May 2, 1996 in Idaho
Fitzwater Offers Advice For Dole Ex-White House Spokesman Speaks At Albertson College
If Bob Dole’s smart, he’ll agree to only one televised debate with President Clinton, former White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Wednesday.
Fitzwater, during a stop in Boise on his way to speak at Albertson College in Caldwell, discussed the presidential race at a news conference. He spent 10 years in the White House, working for Presidents Reagan and Bush.
“If you’re not telegenic, you’re not,” Fitzwater said of Dole. “My advice is that he should do only one debate with Clinton. You know you’re going to lose. Bill Clinton is a much better debater, and he’s much better on television.
“I’d lower expectations to the point that if he just survives,” he wins, Fitzwater said.
Ross Perot, who got 19 percent of the vote in 1994, could swing the race to Clinton if he got just half that this time, but Fitzwater doesn’t expect that to happen. “I think people are tired of Perot’s act,” Fitzwater said. “I think he’ll get less than 5 percent.”
Fitzwater, 53, estimates that he gave about 850 press conferences in his years in the White House. The most memorable, he said, was a joint press conference with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s press secretary, attended by 7,000 reporters.
Although he helped shape two presidents’ images, Fitzwater said it’s sometimes difficult for the American people to really know the men.
Reagan, for example, was known as a kindly, grandfatherly character who was self-confident. But few knew that the president was bashful.
“Often in small groups, you’d turn around and he’d be over in a corner by himself.”
Bush came across as cold and aloof on television, Fitzwater said, but in person he was warm and friendly.
Now, few know that Dole is “one of the best-liked people in Washington, an honest and honorable guy,” Fitzwater said. “He’s been the most sought-after person for 20 years on the Washington dinner circuit. He’s funny, witty, entertaining, interesting. That doesn’t come across on television.”