Honoring Blumenthal’s service

The most apt critic of Richard Blumenthal’s lie – and why his lie, though not as bad as Mark Souder’s, makes him less fit for office – might be someone who can appreciate what it means to be a Marine reservist.  Thus, look no farther than author, fellow UMass alum, and native New Englander Dan Flynn:

So distasteful is the idea of somebody mistaking my military service with war-fighting service that, until a fellow Marine jokingly wondered if I were embarrassed of my eight years in the Marine Reserves, I kept my Marine service out of my official bio. Since the bio is generally used for introductory purposes at campus speeches, I worried that a student MC might jump to the conclusion that my service in the Marines necessarily meant service in Iraq and Afghanistan–or Montezuma and Tripoli for that matter. If such people are capable of occasionally prefixing the word “author” with “bestselling” without any real justification, then certainly the idea of dressing up my service with undeserved honors isn’t beyond them… I’m so proud of my service that I finally included it in my bio. And Richard Blumenthal, who, like me, served as a Marine Reservist, should be proud too. But obviously, he’s not proud enough of his service, which helps explain why he weaved a weird tale about fighting in Vietnam.

The next next generation of phone banking

It’s been a good week for Carly Fiorina’s campaign.  Buried underneath news of the controversy Sarah Palin stepped in by endorsing Fiorina, is the adoption yesterday of a pretty cool technology by the Campaign to unseat Boxer.  The platform, created by RealGood Technologies, plugs any mobile phone with text message capabilities into a candidate’s GOTV effort.

In January, Scott Brown’s campaign successfully used an internet-based phone bank from anywhere function to rally supporters from across the country; a Senate seat in California would be an equally significant pickup for Republicans.  If Fiorina goes on to win the Republican Primary and takes out Sen. Boxer, this tactic will be held up as one of the big Republican success stories of 2010.

140-character sponsorships

Though they haven’t shown up quite yet, the phrase of the day is “sponsored tweets” – Twitter’s long-overdue way to make money off its product. (When you hear anyone say “sponsored tweets,” scream real loud!)

I’ve searched a few terms that seemed like good candidates for these ads to show up but haven’t seen a sponsored tweet yet – which may be the first time anyone has ever wanted to see advertising but couldn’t find it.

Sponsored tweets do offer a new political tactic in advance of the 2010 elections.  Candidates have been using Google ads to frame themselves and their opponents for years, and 2010 will be no exception.  Search engine and Facebook ads, though, are closer to traditional advertising: you see creative (text or a picture), and if it’s interesting enough you take some sort of action.  Clicking on an online ad is a more instant (and measurable) reaction that buying something after seeing a television commercial, but the concept is the same.

Twitter ads appear to be more message advertising – so the “creative” may not even come directly from the ad sponsor.  Lets say you’re working for Republican Keith Fimian, running against Rep. Gerald Connolly to represent Virginia’s lovely 10th district (which includes this blog).  If someone searches for Connolly on Twitter, you might sponsor a tweet from a voter or activist – rather than from the official Fimian campaign Twitter account – that calls on Connolly to get heaved out of office.

This strategy has been tested somewhat with Google ads, but mostly as a joke – searching for John McCain, for instance, might bring up sponsored links for the AARP.   But Twitter ads give brands – political or corporate – a chance to use third party voices to frame search results.  No doubt this will become as much art as science as the 2010 elections approach.

A very maverick-y negative ad

That John McCain, two years after being his party’s standard-bearer, is fighting for his political life in a primary against talk show host J.D. Hayworth is telling of how urgently many GOP activists want a cathartic cleansing of Republicans of recent vintage.  However, an online video released by the McCain camp makes an argument that the conservative movement needs effective messengers as much as effective messages.

The message is subtle even if the delivery is not: the GOP has a message problem that goes beyond government policy, and the elevation of a voice like Hayworth’s would add to the stereotype.   One would assume that McCain’s campaign has internal poling numbers which show this is a strong field for them to play on, and that Republican primary voters are vulnerable to fears that Hayworth will be perceived as a joke.

The McCain folks are certainly careful to tread cautiously to avoid offending activists – they use extreme-sounding quotes from Hayworth, but on selective issues.  For instance, the video doesn’t take a stand on gay marriage, but it does quote Hayworth’s hyperbolic comparison of gay marriage to bestiality.  This is followed by Hayworth overreacting to an off-hand comment from a political opponent who promised to metaphorically drive a stake through Hayworth’s heart – echoing the over-the-top rhetoric of some Democrats after the recent health care debate.

