The Least Interesting Man in Washington State

According to this ad, that title is held by Dino Rossi.  It’s a great find by Project Virginia

This is a great model for an independent expenditure ad.  Instead of beating the viewer over the head with sinister music and wild claims, it’s creative and funny – and frames the election in a way the Rossi campaign couldn’t (and probably shouldn’t).  Best of all, it praises Rossi while poking a bit of fun at him – making it much more credible to the undecided voter.  With polls split down the middle in that race, Rossi could use any edge he can get.

Your thoughts and the NRSC

An ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee showed up in my GMail this week, asking me to take a survey.  The survey was pretty basic – asking which issues I care about, and things like that.  But with unofficial Campaign Kickoff Weekend just a week away, it’s a good idea.

The NRSC has been taking some flack this week, but this is a pretty good idea – and not just because surveys and petitions make it easier to capture my email address and information.  Even better, it follows a good pattern – between this, America Speaking Out, and YouCut, there’s a consistent pattern of engagement with voters and activists.  That outreach in the context of the NRSC survey will help them craft communication that speaks a bit more directly to me when they follow up.

If you’re an optimist, it’s about connecting with the voters; if you’re a cynic, it’s about refining strategy so match talking points with the things people actually care about.  Either way, it’s a good strategy.

Deconstructing the primaries

What might be the best wrap-up of yesterday’s primary results was published before the returns came in.  As media outlets keep dropping over-simplistic terms like “tea party support” and “outsiders vs. insiders” to explain what happened, the Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney boils the divide in Republican politics down as “the Tea Party Wing against the K Street Wing” – a divide which is not simply ideological or experiential:

The main distinction… might have less to do with policy platforms and more to do with a politician’s attitude toward the Washington nexus of power and money. Nevada’s Sharron Angle is anti-bailout and anti-subsidy. [Kentucky candidate Rand] Paul could try to shrink defense spending and ethanol subsidies. In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio isn’t a game player like [former Senator Bob] Dole’s buddy Crist is.

This morning, we hear that Lisa Murkowski is in trouble against “tea partier” Joe Miller, that John McCain bested an insurgent challenge from a more conservative candidate, and that established Republican Bill McCollum lost out to Rick Scott.

So if you’re scoring at home, “the establishment” won some and lost some, with Alaska up in the air – at least, according to most of the talking heads you see.

But can you call McCain an establishment Republican candidate?  McCain had bucked national party leadership in his own way for decades, often lashing out at the K Street types Carney mentions above.  As Matt Lewis noted – again, before polls closed yesterday – he fought a serious race against an opponent with more clear ties to K Street establishmentism.  Last week, the New York Times saw fit to print that Alaska’s rugged individualism was either inconsistent or an outright sham because of its dependence on federal money; regardless of how the final tallies go for the scion of the Murkowski family goes, her ability to keep winning earmarks did not lead to an easy victory lap.  And Bill McCollum was part of a Republican establishment in Florida rocked with a spending scandal earlier this year.

And of course, there’s the big caveat that each race has its own local interpretations of who counts as “the establishment” and who really is an “outsider.”  All the more reason to look at the results through Carney’s prism rather than the crystal ball which other analysts are trying to use.

A quarter million doesn’t go as far as it used to

Rand Paul’s $250,000 money bomb is being treated like a dud for failing to meet the lofty $400,000 goal the campaign set for it.  For a Kentucky Senate race, a cool quarter mil is far from chump change, but the dour coverage shows the value of managed expectations in setting benchmarks for online metrics.

Paul inherited from his father a reputation for both staunch libertarianism and savvy online organizing, which make his swings-and-misses at online fundraising and Facebook recruitment much more pronounced.  But Paul isn’t the only one who falls into the trap of easy metrics: dollars raised online, Facebook “likes”, Twitter follower counts, and other obvious numbers are easy to understand, so issue and candidate campaigns alike will use them as benchmarks for impact.

Two problems stem from this.  First, metrics which are easy to understand are not always easy to obtain.  Second, having big numbers doesn’t always translate to big impact.  Having 100,000 Facebook followers who don’t vote is just like having 100 Facebook followers who don’t vote.  Further, there comes a time when a campaign must balance the effort of recruitment with the reality of mobilization.

In the particular case of the campaign’s recent online fundraising attempt, Rand’s supporters may be suffering from money bomb fatigue, since the campaign has used the tactic regularly.  They might be feeling the pinch of a tough economy, and giving $25 where they would have given $50.  But none of that would be in the discussion if, at the outset, the campaign had set a reasonable benchmark for dollars.  There are plenty of completely legitimate explanations for why Paul raised “only” $250,000 – but what really requires explanation is the original expectation for $400,000.

The right way to lose

It isn’t going out on a limb to say that Len Britton likely won’t beat Patrick Leahy to become the next U.S. Senator from Vermont.  But he has used a couple of campaign videos to point out the problem of government overspending, and who foots the bill:

In another video, the creepy government guy hands Billy and his family a check for their share of the national debt.  When Billy points out that it’s a lot of money, creepy government guy taunts, “Better get a paper route, Billy!”

