Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Running Behind

Running a political campaign is not easy. The majority of campaigns today--even those that prove ultimately successful for the candidate--are not well run. Those that are--such as Obama's 2008 primary and presidential undertakings--stand out from the crowd and are noted for their well-crafted strategy and efficient execution.

On a much smaller scale, Tom Emmer's campaign to secure the Minnesota GOP's endorsement for governor has also been remarked upon favorably. Like Obama, Emmer began the campaign in a crowded field and was not the favorite. But his campaign's superior strategy, organization, and communications help him to break away from the pack, narrow the field to a two-way race, and eventually prevail over Marty Seifert at the state convention.

Since the convention however Team Emmer's efforts have been disappointing. It's still early in the race for governor and once the DFL settles on a candidate there will be more clarity for voters on their choice. But so far the Emmer campaign has not impressed with its stumbling and bumbling on sideshow issues and inability to articulate a clear, consistent message. Quick, what is Emmer's key message right now? I don't know either. You may not approve of Mark Dayton's promise to "make the rich pay their fair share," but I bet most Minnesotans who pay attention to politics would recognize it.

Again, it's early and there's still plenty of time for Emmer's campaign to straighten up and fly right. But it got me to thinking about previous Republican campaigns for statewide office in Minnesota. When was the last time you could really describe one as "well run"?

2008: The less said about Norm Coleman's campaign against Al Franken the better. Don't blame Mark Ritchie for Franken's win. Norm Coleman's miserable campaign turned what should have been a laugher into a too close to call election night result.

2006: Bucking a Democratic tide in the state, Tim Pawlenty held on to win re-election as Minnesota's governor. But despite the result, his campaign was lackluster and unfocused. If Mike Hatch had been able to conceal his real self just a little bit longer, he might have beaten T-Paw and would be our governor today. Yikes.

While most people probably didn't expect Mark Kennedy to defeat Amy Klobuchar to claim the "Dayton Seat" in the Senate (figuratively vacant since the 2000 election), we did expect him to run a better campaign. The "aw shucks, I'm just a moderate Minnesota family guy in plaid shirt" approach was pathetic and voters responded to it by giving Klobuchar an all-too-easy victory.

2004: No major statewide races.

2002: This is the last election year that we had what could be described as well run GOP campaigns. Both Norm Coleman and Tim Pawlenty benefited from the fact that 2002 was a Republican year. And Coleman especially benefited from the circumstances of the Wellstone funeral. But they also both ran well-managed, effective campaigns that put the candidates into positions where they could capitalize on the circumstances and win elections. Which makes their later campaign struggles all the more difficult to understand. Did they forget the formula for success and the lessons they learned? Or where they too confident that having run campaigns and won elections in the past, they could just put it in cruise the next time around?

Let's hope the Emmer campaign hasn't fallen victim to similar hubristic temptations after the impressive effort to gain the GOP endorsement. The only campaign that matters is the one you're running right now.