Don't sweat the media narrative--we don't run primaries to win news cycles

by: Chris Bowers

Wed May 19, 2010 at 00:56

While David Brooks and David Broder will undoubtedly deliver stern lectures to the country tomorrow for its refusal to be all centrist, really there is no reason to sweat the national media narrative tonight at all.

We don't run primaries to win a few news cycles.  We don't win them to persuade pundits, or get the same level of media play as the teabaggers.  We run primaries to send a message to Democratic elected officials.

Tonight, for the first time ever, two incumbent Democratic Senators failed to win primaries in a single day.  That has never happened before, and is greater than the number of incumbent Democratic Senators who lost primaries over the past decade combined.  Further, both challengers had little to no establishment support (especially Sestak), and one was in a red state (Halter).  Most importantly, both challengers took on the incumbents from the left.

The bottom line from all of this it that Democrats have to answer to the grassroots everywhere now.

That is the message tonight, and we were delivering it to Senate Democrats, not to the media.  Both in the short term as fights Wall Street reform unfold, and in the longer term as the party reconsiders its modus operandi, it is a message we are going to keep delivering, over and over again, until they finally frakking hear it.

Primaries matter--that's damn right.  Click on the banner below to check out Open Left's sponsor, Democracy for America, and join the ongoing fight to reform the Democratic Party.

Chris Bowers :: Don't sweat the media narrative--we don't run primaries to win news cycles

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Can I get a witness? (4.00 / 4)
Can somebody say, "Amen!" Yessssss.

Amen! (4.00 / 2)
We finally kicked dead weight out of the Democratic Caucus. If we could do this every day, we'd be less than two months away from a better senate.

Problem is, we can't do this every day. But we can finish the job in Arkansas -- and then deal with that asshole in Colorado who punked DFA and PCCC members for tens of thousands of dollars.

On twitter: @BobBrigham

[ Parent ]
What a night !! (4.00 / 2)
I can think of no more satisfying result than to see Spector of the betrayal party sink even with Obama supporting him.

May Rahmbo/Obama corporatist support see the idea that being repuke light is not the answer.

And as usual, Open Left was instrumental in giving progressive voices a say in this lead up.

Congrats to all for supporting progressive democratic concepts and actions.

I think the Joe Sestak campaign in particular offers us a roadmap on how to take on establishment candidates (4.00 / 4)
The Sestak campaign strategy was a very educational one.  Sestak had no establishment support and was mostly running behind Specter for most of the campaign.

Before the Sestak surge, The Fix examined the race and while acknowledging that Sestak appeared hopeless, predicted that Sestak would come out with a last-minute surge that could close the gap.

But, conversations with a variety of Democratic strategists who are unaligned in the race suggest that the conventional wisdom about the race is wrong.


First and foremost because Sestak is sitting on $5 million (as of the end of 2009) -- a not insignificant sum that should allow him to fight Specter somewhat evenly on television in the final month of the race. (Specter ended 2009 with a whopping $8.7 million in the bank.)

Second, Sestak has clearly chosen to run a truncated campaign -- believing that a short race will allow him to better neutralize the spending edge that Specter has while also driving home the negatives against the incumbent -- starting with the fact that he switched parties in the spring of 2009 --- in a sustained way that will leave a mark with voters.

The "hold your fire" approach is a hallmark of the Campaign Group, the media firm handling Sestak's ads, noted one Pennsylvania Democratic strategist. The source pointed out that in the 2007 Philadelphia mayoral race, Michael Nutter -- a Campaign Group client -- waited until the very last minute to go on television but managed to catapult past his opponents to win the race.

"They like to keep their powder dry until the last possible minute and go up as hard and as aggressively as they can and sustain it through Election Day," explained the source about the Campaign Group strategy.
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Third, there is a widespread belief that Sestak has room to grow while Specter is at hi acme with Democratic voters. The Q poll showed that just 12 percent of likely Democratic voters didn't know enough about Specter to offer an opinion while a whopping 58 percent said the same of Sestak.

Sestak has the money (as we noted above) and the story to tell -- military service, defeated a Republican incumbent in 2006 -- that should give him an immediate boost once he begins to tell it on television.

Specter, on the other hand, is almost universally known and almost certainly won't be able to move his numbers in a significant way with positive ads.

Given all of that, negative commercials -- and the ability of each candidate to drive home those negatives on the stump -- will decide the winner.

Sestak's negative attack is simple: Arlen Specter isn't really one of us. Expect Sestak to drag out the ads from Specter's 2004 primary race in which he was endorsed by -- among others -- President George W. Bush and Sen. Rick Santorum as proof.

In this case The Fix nailed it, right down to the attack ad with footage of Bush and Santorum.

Contrast this with the losing campaign of poor (literally!) Jennifer Brunner.  She, like Sestak, had no establishment support, but she also had much less money, probably because she's somewhat more anti-corporate than Sestak is.  Towards the end of the campaign she toured the state in a rickety old school bus ala Paul Wellstone but didn't air a single television commercial (unlike Paul Wellstone).

While I don't claim to be an expert on Brunner's campaign and I don't know how she spent her limited funds, with a campaign that strapped for funds, she probably should have been doing the relatively cheap bus thing and retail politics over the course of the year, and hoarded her money for one or two TV ad buys in the last two weeks or so of the campaign.

Sestak's success offers this sort of playbook for future challengers to establishment candidates (whether they're incumbents or not):

1. Announce early (something Bill Halter did not do, btw)
2. Spend most of the campaign going around the state and meeting voters and local party leaders
3. Hoard your money and hold your fire until the last few weeks of the campaign
4. Spend your money on a TV ad and media blitz in the last few weeks

This strategy does leave the challenger vulnerable to being defined by one's opponent, though.  Specter tried to paint Sestak early on as an absentee Representative.  I don't know what Sestak did to keep that from sticking.

