WASHINGTON–On May 10, 2012, a woman dropped by the Evanston office of Pete Giangreco, a Democratic strategist advising the Obama campaign. The anonymous brunette passed along to one of Giangreco’s staffers a GOP consultant’s proposal to resurrect Jeremiah Wright as a campaign issue—remarkably just hours after it was pitched during a meeting at the Wilmette home of Todd Ricketts, whose SuperPac was poised to spend millions to defeat President Barack Obama.
Giangreco read the presentation and that same day raced the proposal over to the Obama re-election headquarters in the Prudential Building, handing it over to Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. Messina quickly put together a conference call which included Obama strategist David Axelrod. They wanted to leak the proposal about Obama’s former pastor to the press. And on May 17, The New York Times trumpeted the scoop on the front page.
These revelations are recounted in a new book about the 2012 campaign, “Double Down: Game Change 2012” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, the authors of the 2008 election saga, “Game Change.” The book will be released on Tuesday; I obtained a copy on Friday.
The “Double Down” episode over the Wright proposal has two interwoven storylines, one starting with Giangreco.
The other involves the Ending Spending SuperPac founded by Joe Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs.
Son Tom is the chairman of the ballclub and his siblings are on the board: Laura, who is a mega-fund-raiser for Obama; Pete, who is running for the GOP nomination for Nebraska governor and Todd, who in March became the new CEO of the conservative Ending Spending SuperPAC and its nonprofit advocacy arm, taking over from his father.
There is another subplot, according to the book.
After the meeting at Todd Ricketts home was finished, Fred Davis, the GOP consultant pushing to revive Wright, headed over to Evanston for lunch with Bruce Rauner, at the time mulling a GOP bid for Illinois governor and now in the 2014 contest. That lunch was a block from Giangreco’s office.
According to “Double Down:”
*Why the Obama team wanted the story out: In 2008, Wright was toxic and “the idea of injecting the reverend voluntarily into the media bloodstream would have seemed nuts. Now it seemed obvious. Exposing the Ricketts proposal would kill it in the crib. …A gale of negative publicity might also take Wright off the table for other Super Pacs. It would send a message to conservative mega-donors and Republican operatives that if they cross the line when it cam to race, there would be a price to pay.”
*How the Obama team got the story out: “The Obamans didn’t want their fingerprints on the disclosure, so they used a third-party cutout to funnel the Ricketts document to The New York Times. To preserve deniability, Obama wasn’t told about the scheme.”
*About the Wilmette meeting: Todd and his brother Pete were at the meeting along with Brian Baker, the Ending Spending President. Joe Ricketts was not there, according to the book. Baker “thought the singular focus on Wright was a big mistake.” Tom Ricketts “was negotiating with City Hall for financial help in rebuilding Wrigley Field. ‘This will cause a massive problem for your brother, and for the team, Baker said. This will not go over well in Chicago.”
Baker—who drove Davis to Evanston for his lunch date with Rauner—said to Davis in the car “he was nervous about what the Romney camp would think of a Wright-centric super-Pac effort.”
Indeed, the New York Times story triggered an uproar in Chicago, where the Cubs were asking Mayor Rahm Emanuel—Obama’s former chief of staff—for city assistance. Emanuel refused to talk to the Ricketts’ for a time.
The twin mysteries have never been solved, according to “Double Down.”
The “mysterious brunette” who brought the proposal to Giangreco’s office has never been identified. And the Ricketts’ never figured out who leaked the plan.
According to the book, in “Rickettsworld,” a “frantic round of speculation and investigation broke out as to how the document had leaked—one that continued for months thereafter. Fingers from the Davis side pointed at Baker, on the theory that he feared his objections to the plan would be overridden and was somehow trying to curry favor with Boston by killing it. Others pointed at Todd Ricketts’s wife, who was in the Wilmette house during the presentation, or his domestic help. Another theory involved Davis’s lunch with Rauner, who was close to Mayor Emanuel. But no culprit was ever definitely identified.”
The Ricketts never approved the Davis plan. At a conference last November on the 2012 presidential campaign sponsored by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, which I attended, Baker said, “This was merely a proposal; it was not acted on. Joe Ricketts wasn’t even at the meeting where it was presented. I was, and I can tell you it was never going to be green-lighted. No ad was ever made. No dollar was ever invested.”
I talked with Baker about the Wright episode last month, when I was reporting a column on Todd Ricketts taking over the SuperPac and he said much the same thing.
I phoned Giangreco on Friday and he confirmed the account in the book. He said he looked at a security videotape to see if he could determine the identity of the woman he called a “tall brunette.” He had never seen her before or since. “I read the thing, which was pretty astounding, and I called Messina. And I drove down to the headquarters and we went through it. We made a copy of it. We convened a conference call” whose participants also included Stephanie Cutter, a deputy campaign manager. Giangreco said he did not know how it ended up in The New York Times.