MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, a former aide to former President Bill Clinton, will be moderating the final debate here between incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Republican Scott Brown on Thursday evening. But one thing that’s not known to the public about Stephanopoulos is his longtime personal ties to one of Shaheen’s top political advisers.
Mandy Grunwald, the adviser in question, is someone the New York Times calls “the consummate Democratic powerbroker” because she “runs Grunwald Communications in Washington and was the director of advertising for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid and Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential run.”
Grunwald has been handling all of Shaheen’s advertising since 2002, when she first ran for U.S. Senate against Republican John E. Sununu. Sununu won that race, but Shaheen beat Sununu in a 2008 rematch. Grunwald handled advertising for Shaheen in 2002 and 2008 — and is doing so again this year, according to Politico.
“Shaheen’s campaign declined to share the size of the buy, but said the ad began running Sunday night and will go at least through this week on cable and WMUR,” Politico’s Morning Score wrote about Shaheen’s first 2014 campaign ad in May 2014. “It was made by Grunwald Communications.”
According to the New York Times–and Stephanopoulos’ own book–he and Grunwald have been longtime friends since the 1992 Bill Clinton presidential campaign, on which they both worked.
“This egocentric way of weighing events is understandable; but if Stephanopoulos is going to exaggerate the importance of a book, he should at least understand what was involved in its appearance,” Garry Wills wrote for the Times on April 4, 1999, criticizing Stephanopoulos for harsh treatment of Bob Woodward’s book “The Agenda” while he touted his own book “All Too Human.”
Wills went on to note that Shaheen’s adviser Grunwald was an old Clinton “War Room” colleague of his.
“He claims that Woodward was essentially right in his conclusions, and that Clinton simply resented the description of White House decision making as chaotic,” Wills wrote. “Despite the fact that Stephanopoulos ruefully says he was wrong to promote Woodward’s project as a way of increasing his own importance, he does not get the real point of ”The Agenda” and its impact not only on his own standing but on that of his old War Room colleagues, James Carville, Mandy Grunwald and Paul Begala.”
While Grunwald isn’t mentioned in the piece, Politico’s John Harris in 2010 noted that Stephanopoulos speaks with his old “War Room” buddies Begala and Carville every day–and has since he left the Clinton administration, for which he served as a White House spokesman for some time.
“I refer to it as the 17-year-long conference call,” Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former Chief of Staff who is currently the mayor of Chicago, told Politico. Politico said Emanuel usually begins calling his friends like Stephanopoulos around 6 a.m. “You can tap into it anytime you want.”
Stephanopulos hasn’t responded to an emailed request for comment on how he plans to appropriately distance himself from his personal connection to Shaheen’s adviser Grunwald when he’s moderating the debate. But Stephanopoulos has found himself in positions before where he bungled fairness in moderating debates–most notably when he asked completely irrelevant questions of Republican candidates like Mitt Romney during a debate here in New Hampshire during the GOP primary in 2012.
Stephanopoulos is widely believed to have created the “war on women” political attack against Romney that night, an attack that didn’t exist before he inserted it into the debate and one that was used quite successfully by incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama to win re-election in November.
Specifically, while no Republican candidates were discussing this matter, Stephanopoulos asked Romney if he believed “that states have the right to ban contraception, or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?”
“You’re asking — given the fact that there’s no state that wants to do so, and I don’t know of any candidate that wants to do so — you’re asking could it constitutionally be done?” Romney responded.
Stephanopoulos pressed Romney again: “I’m asking you, do you believe that states have that right or not?”
As the audience booed Stephanopoulos, Romney fired back at him.
“George, I don’t know whether a state has a right to ban contraception,” Romney replied. “No state wants to. I mean, the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do, and asking me whether they could do it or not, is kind of a silly thing, I think.”
The audience cheered Romney’s takedown of Stephanopoulos.
Stephanopoulos was roundly criticized for his handling of that, and the Drudge Report ran a lead headline calling it “Stephanopo-MESS” for a full 24 hours afterwards.
“ABC has no comment,” ABC News spokeswoman Michelle Levi said in response to that performance in New Hampshire a couple years ago.
It remains to be seen whether Stephanopoulos is any better this time around, but it’s worth noting that both CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and NBC News’ Chuck Todd were fair moderators and did a phenomenal job accurately representing both sides and capturing the race as a whole into the hour-long sessions.