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.

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)?

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.

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.

I’ve got Chris Dodd in my pocket, and my other hand is waving a peace sign

Former Congressman and current Senate candidate Rob Simmons has a neat fundraiser going as part of his campaign to unseat the ethically challenged Chris Dodd in Connecticut.  For $5, the campaign will send you a “Pocket Dodd” – a small cardboard cutout of the Senator so you, like the recipients of far-too-much bailout funding, can have Chris Dodd “in your pocket.”

The low, $5 suggested contribution limit, coupled with the message and the invitation to send back pictures give this project a chance for a viral impact.  Although, Simmons and Co. might have invited some less-than-wholesome responses with their call for people to “send photos of Pocket Dodd in action!”  (I’m glad those responses aren’t going to my inbox…)