This story has steadily gained favor. But back before the spin congealed, some pundits recited more plausible tales. On November 20, 2000, for example, Newsweek published its book-length review of Election 2000. In one section—“Calling All Swing States”—lead writer Evan Thomas and his Newsweek team explained why the Gore campaign didn’t want Clinton on the stump near the end of the race:
NEWSWEEK: Clinton was itching to hit the hustings, but most Gore strategists, and certainly Gore himself, didn’t want to see the president anywhere near the campaign. They were still smarting over Clinton’s unwanted intrusion into the race a week before. At a meeting with congressional Democrats, Clinton had piped up that he “almost gagged” when, during the third debate, Bush falsely claimed credit for Texas’s patient’s bill of rights and Gore failed to call him on it. The remark had made front-page news. From Nashville, Tad Devine called Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, Steve Richetti, to complain. “Listen, this is bad, and I want to tell you why it’s bad,” Devine told the White House aide. “Before the president did this, Gore had a 46 [percent] favorable [rating], 42 unfavorable. After the president did this, Gore had a 42 favorable and a 47 unfavorable. What happens is, the president goes out and awakens doubts about Gore, and all the bad stuff about Gore—his trustworthiness, his veracity—begins to come to the surface.” Richetti called back the next day and said the president understood. The two camps had agreed: Clinton would campaign in Louisiana to boost black turnout and in California (including [Maxine] Waters’s district), then back in Harlem for Hillary. “And that’s it,” said Devine. “That’s the Clinton gig.” No big rallies in the Midwest—too many easily alienated swing voters.
Too many easily alienated swing voters. By October, the race was focussed on those voters, and swing voters didn’t like Clinton. “Gore tried to explain all this by phone to the Black Caucus as he flew to his next campaign stop,” Thomas wrote:
NEWSWEEK: Clinton posed a dilemma for the campaign, said the veep. The Republicans were trying to drag Clinton into the race. They want to run against the president, “not me,” Gore said. Gore reminded the restless lawmakers that in 1998, when the Democrats won an unexpected number of House seats, they avoided mass rallies in big cities and quietly mobilized minority voters through targeted phone calls by Clinton. “That might be a better strategy,” Gore gently suggested. Sensing the skepticism of his listeners, knowing that the rumors of bad blood between the old running mates was now front-page fodder, Gore went on, “Listen, this guy is my friend, and this isn’t any kind of personal thing. Sometimes people misunderstand that.”