With this video, McCain tries to tell conservatives that Hayworth is simply not strong enough to carry their flag.  It’s a pretty sophisticated message – and a good one for McCain to deliver, given his at-times-contentious relationship with conservative activists. And the video is funny, which always helps.

McCain does make one mistake in the presentation of his case that’s worth a chuckle or two.  A quick glance of the official John McCain YouTube channel offers potential for misunderstanding; the thumbnail for the video happens to be the screen frame reading “Expose Obama’s Secret Kenyan Birthplace” – and it looks more like a campaign promise than a joke.

We all get unicorns? Oh, it’s April Fools…

The National Republican Senatorial Committee celebrated April Fool’s Day by releasing a well-timed video chronicling the difference in President Obama’s promises and results:

Messaging on April Fool’s Day can be tricky for political groups.  As a private company with a reputation for lightheartedness, Google can make annual fake announcements without fear of retribution.  (This year they are renaming the company “Topeka” – reciprocating the promise of the free-broadband-seeking Topeka, Kansas to rename their city “Google” for a day.)

The NRSC did a good job with the video.  Because it’s obvious and over the top, it’s clearly an April Fools joke from the beginning.  Sure, that might make it a bit less funny, but the NRSC isn’t going for an award from a comedy film festival.  They were looking to do just what they did: use measured humor and creativity to deliver an important – and well-timed – political message.

Bringing the politics to you

Minnesota Governor/2012 Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is holding a  town hall meeting tomorrow.  Last night, California Senate candidate Chuck DeVore held a fundraiser with Andrew Breitbart.

You can go to either of these events without being in Minnesota or California – both will be online.  (Though, if you want to attend the DeVore event, you’re going to have to also find a way to channel 1.21 gigawatts into the flux capacitor, which may cost more than the $50 minimum donation.)

In Pawlenty’s case, the two-term governor is attempting to build a national base in advance of his 2012 run for the White House.  For people nosing around and still feeling out the contenders, it’s a low barrier of entry.   With the first primaries still more than 20 months away, Pawlenty wisely doesn’t want to burn out his activists; at the same time he wants to start building a list of engaged supporters.  Some of his likely primary opponents (like Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and maybe Sarah Palin) already have exposure and campaign infrastructure from 2008.  The town hall could help Pawlenty catch up and – maybe even more important – allows him to build the perception of his candidacy being more firmly rooted in ideas than personality.

DeVore is trying to broaden his base, too – and continue extending his brand as one of the leaders among Republicans in the use of online tactics.  Thus far in the primary, DeVore has been the Martin Short of the Three Amigos running for the Republican nomination.  (If you’re wondering, Steve Martin was the best Amigo, followed closely by Chevy Chase.  Barbara Boxer is already El Guapo.)  The virtual pizza party may not put him on the Republican ticket to face Boxer in 2010, but it’s a good idea – one that could help other Republicans in 2010 or even DeVore himself in a future race.  After all, winning campaigns aren’t the only ones with good ideas.

Carly’s Boxer Blimp

The Carly Fiorina campaign has released a follow-up to their much-lampooned “Demon Sheep” web video.  In this one, Barbara Boxer turns into a giant blimp because she’s full of hot air.  (Getcha popcorn ready, because it’s almost eight minutes long.)

Despite the ribbing from Fiorina’s primary opponents, ad maker Fred Davis claimed victory for the viral hit, pointing to its high number of YouTube views.  Davis might have a point.  The funny part of the Demon Sheep video – the campily costumed and Keds-clad sheep – came at the end, after the video had railed on fellow Republican candidate Tom Campbell’s fiscal street cred.  The Boxer Blimp wouldn’t attract nearly as much attention if it hadn’t been for its fluffy forefather.

Still, the video is as unfocused as it is comical and over the top.  The message shifts from the Senator being arrogant to incompetent to out of touch, and discusses taxes, environmental policy, financial restraint, national security, and Boxer’s personality with clumsy or non-existent segues.  The imagery is often uneven; at one point, the announcer accuses Boxer of being progressively “less and less effective” during her Senate tenure just as her image is smashing through the Capitol dome.

It does, however, tell a good story about Carly Fiorina – but unlike the Demon Sheep, the story comes after the CGI blimp attack.

But regardless of what anyone thinks of the style of the ads or how many viewers they attract, the one measure of effectiveness is at the polls.  That’s an area where Fiorina still lags behind.

