kept raising my hand and saying 'Do not give up on
when Thompson heard Averell "Ace" Smith was coming to town, he was happy
to hear his state was getting, as he says, "the A-Team." Smith is one
unlike so many other big-time strategists--particularly big-time
demeanor as a manager? Polite, even-tempered--the anti-Mark
"I never get stressed out in any circumstances," Smith told TNR.com, calling it one of the important qualities of a manager. "Ninety percent of mistakes are made by people making emotional decisions under pressure."
He's also, apparently, lethal. "Ace is like Bobby DeNiro in The Untouchables--he always brings a gun to a knife fight," says Chris Lehane, a former Al Gore and John Kerry staffer who has known Smith for a decade and likes him.
fact, seems to possess a wicked backhand. "He's hired by clients to get
negative stories in the paper, and he does quite well at that," says
Democratic political strategist Kam Kuwata, whose candidate lost to Smith’s in
Smith was born 49 years
"You don't really know what it's like until you get swept up in the hurly-burly of a campaign," he said by cell phone last week, the roar from a Clinton North Carolina event in the background. “It's like a pilgrimage down a raging river."
1980s he served as political director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee, working alongside Rahm Emanuel. Then, in 1988, he began doing
oppositional research. He logged oppo time for Democrats and Republicans, Mayors Richard M. Daley
Garry South, a good friend and political strategist who has used Smith in most of his major campaigns--including the California governor races in 1998 and 2002, and a recall campaign in 2003--says that when Smith was a mere researcher, he often possessed more knowledge than the chief strategists. "He probably had, in his head or his computer, more information to manage a campaign than anyone else and he integrated it better," South says.
week before the
on one of Bill Clinton's rural trips (dubbed by some “Bubba’s Barbecue Tour”),
hitting nine cities in 30 hours. Among the stops was Deep Run, population 200. The
former president also campaigned in Roanoke Rapids*, some
70 miles from the capital city
came up with another tactic with a small-town feel: www.ncaskme.org,
a site where voters could email questions to
As it stands,
"I can't believe they pay me to do what I do,” he says. "If there's a great campaign, I'll be there."
Adrienne Johnson Martin is a writer and
editor who lives in Raleigh,
Correction: The article originally stated that Roanoke Rapids is Bruce Thompson's hometown, though it is not. It is where his grandmother lives. The current piece reflects that information.
By Adrienne Johnson Martin