is that this is supposed to be a rigged deal—chairman of the party! The congressional leadership, the fund-raisers, people like that are supposed to decide. You [the state-party chairs and DNC members] are supposed to get a call and are told who to vote for! You're not supposed to really vote on this [expletive]!"

Dean kept his promise and began shoveling money to the state parties—what he described as the "fifty-state strategy"—without regard to whether individual states had competitive races in 2006. The strategy enraged Rahm, and in May he and Senator Chuck Schumer, who ran the Senate campaigns, met with Dean at the DNC to try once again to squeeze cash out of him. The conversation descended into a bitter argument about how Dean was [expletive] away money, and Rahm, late for a vote in the House, reportedly stormed out of the room in a cloud of profanities.

Rahm had only one more option for pressuring Dean: start leaking to the press. A senior aide to Rahm says Rahm believed that if there were enough newspaper accounts filled with details about how Dean's stinginess was going to cost Democrats the House, Dean would have to cave. But the stories came and went, and Dean held firm. "What I think Rahm didn't recognize," Dean's aide says, "was that's exactly the wrong way to move Dean." In the end, Rahm—or rather his staff, because at this point he refused to talk to Dean—had to go crawling back to the DNC chairman and accept Dean's offer of $2.4 million. Even worse, Dean refused to give the money directly to Rahm. "Governor Dean had concerns that Rahm was going to spend it all on TV," Dean's aide says. Instead, it would be funneled through the state parties.

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