Politics

WikiLeaks: Democrats Plot to Pick Their GOP Opponents

Podesta, Begala worked to tilt the 2008 primary contest away from McCain and toward Huckabee

When Republican John McCain won South Carolina’s important Republican primary in 2008, he set off a small panic among Democratic consultants, including John Podesta, who is today Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

In response, Democrats plotted to use immigration as a divisive wedge issue to hurt McCain with Republican voters in subsequent primary contests so they wouldn’t have to face him later in the year.

But I’m not sure how we could affect the GOP primary? … Robocalls to suppress his vote?

“This is trouble,” said Democratic consultant Paul Begala in a Jan. 19, 2008, email to a number of Democratic consultants. Begala, a longtime aide to the Clintons, got the shakes after getting a CNN news alert.

The Democrats then began thinking of dirty tricks to suppress McCain’s voters. One idea was to demoralize them with phone calls.

“I think this is a crisis,” responded Tom Matzzie, a former MoveOn director. “We need to ring the alarm bell. But I’m not sure how we could affect the GOP primary? Earned media play on McCain and immigration. Robocalls to suppress his vote? Turnout evangelicals for [former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee]?”

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The email was released on Thursday, the latest in a string of Podesta’s emails dumped by WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks claims to have received about 50,000 hacked messages from Podesta’s Gmail account, and has been releasing a steady stream of them daily since Oct. 7.

In this latest example of Democrat’s Machiavellian tactics, Podesta’s Democratic consultant friends discussed how to stop John McCain, who they likely feared would be the strongest Republican candidate in the 2008 general election.

Democrats evidently thought they could convince GOP voters McCain soft on the immigration issue and drive them toward a candidate they would prefer to run against in November.

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In other words, the Democrats would plant tough anti-amnesty messages in the GOP primary that were to the right of McCain, hoping to damage his moderate position and his vote totals. The emails indicate the Democrats had used the tactic before.

“We need to move with some tactics to try to stop him,” said Matzzie. “Ideas? We should take another swing at the immigration angle.”

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg referred to previous efforts of some kind, and said he was disappointed.

“I would not say crisis, but they are clearly not doing the job they need to do,” said Greenberg. “To [do] this seriously, you are talking major resources, not just a game.”

At the time, Hillary Clinton was facing her own challenge from then-Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois, and Podesta was only involved as president of his liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress. But he was still in the loop.

The email is likely to raise questions about what the Democratic consultants were doing to interfere in the Republican primaries in 2008 and what similar tactics may be in play in 2016.

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Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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