Archive for ‘campaign’

December 13, 2008

What the Obama campaign can teach the Republican Party

Lloyd Grove has an interview with Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, some of which is happy horseshit, but some of which is very interesting. Consider this exchange about campaign salaries:

L.G.: How did you discipline salaries and compensation? Because traditionally, if you look at, say, Mark Penn [Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist], I don’t know how much Mark was pocketing but you see that they had outstanding bills approaching $10 million to him.
D.P.: People on the campaign could not make more than a certain amount — $12,000 a month. There were salary bands, so there wasn’t a lot of eventfulness about what people got paid. If you were a deputy you got paid X, if you were an assistant, you got paid Y. We were very aggressive with our consultants in terms of their piece. From a fiscal management standpoint, Obama was very clear that he did not want to end up with a debt in the primary or the general, so we just planned accordingly. We didn’t spend beyond our means.
L.G.: So the highest salary on the campaign was $12,000 a month?
D.P.: Pre-tax, yeah. In other campaigns, they can make a lot more than that, and people working in Senate races and governor’s races made a lot more than that.
L.G.: You’ve made more than that.
D.P.: No doubt, it was a financial sacrifice for many on the campaign, but I think it helped. There wasn’t any drama around compensation.
L.G.: What about percentages of ad buys?
D.P.: We had a cap, an aggressive arrangement –
L.G.: What did you cap it at?
D.P.: Well below industry standards.
L.G.: Because arguably, somebody could still get a very handsome fee. Say for the sake of argument, you spent $350 million on advertising. Even a niggling 1 percent of that is $3.5 million.
D.P.: That’s why you have caps, so that people can’t make more than a certain amount. So that if your spending does increase, their profits don’t increase.
L.G.: What was the cap on that?
D.P.: I can’t remember — it differed by firm based on what they were doing. But we made sure to protect ourselves. That ended up being, I think, wise, because we obviously raised a lot of money but the firms did not make more. My view of this is that working on a presidential campaign is obviously arduous but it’s a unique opportunity. My view is you shouldn’t have to pay market rate for people’s services. And that’s the general approach, and it seems to have worked out well.

This extraordinarily thrifty approach — $144,000 as top annual salary in a presidential campaign! — is something that GOP candidates ought to learn to emulate. Otherwise promising Republican campaigns are routinely bled dry by overspending.

One particularly memorable episode: In late 2006, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore decided to run for president. He made some contacts in Iowa and New Hampshire, got a little bit of cash together, did a solid YouTube video rollout, got some press for slamming “Rudy McRomney” at CPAC. Then, less than two weeks later, it was announced that Gilmore had hired three top campaign consultants plus a deputy campaign manager, and leased the entire 12th floor of an office building in the Virginia suburbs of DC. Four months later, Gilmore was out of the race and, it was learned, his campaign was more than $67,000 in debt: The campaign had raised $182,000 in three months but apparently spent about $250,000 during that time period.

Now, I’m not saying that Gilmore was ever a likely contender, but he could have stayed in the game a few more months if he hadn’t let himself be talked into that “Big Dog” style of campaign. Why does a paid staff of four need the entire 12th floor?

That kind of stuff doesn’t just happen to little guys. Remember that John McCain was basically broke by late summer 2007 — his campaign burned through $20 million in the first six months of 2007. It appears obvious that Republican campaign operatives, collectively, have developed some very bad habits. The Republican Party raised $900 million in the 2008 cycle, and what do they have to show for it?

November 9, 2008

Losing Althouse

Ann Althouse offers a very interesting confirmation of my assertion — the subject of a much-criticized American Spectator column Oct. 7 — that it was his Sept. 24 bailout stunt that cost McCain the election:

September24: . . . After hearing from Obama, I view McCain as having pulled a stunt, a stunt that he should have seen would be ineffective.
September 25: I find Palin’s interview with Katie Couric “Painful. Terrible.” Yet McCain wants the VP debate to go first. She’s not ready, and he’s throwing out impulsive, erratic ideas.
September 25, a little later: I’m impressed by Mickey Kaus’s mockery of McCain’s stunt. . . .

Now, Althouse is a law professor who can hardly be taken as representative of “swing” voters in general, but there is something important going on here. While she originally thought McCain’s stunt was clever, she changed her mind once she saw Obama’s reaction. Which is to say that it was the contrast between the two men that was decisive.

Notice also how the disastrous Couric interview with Palin (arranged by the worse-than-useless Nicolle Devenish Wallace) aired almost contemporaneously with the bailout stunt, so that the effect of the two events cannot be disentangled in the ultimate chain of causation. (This disaster is “over-determined” to borrow social-science jargon from Rich Lowry.)

