- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

PHILADELPHIA — James Carville, the most vociferous and recognizable defender of the Clinton-Gore administration, has walked directly into the lion's den — a place packed with power-hungry, rock-ribbed Republicans.
But instead of being scorned and jeered, Mr. Carville is schmoozed and fawned over. The man Republicans love to hate on the political talk shows is treated like a rock star when he shows up in person at the Republican National Convention.
"James! James!" exclaim a group of middle-aged women who have journeyed to Philadelphia as GOP delegates. "Can we get our picture taken with you?"
"Where y'all from?" Mr. Carville drawls as he strides over and poses patiently with the women, one of whom has flashing red lights draped around her neck. "That's a real pretty necklace."
"Mr. Carville!" gushes a Philly cop. "I can't believe there's a Democrat among all these Republicans."
"Every dog show needs one fireplug," Mr. Carville replies with a smile.
From the streets of Philadelphia to the parking lot outside the convention hall to the network skyboxes overlooking the main stage, Republicans grin, rubberneck and murmur his name as the bald, 6-foot-2 "Ragin' Cajun" strides by.
"I get more picture requests at the Republican convention than at a Democratic convention," Mr. Carville marvels. "I've had my picture taken with 150 delegates here."
Even Republicans whose partisan passions are roiled by the sight of "Corporal Cueball" can't bring themselves to openly criticize him. The man who once likened Paula Jones to trailer trash finds Republicans unfailingly polite.
"There's this great out for people who run across me and want me to know that they don't like my politics," says Mr. Carville, who is married to conservative pundit Mary Matalin, a top campaign strategist for the unsuccessful 1992 George Bush re-election campaign. "They say, 'You know what? I really like your wife.'
"It allows everybody a kind of honorable escape," he says. "You know: 'I let that guy know the way I felt, but I wasn't rude about it.' "
The only time he has faced open derision since arriving in the City of Brotherly Love over the weekend was when a group of people unconnected to the convention saw him on a street and chanted, "Carville's a crook! Carville's a crook!"
Otherwise, it has been a Carville lovefest. But ironically, this bare-knuckled bomb-thrower pines for the days when politics was more of a contact sport.
"To me, first prize is four days at a convention," he says. "Second prize is five days at a convention.
"I have become completely down on them as a function. And I don't say that just about the Republican convention. I say the same thing about ours. Everybody here is in massive denial that they have anything to do with politics."
Mr. Carville is uncomfortable with political parties hiding their idealogues while showcasing apolitical do-gooders.
"Political parties are about politics, about governing, about policy," Mr. Carville says. "And these conventions are about denying our political origins and blurring our differences, when they ought to be about honoring our origins and sharpening distinctions.
"It's almost like to be here, to be a Republican, is to deny you are a Republican," he says. "A good Republican is one that don't want anybody to know it."
For example, much more attention has been showered on George P. Bush, the nice-guy nephew of GOP nominee George W. Bush, than on Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
"George P. had the biggest entourage I've ever seen," observes Mr. Carville, who brought his daughters Matty, 5, and Emma, 2, to Philadelphia. "I saw Trent Lott come through here and he only had like two people with him. But here comes George P. with a bigger entourage than Mike Tyson."
Mr. Carville was invited to the convention by NBC News, which broadcasts his political analysis from their skybox several times each evening. The man who snuck onto the GOP convention floor in 1996 says he has "gone legit" this time around.
While Mr. Carville was already widely recognized four years ago, his 1988 war of words against President Clinton's tormentor, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, made him a bona fide celebrity who is universally recognized by even political novices.
The fame has brought Mr. Carville lucrative international consulting contracts and even product endorsement deals. But it has also forced him to give up behind-the-scenes strategizing. Any Democratic candidate who dares to put James Carville on the payroll instantly tips off the opposition to brace for certain attack.
As a result, the "stealth" mastermind behind Bill Clinton's surprise victory in 1992 has seen his role in Democratic presidential campaigns change dramatically. No longer the consummate insider, Mr. Carville is now the very public "outrider."
"They want me out front, not behind the scenes — just the opposite of what I was," he says of the Democratic establishment. "You know, Sunday morning TV, anything to rally the troops, help them raise money.
"Everybody is exceedingly nice to me — in a kind of odd way," he adds with a touch of melancholy. "I mean, I think people would prefer me to be like, 'of counsel' or 'emeritus.' And in a sense, that's fine with me because I'm very satisfied to sort of sign direct mail letters — do you know what I mean?
"Look," Mr. Carville says. "In America, once you become a famous person, the only way you can earn a living is by being a famous person. You can't just,like, go back.
"In an odd sense, in the impeachment-Starr thing, I sort of made my bones and laid my marker down. We sort of won that and, oddly enough, people just remember that I fought like hell. Maybe more than anything I've ever done, that's the thing that people most remember me for.
"As it turned out, in one sense it probably was my last hurrah," he concludes. "There's a time to press and a time to ease back a little bit. That was a time to press."
Still, with Mr. Bush leading Vice President Al Gore in the polls, this is no time for Mr. Carville to ease up entirely. He periodically talks with Mr. Gore's key strategists, Bob Shrum and Carter Eskew.
"I'm going to help in any way I can," he vows. "Gore calls me periodically, but it's like, 'We just want to be sure that you're happy.'
"Still, when you have him, you feel like you have a forum, which is very nice. And if I have something that I really think will help, I can get it to him. There's a very nice accommodation here."
As he turns to walk through the convention hall, he smiles as the calls resume.
"Mr. Carville! Mr. Carville!"

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