Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Campaign tidbits
As Clinton sinks...

Campaigns are brutal things. Sometimes a candidate simply gets run over by historical currents that weren't in that candidate's field of vision. It is a very unpleasant experience if you've ever been there.

I worked one of these campaigns, locally, in 2000. My candidate was a good, decent woman with an honorable history of community activism and administrative achievement. She had a grasp of the intricacies of city policy rarely seen in local candidates. She had solid endorsements from office holders in the area.

She also had a tin ear. The electorate in her district had been battered by evictions and gentrification -- a wave of anger at economic conditions that were rapidly altering their home landscape gripped many people. She didn't get it. She had a house that no one was going to take away from her. Her pocket of the neighborhood was pleasant and stable. Why didn't people care about the glut of cars, the deficit of usable public transit, the need for an environmental plan for the city?

They didn't care that year, even though she was right and forward thinking. Another, not nearly so "qualified," candidate understood and spoke the district's rage. My candidate plummeted to a dismal 3rd in a race she had led. All that experience and good sense didn't do a thing for her.

Obviously this is very familiar. Substitute wars and a crashing economy and we see Hillary Clinton today. Her campaign didn't comprehend where the U.S. people were going -- and might not have been able to speak to that movement even if she/they had understood.

Elections are Darwinian environments – and candidates tend to win for a reason. Tactics matter, as does an ability to tap into the larger Zeitgeist (i.e., structural forces matter too, but good campaigners recognize and tap into those underlying currents). For this reason, candidates who look great on paper (Dole, Rudy, HRC) lose if they run wretched campaigns. Similarly, candidates who don’t look so hot on paper can compensate with superior campaigning skills. In short, people who win tend to run superior campaigns. Not always, but generally.

Obsidian Wings

Candidates win who are able to catch the popular winds. To some candidates, those popular winds are unimaginable amid the clamor of conventional wisdom and political consultant advice.

The same winds are equally invisible to jaded political observers. I certainly didn't think Clinton could be blown off course by a well-organized hurricane of discontent with the status quo. I was wrong. I couldn't see it either. Sometimes, something unexpected can happen here.

By the way, the most ridiculous charge against the Clinton campaign floating around is this:

Even small expenses piled up in January: the campaign spent more than $11,000 on pizza and $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts runs.

New York Times

Whatever they may have wasted on dumb pollsters and inept media consultants, that expenditure was not waste. Pizza and donuts keep the world turning and the workers trudging on any campaign.

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