The Blame Sarah First crowd would have you believe that Palin exercised a negative effect independent of Maverick’s own shaky performance, a negative effect that had more to do with her objective qualifications (or lack thereof) than with Team Maverick’s thorough botch of her press relations.

Althouse, who was sympathetic to Obama from the start, was pushed toward the GOP ticket by Palin’s nomination, even though she remained steadily turned-off by McCain’s incoherence. (See her entry for Sept. 7.) As much as she disliked the Couric-Palin interview (thanks again, Nicolle!), it was really McCain’s bailout stunt, symptomatic of his general incoherence, that provided the decisive shift. Her reaction to McCain’s debate performance is entirely negative.

Non-partisan likeability
This all goes back to what I’ve been saying for weeks. If you are a genuinely independent voter — an “Ordinary American,” someone who in all honesty might vote for a candidate of either party — then ultimately you are going to vote on your general impression of the candidates. Before the 2004 election, I wrote an article (available only in PDF) for the moderate Republican journal Ripon Forum, in which I pointed out the “likeability” factor as trumping the sort of demographic microanalysis favored by pundits:

The big picture is left out of this microscopic calculus: Head to head, side by side, which one of these men does the electorate actually like?
Whatever his failings, Mr. Bush is basically likeable. This was a key factor in 2000, and is prominent again in 2004. His basic likeability is now giving Democrats nightmares. When the infamous Iowa “scream” derailed the energetic Howard Dean’s Democratic primary campaign, esablishment Democrats quickly jumped aboard the John Kerry bandwagon. But once Mr. Kerry secured his party’s nomination, Democrats were dismayed to note that they faced a repeat of the 2000 election: A stiff, pompous, boring Democrat competing with the aw-shucks charm of a smiling Texan.

That “aw-shucks charm” seems to have passed its sell-by date shortly after Bush’s re-election, but the basic point remains sound: Independent voters, who ultimately decide presidential elections and “swing” the swing states, really do act on the entirely irrational belief that by watching a man talk on TV, they can judge his fitness for the presidency. To the eternal consternation of pundits and policy wonks, the fine details of policy that motivate intellectuals and ideologues have little to do with persuading undecided, independent “swing” voters.

This is what has frustrated me about the McCain candidacy since the primaries. (Some) Republicans and (some) ideologues viewed his candidacy through rose-colored glasses: McCain was a heroic patriot whose POW biography would rally conservatives, while his “Maverick” image would sufficiently distance him from the Bush-damaged Republican brand. In hindsight, everybody seems to realize that this view was mistaken, without realizing why it was mistaken.

John McCain is not likeable, not by the standards of telegenic likeability that have prevailed since the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate. I have friends who’ve met the senator (a distant relative I call “Crazy Cousin John”) and genuinely like the man. But he is old and bald and comes across on TV as grumpy. This is why, much to horror of my True Believer conservative friends, I ultimately favored Mitt Romney in the GOP primaries. In politics, ceteris parabus, tall, rich and handsome beats old, bald and grumpy any day of the week.

This is not to say that policy and ideology are irrelevant, but the party and the movement whose icon is the amiable erstwhile movie cowboy Ronald Reagan ought never to discount the importance of having persuasive, likeable spokesmen — and spokeswomen, too, which is why I’m so big on Sarah Palin.

Our Sarah didn’t fare too well with independent voters in 2008 (if you believe the polls, which no True Believer ever does), but then again, Reagan wasn’t exactly a darling of the “swing” voters in 1976. And, yes, the True Believers are shuddering in rage at the audacity of comparing Palin to Reagan, but they should reserve their rage for those who compare Obama to Reagan. Don’t pretend we don’t know which comparison Reagan would find more insulting.

If Palin lacks (or seems to lack) the kind of sturdy intellectual commitments that Reagan possessed — another hindsight judgment that few would have granted the Gipper in ’76 — it cannot be denied that she possesses in great measure his down-to-earth likeability. Having excoriated McCain and Schmidt and the rest of Team Maverick for their boneheaded blunders, I yet give them full credit for seeing Palin’s natural political talent.

God-given talent
When I was a sportswriter in North Georgia in the late ’80s, Calhoun High School football coach Johnny Gulledge remarked that “you can’t coach a 4.4 forty.” That is to say, the kind of speed that can run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds is a God-given talent for which a winning coach gets credit when the speedster is his starting running back, but for which he gets blamed when that speed is on the other team. (Gulledge’s teams were plagued by a shortage of speed in those years.)

My American Spectator colleague Quin Hillyer has joined others in asserting that Palin’s electric effect on the Republican base was essentially a fluke, that any good running-mate pick would have excited the conservative grassroots in this otherwise bleak season for the GOP. With all due respect, I disagree. What some call a fluke, I see as . . . well, something else. (Perhaps you’re familiar with the Veggie Tales episode where Pa Grape’s niece saves them from the Island of Perpetual Tickling. Perhaps not.) Sneer at “populism” all you want, but I know what I believe.