The videos have received national attention, because they deliver a message in a creative, funny way.  They’re also excellent examples of the right way to run an extremely uphill race.

I’m not very familiar with Britton’s campaign, so he could be an insane, foil hat-wearing Lyndon Larouche backer who thinks that the destruction of the Death Star was God’s revenge for the Empire’s tolerance of same-sex Jawa marriage.  But based on this limited sample, Britton uses his underdog status to make his point in a way that would scare off many campaigns in the thick of a close race. If Britton were to drop this strategy to rant about the President’s birth certificate, Sarah Palin’s baby, or some other conspiracy theory for the deranged the damage to his personal credibility will be dwarfed by the damage he does to the Republican brand.

Britton may wind up underfunded, and his videos may be limited to their viral appeal, and it may not be enough to keep Leahy from wiping the floor with him come November.  But this isn’t the last election in Vermont, so this video and the messages it carries can still set the table for victory – even if it isn’t until Billy’s old enough to vote.

Wait… who’s running in the actual race?

In this commercial, Sen. Barbara Boxer is seeking reelection by fending off Sarah Palin – who not only isn’t running, but isn’t from California.

Meanwhile, Carly Fiorina is not only challenging Boxer, but Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Countless Republicans will take to the campaign trail in the next few months railing against President Obama, countless Democrats will dredge up the ghost of George W. Bush.

It’s an accepted (and effective) campaign tactic, made especially famous in 1994 when Republicans used then-new technology to morph images of opponents into Bill Clinton.  So why stop here?  Why not run against Jimmy Carter?  Richard Nixon?  Maybe President Mitchell from Dave (the real one, not the one that was actually Dave)?

Fearless Forecast for Arkansas

Picking the winners in most of today’s primary contests is easy, according to the polls.  Much more interesting, though, is reading the tea leaves and trying to gauge what the results mean – specifically in Arkansas.

As mentioned after the Democrat primary was sent to a runoff weeks ago, Bill Halter’s challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln is not about her standing with Arkansas’s non-existent liberal base.  It does reflect that many Arkansans feel disenchanted, and the word on the street is that this malaise will bring Halter to victory.

Lincoln has tried to fight back by painting Halter as the puppet of national left-wing interests, working through the most famous Arkansas politician in history:

Bill Clinton, a Lincoln supporter, has gotten in on the act as well, appearing at a Little Rock rally last week and now in a television commercial in which he decries the influence of national unions on the race. “This is about using you and manipulating your votes,” the former president says. “If you want to be Arkansas’ advocate, vote for somebody who will fight for you.”

Clinton then got on a plane and flew back to either New York or Washington D.C., the two places he has lived for the past 17 years since he was elected President and his wife was elected as a Senator from a state that is not Arkansas.

But despite the idea that Halter is “too liberal” for Arkansas, that could dramatically help Democrats’ chances of keeping this seat.

Halter isn’t campaigning to the left of Lincoln in state, but he does benefit from left-wing energy from out of state.  Much like Scott Brown’s insurgent campaign, Halter’s website allows anyone to chip in with GOTV phone callsDonations are still pouring in, too.  That won’t subside in the coming months, as liberal activists sense the chance to basically turn a seat from a squishy vote to a solid vote on their key issues.  If Halter can continue to enjoy the fruits of national energy without alienating Arkansas voters, he will be a much more formidable candidate than Lincoln – who, despite the advantage of incumbency, would not have enjoyed those benefits.

Is that one of the “jobs created or saved”?

The White House may or may not have offered Joe Sestak a job to stay out of the primary he won last week.  Either way, it certainly isn’t doing him any favors now.

Sestak is the clean one in this controversy – no matter what the White House offered, he didn’t take it.  That could turn out to be a positive for the Congressman.  But with neither side talking about it, it continues to be an issue – and even though it isn’t damaging to Sestak, it certainly is distracting.  He probably has a lot of things he’d like to give stump speeches about that don’t involve the fact that his story and the company line don’t exactly match:

The reality of anti-incumbentism

Many of the analysts have been trying paint this week’s elections with a very broad brush as general examples of popular unrest with Washington, D.C.  While true in part, this overlooks an important fact: each race that happened this week happened in a unique set of circumstances.

Pennsylvania Democrats did not repudiate the concept of incumbency when they cast their vote for a sitting Member of Congress; they did repudiate Arlen Specter.  Specter was not a Democrat, as Joe Sestak so successfully pointed out:

Similarly, the idea that Sen. Blanche Lincoln is “too conservative” for Arkansas Democrats doesn’t hold water, either.  The state has a long-standing strong history of dumping incumbent Senators in primaries.  And Lt. Governor Bill Halter’s national appeal to liberal special interests helped his campaign infrastructure, but it didn’t necessarily win him votes:

The darling of national liberals and labor unions got powered into a Democratic U.S. Senate runoff in Arkansas on Tuesday by the support of good ol’ boys in South Arkansas who either didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t care, both entirely plausible… Halter waltzed into a runoff using liberal money and a conservative backlash.

There is a strong undercurrent of unrest with national elected officials, but that alone doesn’t win an election.  That spirit may have manifested itself in similar way in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, with incumbent Senators underperforming, but it came about for different reasons.