Friday, April 17, 2009

How to Handle a Negative Story

I would like to recommend, for all you budding political hacks and flacks out there, this blog post on how to deal with negative press from Potomac Flacks.

One thing I absolutely agree with is that you should always respond to the press in some fashion.

There has been only one occasion in my career when I have responded to a call about a negative story with “no comment” – and that was that elected official’s decision and it went contrary to my advice (I have used “no comment” on certain issue stories where it wasn’t a good idea for my client to be dragged into a particular issue, but that is different from dealing with a story directly about your client).

I would also add the need to be very careful and very clear about what is “on the record,” “off the record,” and “on background.” Speaking on background can be tricky, too – think about what you want to be attributed as. If you don’t tell them, they can say “a senior adviser with Candidate X said…” and if that happens, you might as well have given out your name and home phone number. It’s important to say something like “on background as a local Democratic consultant.”

Finally, even if you respond, you don’t have to respond at the exact moment a reporter calls you.

The two most important phrases any flack needs are “what is your deadline?” and “can I get back to you?” Use them often.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Fix and the Future of Jeb

The Fix’s Chris Cilliza recently gave a nice description of some of former governor Jeb Bush’s policy theories. It was interesting, though it underplayed Bush’s focus on education (education meaning vouchers).

Cilliza also gave us an interesting take on Bush’s ambitions that no one in Florida could possibly believe.

According to the Fix, Jeb has abandoned his political ambitions, as indicated by the fact that he passed on an open U.S. Senate seat. His current ambition is now limited to being a wise, grandfatherly figure who will lead the Republican Party to a brave new world using some sort of food group metaphor.

Let pose this scenario to the Fix – one believed by every Floridian I know who has given this any thought.

Jeb knows that the Bush name is toxic for the near future. The best way to detox it is to disappear just a little.

It is said in Tallahassee that Jeb’s problem is not that he’s an idiot (implying that big brother George is an idiot), but that he thinks everyone else is an idiot. He is a smart man with more than enough introspection to know that he is an executive type of guy. He was always known for a certain high-handedness that would not serve him well in the Senate and sense of self that precludes being merely a junior Senator among 99 others.

His name means that he can come back in 2012 or even 2016 and people will still remember him.

This all assumes that he wants to be president – something that every Floridian has assumed since at the 1994 gubernatorial campaign, when he ran (and lost) to Walkin’ Lawton Chiles.

It seems clear to me that Jeb is building his national connections, staying in close touch with the leadership (such as it is) of the GOP and maintaining his connections to the bundlers who could fund a presidential run seven years down the road.

Sorry, Chris – no one down here buys it when you imply that he is happy to be sort of éminence grise for the Republican party, content to stay behind the scenes. He may not be practicing open politics, but it wasn’t “disinterest in the rough-and-tumble, who's up-who's down, point-scoring part of the political game that likely led Bush to take a pass on a slam-dunk Senate candidacy to replace Mel Martinez (R) in 2010” – but an interest in something bigger than the U.S. Senate and keen eye for the best path (for him) to get there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rubio Really Going For It?

It appears that former State House Speaker Marco Rubio is seriously going to challenge Governor Charlie Crist for the Senate seat being vacated (leaving before he gets kicked out) by Mel Martinez.

Most of us assumed he was just dithering around until Charlie jumped in the Senate race and that Rubio would then find some slot opened by the mad scramble that the 2010 edition of the “Tallahassee Two-Step” promises to be.

But, lo, we wrong.

I think.

Rubio raised approximately $250,000 for his senate exploratory committee in the first quarter of 2009.

Granted, he still needs another $20 million to run a competitive Senate race in Florida, but it’s still early.

I am not saying that I think Rubio is going win anything next year, but that $250,000 came from some hard work and it’s money that he cannot transfer into a state account (should he decided to run for Governor or Attorney General or the like). Maybe he really does intend to run to the right of ol’ Charlie and see if the socially conservative base of the GOP is willing to give him some love.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Numbers Are Trickling In

Jamie Bennett was probably wise to release his numbers early - it limited the unflattering comparisons when Deveron Gibbons and Scott Wagman released their first quarter totals.

Gibbons stands as the uncontested frontrunner in the money race with $117k raised. He even managed to defuse some of the criticism of his out-of-the-area fundraising by releasing that 344 of 542 contributors were from St Pete.

Wagman's numbers have to be considered a little disappointing, but only because he ramped up expectations early by telegraphing his intention to raise $500k in this election. He raised $54k and loaned himself another $20k - and while these are impressive numbers, he is certainly not on track to raise half a million dollars.

Also, if I'm correct, Wagman's (relatively) disappointing numbers might provide an opening for Bennett.

My assumption is that this technically non-partisan will still come down to a run-off between a defacto GOP nominee and defacto Democratic nominee. Gibbons has taken a huge step towards becoming that defacto GOP nominee (though many Republicans, more familiar with Bill Foster's record, may still gravitate towards the councilman, so I won't be carving any names in stone here).

