There is an old saying that if you watch sausage being made you won’t want to eat it. Let’s take a peek behind the curtain at political sausage being made. Democrat Michelle Nunn’s campaign plan was accidentally made public. Eliana Johnson at National Review has the story:
From all appearances, the document was intended to remain confidential. It outlines the challenges inherent in getting Nunn, who grew up mostly in Bethesda, Md., elected to the Senate in a state with a large rural population. Her father, Sam Nunn, was elected to the Senate when she was six, and Michelle Nunn attended Washington’s prestigious National Cathedral School and then the University of Virginia and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government before returning to Georgia to do nonprofit work and, now, to seek higher office.
The documents reveal the campaign’s most sensitive calculations. Much of the strategizing in the Georgia contest, as is typical in southern politics, revolves around race. But the Nunn memos are incredibly unguarded. One is from Diane Feldman, a Democratic pollster and strategist who counts among her clients Minnesota senator Al Franken, South Carolina representative James Clyburn, and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Feldman, who did not return calls seeking comment, is frank in her characterization of the demographic groups — Jews, Asians, African Americans, Latinos, and gays — that are essential to a Democratic victory. The Nunn campaign declined to comment about the document on the record.
The campaign’s finance plan draws attention to the “tremendous financial opportunity” in the Jewish community and identifies Jews as key fundraisers. It notes, however, that “Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here.” That’s a position she has yet to articulate — her message on the subject is marked “TBD” in the document — and Israel goes unmentioned on her campaign website.
Asians are also identified as key fundraisers. The community is described as “very tight,” one in which people work to “become citizens quickly.” Nunn’s strategists also say there is a “huge opportunity” to raise money from gays, bisexuals, and transgender individuals, who are described as having “substantial resources.”
As southern whites have moved to the right, Democrats have been forced to cobble together a coalition of minority voters. Feldman recommends as a goal winning just 30 percent of the white vote while working to increase turnout among African Americans and Latinos. So while Jews, Asians, and gays are characterized as potential “fundraisers,” African Americans and Hispanics are the ones the campaign needs to get to the polls in historic numbers, the document makes clear.
“This constituency group is critical,” it says of the African Americans who make up much of Georgia’s Democratic base, adding that Nunn must win “a very high percentage of the African-American vote” and attract “a large number of voters who do not typically turn out in an off-election year.” The plan puts a particular emphasis on black clergy. It also highlights the need to “generate passion and enthusiasm” for Nunn in the black community. And it raises concern that Hispanics have not yet been “appropriately engaged” on her behalf.
To compensate for her difficulties with rural white voters, Nunn’s strategists emphasize the need to turn out blacks and Hispanics. “They know that in order to have a chance of winning, they’ve got to change the turnout from what it would ordinarily be in a midterm election,” Kerwin Swint, a professor of politics at Atlanta’s Kennesaw State University, said, when asked about the document’s conclusions.
Some people are shocked, or at least pretend to be. I’m not shocked, nor am I surprised or disillusioned. This is what political campaigning is in the 21st Century. You and I are not people, we are demographic units.
First of all the plan is an internal memorandum. Of course it is quite blunt. You don’t hire expensive experts and then expect them to pussyfoot around. You want them to cut to the chase.
This assumes you are in it to win it and you are not just running a token campaign of opposition like Wendy Davis in Texas. To win an election you need to get more votes than any of the other candidates. In a two-candidate race that means 50%+1 of the votes cast.
So you look at the electorate and figure out how to do that. Actually, you hire expensive experts to do that. They do polls and analyze demographic data, then they come up with (what you hope is) a winning plan.
Part of that plan is raising money. That means you identify the people who have money who might be willing to donate. Then you try to get them to cough up some cash so you can afford to pay your expensive experts.
Once you have raised some money, the expensive experts will spend it for you. Quite a bit of it will end up in their pockets, or in the pockets of people they hire to do stuff for your campaign. The way they will burn thru your campaign bank account will be good preparation if you get elected, only then the donors have no choice.
There are several things you will need to do in order to win the election. First and foremost you have to identify your likely voters and motivate them to get out and vote for you.
Secondly, you need to identify the undecided voters and try to convince them to vote for you. If you can’t do that, you want to convince them to not vote for the other candidate(s). Better they don’t vote than vote for someone else.
Thirdly, you want to identify your main opponent’s likely voters and convince them not to vote at all, or to vote for some 3rd-party no-hope candidate.
The way you convince voters not to vote for someone is called “negative campaigning.” This begins with opposition research, aka “oppo”. Everybody has a skeleton or six, hidden in a closet somewhere. Not only that but they have probably committed a few errors in judgment too.
They may have some current or former friends as well as some relatives who are shady or even downright criminal. Maybe there is some disgruntled ex-employee, spouse or lover who is willing to dish some dirt. Maybe your opponent was banging his wife’s hairdresser and she is willing to talk for money.
So you hire some expensive “researchers” to go dig. You also hire some “assistants” to follow your opponent around in public with a video camera. Maybe you’ll get lucky and strike gold or even macaca.
On the other hand, you might have a few secrets and shady connections of your own. You need someone to make sure those bodies stay buried.
You may think that you know what you are talking about when it comes to policy. If so, you are wrong and you will probably lose. (See: Akin, Todd) Your policy positions have to be very carefully crafted. That starts with good polling, so you know exactly what people want to hear.
For example, let’s say you are going to be speaking to a group of Jewish women. You want to tailor your message specifically for them. Talk about how much you support Israel, and whatever else they believe in. But you have to be careful to NOT SAY things they will disagree with.
That is where those expensive experts come in. They figure all that stuff out and write your speeches for you. There are a lot of different demographic groups out there, especially if you are a Democrat. You can’t give the same speech in front of a pro-Palestinian group as you give to AIPAC.
You do all this for several months, then in the evening of the Tuesday after the first Monday in November during even-numbered years you find out if it all worked.
And that is how sausage is made.