Hillary Clinton stopped at a biodiesel plant in Newton, Iowa, last week to see alternative fuels in the making and to drive home the week's campaign theme of her energy plan. After a tour, the candidate took questions from the crowd.She called on a young woman. "As a young person," said the well-spoken Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff, "I'm worried about the long-term effects of global warming. How does your plan combat climate change?"
"Well, you should be worried," Clinton replied. "You know, I find as I travel around Iowa that it's usually young people that ask me about global warming."
There's a good reason for that, too. The question was a plant, totally rigged in advance, like a late-night infomercial. Just before the public forum a Clinton staffer had chosen the young woman, a student at Grinnell College, and asked her to ask that specific question.
Trouble is, the young woman told others, and her account showed up on the Grinnell website, including mention that the staffer signaled Clinton whom to call on.
As other campaigns chuckled and hypocritically spread the news far and wide ("That's what George Bush does," intoned John Edwards at the Iowa Farmers Union), a Clinton campaign spokesman sheepishly admitted the plant. "On this occasion a member of our staff did discuss a possible question about Sen. Clinton's energy plan at a forum. However, Sen. Clinton did not know which questioners she was calling on during the event. This is not standard policy and will not be repeated."
Although other campaigns are righteously denying it, virtually every professional presidential campaign plants questions. It's a routine part of preparation for the advance people staging every event.
Not every question is planted, as you can tell from the weird ones that sometimes pop up. Most are arranged with more sophistication than grabbing a passing college student. They're done in advance with known local supporters who can be trusted and, frankly, are flattered by their moment in the limelight addressing the possible next president in front of friends. They want the world to think it's their own question.
A twist on this strategy is for a candidate's team to smuggle one of its supporters into an opponent's event to ask an embarrassing question while the cameras roll. Remember the confrontation a few weeks ago when Clinton accused one persistent questioner of being an opposition plant? And then she apologized later.
© 2007 The Los Angeles Times