On the Democratic side, I feel that it will come down to Wagman v Bennett (sorry Kathleen - you've been out of the picture for too long). Bennett's $31k first quarter and Wagman's talk of $500k made it seem as if Wagman might have the resources to swamp Bennett.

Now, though it seems clear that Wagman will outraise Bennett and by a considerable amount, it might stay close enough for Bennett's name recognition and electoral base in his city council district to get him out of the primary and into the run-off - and at Wagman's expense.

Final caveat - we don't know how much of Wagman's own money he is willing to put into this race, but we can be sure that his campaign manager will be urging to commit the necessary resources. It is entirely possible that the wealthy Wagman will drop a quarter in this race, and that would mean all bets are off.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

First Man to Throw His Hat in the Ring

Now, we all know that former Speaker Marco Rubio is just waiting for Crist to pick what he’s going to run for and then run for the other seat (though some have suggested he could primary Charlie for the U.S. Senate and challenge the sometimes moderate GOP’er from the right), but no one has openly said, “If Crist runs for the U.S. Senate, I will run for Governor.”

Until now.

Charles Bronson has officially said, “If Crist runs for the U.S. Senate, I will run for Governor.”

I know what you’re thinking – “I love it when TNT shows the Death Wish movies, but isn’t Charles Bronson dead?” or (if you are my mother and like to unnecessarily share these things with your son “I would vote for him in a heartbeat, because he was shirtless and gorgeous during the entire running time of Chato’s Land” or (if you’re me), “though his performance was not so revelatory as that of Henry Fonda, Once Upon Time in the West, Bronson’s appearance is still a masterpiece of restrained, yet operatic dignity.”

Of course, all of these would show just what a nonentity Charles Bronson is, because after eight years in statewide office, we are still not sure that we didn’t vote for the guy in Death Wish (sort of like the people who vote for Connie Mack IV, thinking that they are voting for his father, former Senator Connie Mack).

Why is Bronson to first one out of the gate, the first one to say, “If Crist runs for the U.S. Senate, I will run for Governor”?

Easy, because making a statement like that is an amazing admission of weakness.

Rubio is trying so hard not to say those words that he would rather not even say what he is running for (the only clue we get is that does say it is paid for by his Senate exploratory committee – the emphasis is mine) than say those words.

So let me be the first to congratulate Mr. Bronson on what I can only assume will be a dignified and graceful concession speech sometime next year.

Sink Posts Strong Numbers

CFO Alex Sink has is going to report $1.1 million raised in the first quarter for her re-election campaign. This is a strong number for her – especially considering it has to be raised in chunks of $500 or less.

Keep in mind – she could transfer this money to campaign for governor (though not for U.S. Senate) if Gov. Charlie Crist does not run for re-election but instead (as everyone suspects), runs for the U.S. Senate.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Environmental Messaging: New Challenges and Missed Opportunities

For the first time in 24 years, voters are prioritizing economic growth over the environment.

Voters were given two options

1) Protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth.
2) Economic growth should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent.

#2 beat number #1 by 51% to 42% (5% of respondents volunteered “equal” as their answer, but the poll was trying to push people into one camp or the other as a way to weed to measure the leanings of undecideds – a perfectly legitimate tool that does not diminish the results of the poll in any way).

These days, in the words of Bill Clinton, “it’s the economy, stupid.” More specifically, it’s the jobs, stupid.

Any policy proposal that does not have jobs front and center is going to be viewed as a low priority by the American voter.

The traditional environmental movement seems to be slow to adapting to these changes.

A recent email from the Sierra Club aimed at Floridians is a case in point. It is, in most ways, your basic email intended to drive traffic to a petition site and eventually to a request for contributions. But the language misses the mark in a number of fairly critical ways.

Help us bring clean cars, clean air and new jobs to Florida. Our Legislature is considering a bill Governor Charlie Crist supports that would require auto companies to sell clean cars in Florida.

But car manufacturers are lobbying our Representatives and Senators against this legislation that would help Florida slash global warming pollution. They would rather waste millions to stop this bill than work to make cleaner cars.

It is time for failing auto companies to get out of the way of clean cars for Florida. Click here to send a message to your State Representative and your State Senator asking them to support requirements for cleaner cars in Florida.
If enough of us take action, we can ensure that Florida will move forward with legislation that would cut car emissions 23% by 2012 and 30% by 2016. Vehicles will achieve greater fuel economy, reduce carbon emissions, and save business and consumers money at the fuel pump.
Click here to take action for clean cars and learn more:

Our state deserves clean air, cost savings at the pump and new jobs for Florida's clean energy future. Thanks for taking action to protect the planet.

Let’s take it from the top…

Paragraph 1: In the opening list of benefits, “new jobs” comes dead last. This is a criminally negligent misreading of what drives voters. Simply by putting new jobs first, the whole email would have taken on a different and more effective tone.

Paragraph 2: “Global warming” is so passé. I mean it. Listen closely and you’ll find that very few politicians or environmental groups use that phrase anymore. Why? Because global warming has ceased to be a statement of science and become a statement of ideology. The lines have hardened and either you’re already for it or your against. “Climate change,” on the other hand, is a more neutral term and voters who might currently tense up at “global warming,” are more open to learning about climate change.

