Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Shrum Syndrome

Max Blumenthal has a great article entitled "Hitler in Virginia" in the online edition of The Nation about Scott Howell, media consultant to Virginia republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore, and the death penalty attack ads Howell has crafted for the campaign.

The whole article is excellent and worth a read, but this small aside jumped out at me:
"Nothing is accidental in this business," said David Eichenbaum, a media consultant employed by the Kaine campaign, whose firm, Struble/Eichenbaum, worked for Daschle and Cleland during their losses to Howell's clients.
In other words, Tim Kaine, the Virginia Democratic candidate for governor, knew that Kilgore had hired Scott Howell as early as December 1, 2004. And, despite that, he hired the media firm that had lost to Howell in their last two head-to-head contests, where Howell client John Thune beat incumbent Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota, Howell client Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent Democratic Congressman Max Cleland in Georgia. Both campaigns were media bloodbaths. Howell represented the Republican winners. Struble/Eichenbaum represented the Democratic losers. Jerry Kilgore hired Howell. Tim Kaine turned around and hired Struble/Eichenbaum.

What is this? Two strikes and you're in?

It smacks of John Kerry hiring Bob Shrum to manage his presidential race, after Shrum had already lost six Democratic presidential campaigns. And, true to form, Shrum went on to lose the Kerry race.

Why do Democrats reward failure? Why do they encourage mediocrity? Where is the will to win?

Now, I'm not saying that Struble/Eichenbaum is a bad media firm. In 2004 Struble/Eichenbaum helped elect two Democratic governors in strongly Republican states: Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Brian Schweitzer in Montana.

What I am saying is that Scott Howell mopped up the floor, twice, with Struble/Eichman candidates last year. Maybe, just maybe, instead of hiring a media firm with a proven track record of losing to Scott Howell, maybe Tim Kaine should have looked at hiring a firm that could beat Howell, or that Howell didn't already know how to kick in the teeth.

I am no longer suprised at the Kaine campaign's pitiful response to the Kilgore campaign's attack ads this month. Readers who pay close attention to Virginia politics may point out that after Kilgore's attack ads, Kaine actually showed a boost in the polls. That's good news for Kaine, but it doesn't show causation. (If I step on a crack the same time my mother breaks her back, that doesn't show causation either.) The response to Kilgore's smear ads that Struble/Eichman produced was amateur, ineffective, and embarassing--and, based on the way they conducted the Cleland and Dashle campaigns, typical of how they operate. It is dangerous and foolish to attribute Kaine's success to the way that Struble/Eichman have mishandled the ad wars. If anything, they should be held up as a textbook example of how not to respond to Republican attack ads.

Democrats are stuck in a rut where they think they can use the same strategies/tactics/methods/playlist they used to lose the last election, but expect to win the next time. Their thinking defies logic. It makes no sense to me and, frankly, it drives me crazy.

Until Democrats break out of the Shrum Syndrome and start learning from their mistakes, victories will be rare and will occur despite, not because of, political operatives.