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Hotline Founder Doug Bailey Passes Away Hotline Founder Doug Bailey Passes Away

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Hotline Founder Doug Bailey Passes Away

Doug Bailey in February, 1980(Rick Bloom)

photo of Reid Wilson
June 10, 2013

Doug Bailey, one of the fathers of the modern political consulting industry who went on to found The Hotline, passed away Sunday night in his sleep, friends said Monday. He was 79.

Bailey was one of the first modern political ad men. His firm, Bailey Deardourff and Associates, helped elect nine Republican senators and more than a dozen governors. With John Deardourff, Bailey spearheaded President Gerald Ford's advertising campaign in 1976.

"He was an American original. His love of politics and this country was contagious," said Chuck Todd, NBC's chief White House correspondent and Hotline's former Editor in Chief.

Bailey's roster of clients included some of the best-known moderate Republicans elected in the 1960s and 1970s, including New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, then-Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, New York City Mayor John Lindsay, Sens. Charles Percy of Illinois, John Danforth of Missouri, Howard Baker of Tennessee and Richard Lugar of Indiana. He met Deardourff, his long-time business partner, while working for Rockefeller's 1964 presidential campaign, according to a New York Times story on Deardourff's death in 2004.

"Doug Bailey was a rare individual. He cared about every person he met and every issue he tackled," Alexander said Monday. "I would never have been elected governor without his help, and he did his best after that to help me be the best possible governor. He was a great friend and a great example for anyone who cares about public service."

When Bailey Deardourff took over Ford's campaign just after the Republican National Convention, Ford was trailing then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter by 20 points in most public opinion polls. Their advertising campaign, which included the theme song "I'm Feeling Good About America," was credited with bringing Ford almost all the way back; Carter won the race by just two points, 50 percent to 48 percent.

For their efforts in that campaign, Bailey Deardourff earned a total of $75,000, he told Washingtonian Magazine in a 2006 interview.

Bailey left politics, he said in a 2012 interview with Republican consultant Will Feltus, because it had evolved in a way he didn't like.

"I got out of campaign politics. It couldn't get the politics out of me, but I got out of politics," Bailey said in the interview, compiled for a book on campaign management. "It had gotten so negative."

But he couldn't leave politics entirely. In 1987, Bailey and Democratic strategist Roger Craver founded The Hotline, Washington's premier daily tip sheet on campaigns and elections. Originally run independently and delivered by fax, Bailey joked his initial subscribers had three questions for him after he made his pitch: "You want to do what? You want me to pay you how much? And what's a fax?"

Bailey sold The Hotline to the National Journal Group in 1996. Even after leaving the company, Bailey continued to contribute to Hotline on a regular basis, most memorably through Christmas carols published in the annual end-of-year edition.

Bailey also founded Sports Business Daily, and he pushed centrist causes through Unity08 and Americans Elect, both bipartisan efforts aimed at reducing the partisan rancor in Washington. Even recently, Bailey was meeting with prominent Washingtonians to push his latest idea, several friends said.

"Over the years, we collaborated on various schemes to get kids more involved in politics and efforts to make political consulting the honorable profession it should be," said Mike McCurry, Bill Clinton's former press secretary. "He was always thoughtful, wise, and humorously wry in his various observations about the politics of the day. He was also always greatly ahead of his time."

Bailey is survived by his wife Pat, his son Ed, daughter Kate, one grandchild, a publication that will be forever grateful for his vision and political wisdom and a network of Hotline alumni who owe him deep debts of gratitude.

"Even when Washington was at its worst, Doug wanted to search for the possibility that it could be at its best," said NBC's Todd. "For me, not sure there was anyone who taught me more about how to think about politics and Washington than Doug Bailey. For that, I'm eternally grateful."

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