Paragraph 3: If they had only written “…out of the way of creating jobs and clean cars…” or something similar.

Paragraph 4: The only other issue that moves the dial a little (besides jobs) is price points – saving voters money. Yet “save business and consumers money at the fuel pump” comes dead last in the list.

Paragraph 5: Just a link.

Paragraph 6: Once again, an opportunity missed to put jobs front and center. Which sort of sums up the whole email.

P.S. Thank you, Bob, for forwarding this email onto me! See you next time I'm in San Francisco!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Tampa Bay Renaissance Festival Over (Until Next Year)

I first went to the Bay Area Ren Fest in 1987 (back when it was held over in Largo - a superior location in my opinion, but that might only be nostalgia) and have only missed it twice since then (both times because I was working on campaigns out of state with late spring/early summer primaries and couldn't take the time off).

For those of you who missed it - this is kind of what it was like:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What to Look for in a Campaign Manager

Is it just a winning record? Absolutely not.

Someone who has only worked on winning campaigns has probably never worked on a truly challenging campaign – challenging tough incumbents or fighting against a financial disadvantage or demographic tides.

But you should look for someone who has worked on enough winning campaign that you can be sure they know the basic tools of victory. We’ve talked about some of those tools before. They’re not rocket science, but you’d be surprised how many people selling themselves as experienced campaigners willfully disregard the basics. If they’ve won a competitive race, then there’s a better chance they know what they’re doing.

It’s not a hard and fast rule. One of my colleagues has worked on twelve consecutive losing political campaigns. Twelve. Just think about it. Even he admits is can be a little soul crushing. I’d also hired him in a second, because I know he was brought into the game and trained by folks who cut their teeth taking on and taking out the Rostenkowski machine in Chicago.

There is such a thing as bad luck and you shouldn’t hold it against someone.

One of the least important things is familiarity with the region.

The fact is, there is nothing that a good professional learns so quickly as the facts on the ground. Moreover, someone without deep roots to the area can often help keep a campaign focused on the basics and keep the campaign from getting into too much “strategery.” The number of campaigns that have been sidetracked by candidates and manager obsessing over arcane issues or trying to get the endorsements of so-called power brokers when they should be busy raising money and telling voters how they’re going to create jobs – well, let’s just say it’s a large number.

The most important thing to look for is professional experience or training. Have they worked on a modern, professional political campaign in the past? Or else have they done some kind of intensive political campaign training? Not just a Camp Wellstone activist training, but something closer to the training done by 21st Century Democrats or the Democratic Campaign Management Program. They should be someone you trust, but not necessarily your friend. You’re not hiring a buddy – you’re hiring a manager who’s got to beg, browbeat, cajole and otherwise drag you across the finish line

Crist Clearing the Field

Congressman Connie Mack has officially pulled himself out of the Senate race. Before all the talk about Gov. Charlie Crist, Mack would have been considered a number one contender – someone able to get elected statewide solely on the basis of voters confusing him with his father (former Senator Connie Mack).

Between Mack publicly giving up his ambition (though he could decided to push Bill Nelson towards retirement in 2012) and former Speaker Marco Rubio obviously and embarrassingly just waiting to run for whichever office – governor or senator – that Crist is not, it seems pretty clear that Crist sees the U.S. Senate as the best way out of the nightmare of recriminations and unethical accounting measures that will be the state budget for the foreseeable future.

Assuming no Republican in his right mind is going to run against Crist – what does this mean?

Does Rep. Adam Putnam, who chose to run for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs just because, at the time, it was the only open statewide constitutional office, switch to governor? Because let’s not kid ourselves that Putnam’s deep and abiding ambition is to be in charge of citrus chancre. No – he wants to be governor on the way to the presidency. Agriculture was just the first open seat. Does he go for the safer bet and stick with Ag, but risk not having a clear shot at the governor’s mansion for eight years, instead of only four? Or does he bet the farm?

Putnam would certainly like his odds, except that two people (might) stand in his way.

Attorney General Bill McCollum surely wants something more from life. It’s an old political joke – AG doesn’t actually stand for “Attorney General,” but actually means “Aspiring Governor.” He’s got a solid record running for statewide office, but you can’t shake the feeling that he’s already hit his peak and Attorney General is about as high as he’ll ever go. Not to mention, people just don’t really like him that much.

CFO Alex Sink waved off calls to challenge Crist for governor (when he seemed likely to run for re-election) and also waved off calls to challenge Martinez or run for his open Senate seat (when it seemed that Crist would not run). Though no one seems to be talking about, she is pretty clearly in the catbird’s seat if she wants to run for governor. She’s a solid vote getter and, despite GOP efforts to bring her down, pretty darn popular. She hails from the number one swing media market in the state – Tampa Bay – and know how to raise the dough.

Notice how I don’t say that Marco Rubio stands in anybody’s way. Because he doesn’t. Rubio seriously needs to call Tom Lee or Johnny Bird or any person who was a big shot in the legislator who tried to run for statewide or federal office and see how it worked for them. Because it didn’t.