“Unaligned”? We Don’t Think So.

Did anyone else notice that Steve Murphy, who was Dick Gephardt’s campaign manager before Gephardt quit the race after getting bloodied in round one last month, was all over the papers this morning? And wherever Murphy was quoted, it was to play down John Edwards’ impressive showing in yesterday’s Wisconsin primary.

Murphy told Jill Lawrence, Martin Kasindorf and Susan Page of USA Today, “George Bush is sitting on over $100 million and his campaign is about ready to enter the fray with advertising. Democrats would be better off unifying behind the eventual nominee, which is John Kerry.”

He also told Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, “If Edwards actually wanted to compete for the nomination, he needed to start drawing a contrast with John Kerry a month ago. Democrats are coalescing around John Kerry right now … and they are eager to get onto the task of beating George Bush.”

And he found time to talk to Brownstein’s Los Angeles Times colleague Nick Anderson, who reports, “Steve Murphy… said Edwards had no chance. ‘This is going to be a false euphoria for Edwards,’ Murphy said. ‘Democrats don’t want this process unnecessarily prolonged.’”

Murphy has been singing this song for a while now. Last week, after Kerry victories in Tennessee and Virginia, Murphy told Robin Toner of The New York Times, “The only thing that could stop John Kerry now is if he pulls a Howard Dean and blows himself out. That’s not likely. He’s nothing if not cautious.”

The same day, he told Paul West of The Baltimore Sun, “The race is over now. Democratic primary voters are in the process of tuning out the nomination fight. They’re ready to get on with the business of beating George W. Bush. Dean and Edwards are just seeking the right moment to exit.”

USA Today identifies Murphy as a “strategist not aligned with a campaign.” The other stories describe him as the former manager of Gephardt’s ill-fated campaign.

Both descriptions are accurate, but none of the stories note this: Gephardt, who employed Murphy not only in 2004 but also as his 1988 campaign manager, has endorsed Kerry.

The Boston Globe, for one, described Edwards’ performance yesterday as “stunning,” but, as we’ve seen, Murphy doesn’t seem to be willing to change his line even in the face of a strong showing by the North Carolina senator. Given that, is it too much to ask reporters to I.D, Murphy for what he is — a Kerry partisan?

Well, yes, apparently it is. As long as Murphy is identified as unaligned, he provides a great sound byte for reporters’ “could the race be over?” speculation. Pointing out Murphy’s clear pro-Kerry stance would destroy that utility.

Can’t have that, can we?

Zachary Roth

Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.