For such a time as this, you might say, Palin’s choice was hardly a fluke. She was the Miracle Worker, the Sweetheart of the Heartland, and if you were not there in Shippensburg to see those people standing in that cold wind, you can be forgiven if you don’t get it. But let them that have eyes see:

November 8, 2008

They really are desperate

John McCormack calls it the most implausible Palin smear yet, and it is rather odd:

The day of the third debate, Palin refused to go onstage with New Hampshire GOP Sen. John Sununu and Jeb Bradley, a New Hampshire congressman running for the Senate, because they were pro-choice and because Bradley opposed drilling in Alaska. The McCain campaign ordered her onstage at the next campaign stop, but she refused to acknowledge the two Republican candidates standing behind her.

As McCormack points out, Bradley’s opposition to ANWR drilling is the same is Joh McCain’s opposition to ANWR drilling, and Sununu has a 100% right-to-life voting record, so that doesn’t make sense at all.

On the other hand, now that I think about it, I don’t remember Palin putting in plugs for local Republican officials when I saw her in Ohio and Pennsylvania. This routine of name-checking local officials at the beginning of a speech is essential to the presidential campaign business. (You remember Joe Biden’s infamous “stand up, Chuck” moment with Missouri state Sen. Chuck Graham.) And if Palin were indeed averse to that sort of political routine, it might lend credibility to this tidbit in the Newsweek story:

“McCain’s advisers had been frustrated when Palin refused to talk to donors because she found it corrupting . . .”

Here, now, is a charge that would be gravely serious, if true. Political campaigns and political parties live or die by fundraising, and schmoozing donors is a basic function of what candidates do.

The candidate is handed a list of names and numbers with a bit of biographical information about each, and the amount of their previous donations, and he picks up the phone and starts “dialing for dollars” as it is called. And then, out on the trail, at each rally, there is a private VIP reception where the top local donors are rewarded with face-time and a chance for a grip-and-grin photo with the candidate.

This is the inescapable reality of politics, and the best politicians tend to excel at this kind of stuff. Over the course of time, these kind of personal contacts add up to a solid base of support. Bill Clinton famously built his political career in Arkansas by compiling a file of 5″x7″ cards with donor/supporter information.

Surely, Palin has not succeeded in politics without knowing how important it is to do all this, but if — as the implausible Newsweek story asserts — she didn’t know it, somebody had better wise her up in a hurry. She will be (or at least, ought to be) the No. 1 attraction at Republican fundraising events in 2009, an eviable opportunity to build her base of support among GOP bigwigs, and she needs to make the most of it.

November 6, 2008

How’d that work out, guys?

McCain aide Rick Davis gets fingered as the author of the don’t-let-candidates-talk-to-reporters “strategery”:

McCain would want to head back to the reporters’ section of the plane, and Davis would pull him back. “No, no, no, I want them around me,” McCain would say, referring to the reporters. “No, no, no, they’re screwing you,” Davis would retort. At McCain’s insistence, his new campaign plane this past summer had been fitted with a large bench-style couch, to re-create the space on the Straight Talk Express bus, where the candidate had spent hours jawing on the record with reporters, half a dozen or so at a time. But reporters were never asked to sit there. McCain did not look happy about being kept on a tight leash, as least as far as reporters could tell from a distance.

The idiocy of these campaign aides! We’re supposed to trust this guy to be President of the United States, and you don’t trust him to spend a few minutes on the record with the press? Nice “message discipline,” douchebags!

October 19, 2008

Obama: $150 million in September


The Obama campaign announced this morning that it had raised a record $150 million last month, and had added 632,000 new donors to its total.
The amount shattered the campaign’s previous record from August. The McCain campaign also had a record-breaking month in August, but is now operating with the $84 million provided by public financing for the general cycle and assistance from the Republican National Committee under certain limits.

In a single month, then, Obama collects nearly twice what the McCain campaign collected in matching funds.

According to the New York Times, the Obama campaign has spent $145 million on TV advertising to McCain’s $90 million — a $55 million advantage for the Democrat.

September 19, 2008

Campaign update: New McCain ads

The past couple of days, I’ve been busy with the Sarah Palin e-mail hacking and haven’t blogged much about the back-and-forth in the presidential campaign. The big news is that Team Maverick has come out with a series of hard-hitting TV ads:

Obama-Chavez (en Espanol)

Nothing New

Jim Johnson

Patriotic Act

August 12, 2008

On the road again

John McCain will hold a town hall Tuesday morning in York, Pa., and I’ll be there to cover it. It’s about an hour-and-a-half drive time, and I’ll leave early. I’ll try to live blog as much of the event as possible, here and at AmSpecBlog, but other than that, blogging activity will be light Tuesday.