Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fussed Responders

In 2004, as the Democratic national convention closed and weeks before the Republicans opened their hate-fest in NYC, a window of opportunity opened: John Kerry was the chosen nominee. George W Bush had not been formally coronated for his second term campaign.

Which meant that John Kerry was barred from spending his general election campaign funds because he accepted public funding, but also barred from spending the residue of his primary campaign warchest in the general election period.

Naturally, this void was quickly seized upon by Karl Rove and the other Republofascists, and attacks were quickly launched: Ted Sampley, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the proto-flipflop charges were launched against Kerry.

Kerry, not having media savvy (and frankly, was boring as hell in front of a camera), didn't take the magnitude of these attacks or their repercussions seriously. The campaign wrongly calculated that this three pronged assault on Kerry's character wouldn't resonate.

And in truth, the original charges did not (except the infamous "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it"). But the image people had in their minds early on was one of a man who spoke out of both sides of his mouth.

Not good. What Kerry needed was what Bill Clinton had: a rapid response team.

Move forward to 2008. Hillary Clinton is running and now that things are reaching crunch time, people on both sides of the aisle are launching attacks:
CONCORD, N.H., Oct. 29 — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton came under pointed attack Monday by her two main rivals for the Democratic nomination, who said she was not being direct on Social Security and also suggested she was too cozy with Washington lobbyists.

The rivals, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, in campaign appearances in Iowa and here, took on Mrs. Clinton by name, escalating their attacks on her a day before they were to share a stage at the Democratic debate in Philadelphia.

PETERBOROUGH, N.H. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on Sunday blasted Hillary Rodham Clinton for talking about what she would do on the diplomatic front between her possible election and inauguration.

Clinton has told crowds she would send "distinguished Americans of both political parties to travel around the world on my behalf with a very simple message to the governments and the people alike: The era of cowboy diplomacy is over."

Giuliani, pointing to a story in Sunday's Des Moines Register about her statements, said such comments hurt the United States and undermine the balance of President Bush's term, which ends Jan. 20, 2009.
I'm going to ignore the laughability of Rudy's claim about "credibility". That's kind of like saying Jeffrey Dahmer must be a vegetarian.

Instead, I want to focus on a little-noticed aspect of her campaign:
When Barack Obama confronted Hillary Clinton's vote on Lieberman-Kyl, the Clinton campaign quickly mailed a detailed explanation of her vote to Iowans.

When Barack Obama told the New York Times that he would start to challenge Clinton more aggressively and picked her refusal to detail her Social Security fix as his first target, within 10 hours the Clinton campaign was on the air in New Hampshire with an ad attempting to inoculate any perceived vulnerabilities on Social Security.

Depending on the size of the buy, more New Hampshire residents probably saw the Clinton ad before they heard too much about Obama's charge on Social Security. And notice how Clinton frames her opposition: by using George W. Bush as a foil.
The ad contains a most excellent bit of writing:"These days, it seems like every candidate on earth is coming here for You. But which candidate has been there for you all along?"

The Bill Clinton rapid response team had T shirts printed up in 1992 that said "Speed Kills", meaning the faster they could get a response out to anything Bush the Elder tried to do in the campaign, the faster they could kill his Presidency.

As Carville points out, by 1996 he had moved on. By 1998, nearly all of the team-- Carville, George Stephanopoulos, Dee Dee Myers, and others-- had moved on.

You wonder how the Lewinski affair would have played out if they had stayed?

Now it's 2008. Another Clinton is running and it appears that, yes, a rapid response team has reformed and is running the war room.

One of the big differences this year is YouTube, which did not exist in 1992 or 1996 (or really, in 2004, when you think about it), but which had an huge impact in the 2006 midterm elections. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama make generous use of this medium, so we might even see simultaneous assaults and responses launched in cyberspace and the main stream media.

Presumably, in a general election, greater use of these tactics will have to be employed, and strategies developed to deflect and deflate charges that will be made.

YouTube, as well as other Internet outlets, do not have the same level of self-regulation as even the pitiful excuse we have for news reporting does. Any slander or smear can be posted, with minimal reprisal, yet it will force a rapid response.

And that's not to say the right is without facility in this regard, although their results have been far from effective, much less as dazzling as Clinton's.

So who might make up this rapid response team for Hillary? Well, Mandy Grunwald, one of Hillary's senior advisers, has been blogging for her, so we can assume she's had some input; Crystal Patterson, who was Ted Kennedy's Internet operations manager before joining the campaign; Lee Feinstein, who worked under Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, has the foreign policy duties; and then there's Mark Penn, chief strategist for BOTH Clinton's and James Carville protege. And of course, the Big Dog himself.

So if this all seems familiar, the way the campaign is running, hitting on all cylinders with nary a hiccup, there's the team to credit. Or blame.