(By the way, if you look closely, I’m pretty sure the shots of San Francisco include Alamo Square – more notably known as “Full House Hill” for its inclusion in the opening credits of the legendary and classic sitcom.)

Hunting Demon Sheep

The Chuck DeVore for Senate campaign has declared open season on Demon Sheep.  Visitors to demonsheep.org can squish, shear, crisp, or mock the ill-conceived star of a Carly Fiorina campaign video:

Aside from being a fun concept, the microsite does all the right things – it lets users share their demon sheep hunting with friends, and hits hunters up for small donations.

The original “Demon Sheep” web video was designed to distinguish Fiorina from GOP primary opponent Tom Campbell – casting Campbell as a FCINO, or “Fiscal Conservative in Name Only.”  The campy quasi-religious imagery a low-budget sheep costume that looks like it was a pilfered sample from a carpet store made for internet mockery.  But it also made for viral viewing, giving an audience for the negative points the video makes about Campbell.

Though the Demon Sheep video doesn’t mention DeVore, he’s doing his best to capitalize – and as Matt Lewis and I discussed weeks ago, DeVore’s campaign stands to gain the most if Fiorina and Campbell descend into a harshly negative campaign that damages both.

This effort can be successful in targeting conservative activists nationwide for support and donations.  The drawback for the DeVore folks is timing.  Demon Sheep is a month old, and while bizarre, the opportunity to latch onto the initial wave of coverage has long passed.


Evan Bayh’s decision not to run for re-election this year not only hurts Democrat chances of retaining any clear Senate majority, but robs them  of one of their moderating influences. If the Democrats hold 51 seats in January 2011, what will that majority agenda look like?

Bayh has helped temper more liberal policies, from business regulation to health care.  Other retirees, like Chris Dodd, and troubled incumbents, like Blanche Lincoln and Harry Reid, have shared that role at various times in their careers.  Perhaps the likes of Mark Warner or Max Baucus can fill that void – or, perhaps the diminished moderate ranks are quieter in the gridlock that comes from having less than 60 votes.

But maybe the most telling story about the relationship between Democrats and the electorate comes from the curious primary challenger Bayh faced – a fringe candidate who claims to be closing in on the signature requirements which would make her an official candidate.  If true, Tamyra D’Ippolito – who claims the state party is an “old boys’ club” – would have a cakewalk to the nomination.  If she misses the cut (which happens at noon today), state party officials could hand-pick a better-funded, better-known candidate to run in Bayh’s place.

If you’re scoring at home, that means the state Democratic party would like to select their candidate with as little democracy as possible.  As Republicans in New York’s 23rd Congressional District can attest, that’s a recipe for disaster.

State of the Unions

Washington, D.C. is under about eight feet of snow, the federal government has called it a week already, and the House has started their Presidents’ Day Recess a few days early.  Heck, the Metro isn’t even running trains to outdoor stations.  With no action on Capitol Hill, a Quinnipiac University poll showing that Republicans are gaining public trust has become the big political news of the day.  Analysts have pondered the falling support of the Obama administration among independents and speculated about what that means for the electoral chances among Democrats.

It’s a valid question, but Politico brings up an even more relevant issue: falling support of Congressional Democrats among their own Big Labor base:

Union leaders warn that the Democrats’ lackluster performance in power is sapping the morale of activists going into the midterm elections.

“Right now if we don’t get positive changes to the agenda, we’re going to have a hard time getting members out to work,” said United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard, in an interview.

Please note that the term “work” in Gerard’s quote refers not to the members’ day jobs, but their efforts on the campaign trail.  As many jokes present themselves about this being the only time a hardcore union activist actually works, this is an important source of energy for a Democratic campaign.  These are the folks that make phone calls, knock on doors, march in parades, and do all the other things that are so important leading up to election day.  And even though many snide remarks could be added about using a blackjack as a get-out-the-vote program or a beat down rod as a debate strategy, the truth is that boots on the ground that know what they’re doing make those things unnecessary.

Now, Democrats have some tough choices.  Pushing the Big Labor agenda means things like removing secret ballots from union formation elections and other ways to drum up union membership – meaning more union dues are siphoned out of paychecks, meaning more money in the coffers of the AFL-CIO, UAW, and their fellow travelers.  After unsuccessfully trying to sell the health care overhaul as a matter of “the people” versus “special interests” how does a Congressman face his or her constituents with a vote to whip up union membership fresh on the voting record?