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Morlock: Ex-Tucsonan to advise Clinton campaign

Mo Elleithee had some shoes to fill: It was 1988 and the junior at Flowing Wells High School was preparing to debate at a youth forum, playing Michael Dukakis, the ill-fated Democratic candidate crushed by George Bush, the father.

Dukakis took a header during the real debate with Bush, when asked if he would change his view on the death penalty if his wife, Kitty Dukakis, were raped and murdered.

Dukakis’ Spock-like vengeance-is-a-human-emotion answer proved fatal.

The 16-year-old Elleithee escaped his debate unscathed.

“I never got that question,” he says.

Now, Elleithee, 34, may have to make sure another Democrat doesn’t fumble away a presidency with a bad answer during a debate.

Elleithee was appointed last month as chief spokesman and a senior adviser for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton as she makes a bid for the White House.

“When I was in Tucson, I didn’t even know that this was a profession,” Elleithee said.

Now, the native Tucsonan is on a journey that may land him near the top of Washington’s political pyramid. He remembers always being interested in politics and regularly playing to a rough crowd.

“My parents were both Republicans,” he said. “It made for some interesting dinner conversations.”

Spinning mom and dad may have been his entree into politics, but he cut his baby teeth in Tucson volunteering to help a guy named Mo (local legend U.S. Rep. Mo Udall) campaign the year Dukakis lost.

After graduating from Flowing Wells in 1990, Elleithee graduated from Georgetown University and Georgetown Law School.

He decided to get into politics full time when he watched the Democrats “just get decimated” Election Day 1994.

“I decided that’s what I oughta do,” he said. “I should help Democrats win elections.”

So he enrolled in Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Political Management. Three years later he did his first big-time campaign work in Arizona. He worked as communication director for the Paul Johnson gubernatorial campaign, which was crushed by then-Gov. Jane Hull.

In 2000, he played NBA ball (figuratively) as spokesman for New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley’s campaign. Lost. Then tried to keep Virginia Democrat Chuck Robb in the U.S. Senate. Lost.

Losing time after time left Elleithee unfazed, or at least that’s how he explains it.

“The more experiences you have, the more you learn,” he said. “I’ve learned as much on the unsuccessful campaigns as some of the successful ones.”

Elleithee’s big break came in 2001, when he was communications director for Mark Warner’s successful gubernatorial campaign in Virginia.

He ran communications for Florida Sen. Bob Graham’s presidential fizzle in ’04 and caught some spotlight working in the same Democratic primary for retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

Come 2005, Elleithee again worked in the Old Dominion as spokesman for Tim Kaine’s victorious run for Virginia’s governorship. He cooled his well-traveled heels for a year as a consultant for a bunch of campaigns – including Phoenix Democrat Jim Pederson’s losing bid against U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl.

Then the Clinton campaign came calling and in January Elleithee found himself as a top aide to the woman he watched on TV for 15 years.

“It’s pretty wild,” he said. “What I’m doing right now is sort of a dream job. I’ve watched (Clinton) really make a mark on national policy and now I’m working for someone who has a a real good chance to change the country.”

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This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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