The meet-the-voters slowly and hold-your-fire strategy help neutralize two key advantages establishment candidates usually have: name recognition and money.  I think that Sestak's successful use of this strategy is very instructive for how to elect liberal insurgents in the future.

and populism won too (4.00 / 2)
i agree. the dnc underestimated a military man . what a not smart thing to do. sestak's method of scoping things out, waiting till the end to pounce etc- very stratgic and well executed. brilliant stuff. note those who won tonight did it with populist messages.  

[ Parent ]
I think the Sestak challenge (4.00 / 2)
offers a roadmap the establishment hopes the left will follow - replace one corporate democrat with another.

This is the primary reason why primaries don't work - too often the "insurgent" isn't so much a challenger of the establishment as another member of it looking to move up.  

[ Parent ]
Sestak is a big improvement over Specter (0.00 / 0)
Moreover, since Sestak's win was fueled by the grassroots left, he now "owes" us in a sense.  A Specter win would have been a huge blow to the perceived ability of the grassroots left to elect their candidates.

I'm all for anti-corporate Democrats - see Jennifer Brunner - but how do we get them into office?  Those people usually don't have any money - again, see Jennifer Brunner.  Meaning they count on us for their money.  And as we saw with Jennifer Brunner, we liberals are too poor and/or unreliable to adequately fund them.  Meaning the fault is really as much, if not more so, with us as it is with the establishment.

That's why Brunner lost and Sestak won.

[ Parent ]
Yeah but it's still a far-right-right country libruls! (4.00 / 3)
Specter lost and Lincoln didn't win outright because they weren't center-right enough. Or something that David Broder will surely write tomorrow.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

It is important to look at the results with a analytic eye (0.00 / 0)
Sestak and Halter won in conservative parts of their respective states. The establishment candidates won the liberal bases of their states...Lincoln won Little Rock BIG and Specter took Philadelphia BIG.

For whatever reason their primary challenges to the left were succesfull because they won votes from the right  

[ Parent ]
Specter won Philly ... (4.00 / 2)
because that's where he's from ... and Rendell and Co. could at least help Specter there too .. not some much the rest of the state ... and some unions supported Specter as well

[ Parent ]
Sestak is center right (4.00 / 3)
So I don't think it was some ideological victory in Pennsylvania.  I think it's an anti-incumbent one.  People are pissed and it's helping challengers, not only among Democrats, but also among Republicans.

[ Parent ]
Sestak is still to the left of Specter (0.00 / 0)
Even if he's not as far to the left as we'd like, he still represents an improvement.

[ Parent ]
... (0.00 / 0)
Hopefully, the runoff will kill Dodd's plan to gut the derivatives part of the reform bill, one of the only decent things I have seen Lincoln do for a long long time.

re: derivatives (0.00 / 0)
ok, say dodd kills his gutting amendment.

what prevents dodd from attaching the same amendment on a bill after the runoff election?

[ Parent ]
The bill would have already passed (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
duh! (0.00 / 0)
I know that. that's why I said "ok, say dodd kills his gutting amendment."

my question is what prevents dodd from attaching the same language to a bill after the runoff. will congress close after the AR runoff election?

[ Parent ]
can you guess who said this: (0.00 / 0)
"It's just a tremendous mandate for the XXXXX," Mr. XXXX said. "It cannot be overstated that people want something new, they don't want the same old, same old politicians. They think the system is broken and needs new blood."

Rand Paul? (0.00 / 0)

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
yep (0.00 / 0)
could have been a progressive tho

[ Parent ]
He chose those words carefully (0.00 / 0)
to give just such an impression.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
right (0.00 / 0)
and he knew that it would be published in the NYT as well

[ Parent ]
The two are not equivalent (0.00 / 0)
I suspect that all candidates ponder what to say in their acceptance speeches - which M$M outlet publishes them is another matter.

Was that not his acceptance speech? It reads like what he said on CNN last night.

Do you not believe that Paul will chose words that might make him sound like a progressive?  

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
I Voted for Specter (4.00 / 1)
Both Sestak and Specter (and Obama) voted for FISA with the retroactive immunity from prosecution for the telecoms after they helped the govt. illegally spy on us.  In an interview on WHYY's Radio Times, Sestak sounded as though he was talking down to us.  Sestak was for escalation in Afghanistan whereas Specter wasn't.  I'm not thrilled.

I hear you (0.00 / 0)
I looked over Sestak's positions and past votes on military, security and the 'War on Terror' generally and they are truly appalling.

He is pro-choice and voted for the stimulus.

I guess it comes down to what you think is important.

[ Parent ]
Are you serious? (0.00 / 0)
I must admit I don't know much about Sestak. If Sestak is just business as usual, then why does he dominate the space here? I think Chris Bowers' impulse, to focus on primaries, is a good one. But why focus on Sestak if there's no difference between him and Specter?  

[ Parent ]
No one owns the audience (4.00 / 3)
The Obama campaign seemed pretty gleeful about going around political bloggers directly to readers, but that audience isn't theirs, either. The audience might be with you on something, they might be listening, but, for any given 'you', they're not yours.

OBAMA IS NEXT (0.00 / 0)
We must take him out in a Democratic Primary too.

[ Parent ]
Age (0.00 / 0)
Both Bob Bennett and Arlen Specter are over 70.  In fact, 8 of the 27 current Senators aged 70 or over are not returning.  That does not include Ted Kennedy.  McCain and Harry Reid are in big trouble and Grassley is no longer a shoe-in.

Incumbents are hurting.  Old incumbents are hurting very bad.

Good (0.00 / 0)
It's always good to see people focused on reality, rather than obsessing about the media.


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