Monday, September 17, 2001

Newsweek: Gore's Secret Plan: The Brockovich Gambit

Al Gore reportedly considered asking Erin Brockovich's help in the 2000 Florida election

In Newsweek, David A. Kaplan writes:

Early on, much more than possible recounts, the issue of the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County consumed the Gore campaign. If a lawsuit went his way, it would eliminate George W. Bush's lead. But how could Gore operatives efficiently collect enough horror stories to convince a judge that the ballot confused enough voters to turn the election?

At 12:30 a.m. on the Friday after Election Day, the phone rang in the Tallahassee hotel room of Ron Klain, a top Gore aide. It was Al Gore, calling from Washington, D.C. Gore had not only been thinking about the problem, but he'd done something about it. He'd called Erin Brockovich. Not Julia Roberts, who played Erin Brockovich in the movie about a town's legal fight with a polluter--but the real Erin Brockovich. The vice president thought "she should come to Florida and lead our efforts to collect affidavits." Gore had figured it all out. "What Erin Brockovich's good at is going to real people and getting them to tell their stories," he told Klain. "That's her specialty."

Klain was tired, "really tired." But you can't exactly put off the vice president. "Sounds fine to me, it's great," Klain said to Gore.

"Well, Michael Whouley [Gore's chief political strategist] thinks that Erin Brockovich is a really bad idea. What do you think?"

"I don't know. This really isn't my part of it. Michael's down there running the political operation. If Michael thinks it, I'm sure it's right. I'm up here trying to deal, like, with Tallahassee."

"Well, I think Erin Brockovich would be great."

The call ended. Klain tried to go back to sleep, bemused by the conversation. Barely two days into the post election morass, and Gore was recruiting somebody he'd heard about in a movie. "Bring in a camel with three heads," Klain said later. "It just seemed like the whole thing's a huge menagerie at this point. Erin Brockovich--of course!"

Twenty minutes later the phone rang. It was Gore again. "I tried to call Bill [Daley, the campaign chairman], but his phone's off the hook and his cell's turned off."

"Silly me," thought Klain. "I'd kept mine on."

"I really want to go forward with this Erin Brockovich thing. Tell Bill in the morning we're going to do Brockovich."

It was the last Klain heard of it. Brockovich was not spotted in Florida during the 37 days.