THE BIG ENCHILADA: Campaign Adventures with the Cockeyed Optimists from Texas Who Won the Biggest Prize in Politics

Stuart Stevens, Author . Free Press $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7432-2290-7

In a typical scene from this entertaining if uncritical insider's account of the 2000 presidential campaign, Stevens and other top George W. Bush aides find themselves puzzling over Gore's demand that no cameras be placed behind him during the debate. "It's so his bald spot won't show," Stevens finally realizes. Everyone chuckles; they eventually acquiesce to Gore's demand, Stevens recalls, in a spirit of "compassionate conservatism." Stevens, one of the nation's top political consultants, was a hired gun from New York who was brought down to Texas by the normally insular Bush team to beef up their media strategy. He crafted TV and radio commercials, scheduled interviews and prepped Bush for debates. None of this might be interesting except to die-hard political junkies, but Stevens is a fluid writer who makes high drama out of even the most banal campaign moments. Equally energizing is Stevens's colorful (some might say vulgar) prose style. He notes, for example, that his primary goal in designing TV spots was to make the Gore campaign "squeal like Ned Beatty in Deliverance"; at the first debate, Stevens observes, Gore's makeup people had their candidate "painted up like a clumsy transvestite." Stevens is unabashedly gung ho about Bush, which might frustrate readers hoping for insider dirt; he also played little part during the post-election Florida crisis, which leaves the book with a vague sense of anticlimax. Nonetheless, Stevens provides insight into the inner workings of the Bush campaign, and gives a marvelous sense of what it's like at the top level of the hectic fight for the White House. (Aug.)

Forecast:The inevitable post-election book barrage rolls on, but will readers be tired of it by August? Hoping otherwise, Stevens will promote this in N.Y., D.C., Austin and Dallas.

Reviewed on: 07/23/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
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