Thank God I Don't Work For A Campaign

by: Chris Bowers

Wed May 07, 2008 at 14:40


Even though I was often accused, like many other bloggers, of sitting on the fence too long when it came to endorsing a candidate in 2007, the truth is that I was publicly backing Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin for President since early 2005. In fact, I was backing him so hard, that I was ready to move to Wisconsin to work on his potential presidential campaign as soon as he announced, and some very, very preliminary and exploratory behind the scenes discussions had already occurred on that subject. I was ready to do it, and the prospect excited me. When I was called by a member of his staff in early mid-November of 2006 and told that Feingold would not be running, I was pretty disappointed for a while.

But really, thank God I didn't end up working on a presidential campaign this cycle. Had I done so, I probably would have had to live with supporting ridiculous spin like this:

On the Hillary conference call, Hillary chief strategist Geoff Garin made the case for her electability in some of the most explicitly race-based terms I've heard yet.

Garin argued that the North Carolina contest, which Obama won by 14 points, represented "progress" for Hillary because she did better among white voters there than she did in Virginia.

"When we began in North Carolina," Garin said, "our internal polling and much of the public polling [showed] we were running exactly even with white voters."

Garin said that the Virginia electorate was the "closest white electorate in the country" to North Carolina, and added that Hillary "started even" among whites in North Carolina, and "ended up earning a significant win of 24 points."

"We obviously did not do as well as we would want or needed to among African American voters," Garin concluded.

And this:

There was a very interesting discussion on the flight back to D.C. from Indianapolis. By the time we landed, the Clinton campaign was proclaiming, "We shocked the world" by winning Indiana. "A win is a win," was the rallying cry, as the margin narrowed.

Meanwhile, the Clinton press team did everything possible to minimize Barack Obama's win in North Carolina. He has a "built-in advantage" there, they said. It was a state where they knew the "demographics" were going to be tough, referring the state's African-American community. Turns out, his margin overall was greater than her's in Pennsylvania.

But Clinton's aides continue to argue she's the stronger nominee, because she continues to do well with the most important voters, crucial swing voters, who will make the difference in a race with John McCain in November, blue-collar and working-class voters, most of whom are white.

Awesome. Let's spin crippling losses as huge victories, and talk about the importance of voters in explicitly racial terms. And I'm not really picking on this specific case of absurd spin, but rather trying to extend it to a general principle of the habit of campaigns to spin things that go truly badly for them as actually having gone really well. After four years of writing whatever I wanted and giving my honest opinion about how I feel on any given subject, that sort of thing would have been really hard to swallow.

I actually feel a good deal of sympathy for campaign workers who have to do this, because really you don't have a choice to just up and leave a campaign if it starts sending out press releases you don't like. Campaigns are institutions with a singular purpose: to win the election the campaign has entered. Further, if you want a career as a campaign operative, then you need to serve the purpose of the institutions for which you work. So, as unpalatable as it may seem, staffers don't really have any other choice than to often push some pretty crazy spin. Do it, or switch careers.

Among the many lessons I have learned as a blogger, one of the bigger ones is that I don't want to make a habit out of working for electoral campaigns. While I don't blame the people who work for campaigns for having to say some outrageous stuff, it is also a position I don't want to be in myself.  

Chris Bowers :: Thank God I Don't Work For A Campaign

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A note: (0.00 / 0)
Garin said that the Virginia electorate was the "closest white electorate in the country" to North Carolina, and added that Hillary "started even" among whites in North Carolina, and "ended up earning a significant win of 24 points."

A note: The Obama campaign has been in part responding to this talking point by noting that apparently Obama actually won last night with white voters under 65. Apparently the only reason Clinton can claim a win on this metric was because the margin among the specific group of "white voters over 65" was so large by itself.

Not only is boxing in voters like this and bragging about how you did with exactly one of the boxes kind of weird and divisive (and, incidentally, dependent on how much you trust exit polling), it also represents a strange sort of demographic gerrymandering. In order to see the effect the Clinton campaign wants you to see here, you have to split voters based on race, but refuse to consider any other way of classifying voters. If you look at the numbers closer, or from a silghtly different angle, the effect evaporates, or at least isn't saying quite what they wanted it to say.


Wisco (4.00 / 1)
You're still welcome to join us in Wisconsin Chris.

Don't do it (0.00 / 0)
even colder there than PA. I suggest Florida. Need a few more Dems there and I hear they have Internet access.

[ Parent ]
We have tubes here (0.00 / 0)
We got the internets here - I just got my barn wired.

Just kidding.  I work for a software company.  

Actually, Wisconsin was the closest margin state in 2004 - less then 2 votes per precinct won it for Kerry.  We could use some more Dems here too.  And didn't you hear that since Obama didn't win Florida in the primary he won't win the general election there?


[ Parent ]
Chris .. (0.00 / 0)
you are being unfair .. because we all know Feingold(if he had run) wouldn't stoop to such stupid bull shit .. that's the sad thing that we didn't get to see by Feingold not running .. while he'd have been more of an attack dog than Obama(my guess) ... he also wouldn't engage in some of the crap Camp Hillary has(The "If We Ran This Under Republican Rules, I'd Have Won By Now" thing for one)

Wright Won the primary for Obama (4.00 / 2)
This is off-topic, so I apologize... but with all of Chris' posts about the absurdity of why the campaign seems to have ended yesterday rather than before, I sort of just had an epiphany...

Just after PA, the sort of "CW" was that Obama would probably win NC by around 20 points and that IN was a tossup.  Somehow or another, even given this, IN was considered the key for Obama to finish off the race (for whatever reason), and he was given at least a 40-50% shot of winning it.

Well, that all changed with the second Wright flare-up.  After that, Obama's national numbers tanked, his numbers in IN and NC tanked, and Clinton seemed to be more confident than ever that she was on to something.  Essentially, Wright changed the narrative so drastically that IN looked out of reach for Obama and NC looked as if it was going to be substantially closer than the 20 points Obama supporters were originally hoping for.

And then, after all that... after all the garbage thrown at Obama in the last week regarding Wright, with Clinton at the top of her game, the results in the states basically reset to where they were originally.  It's not just the fact that he beat expectations, it's the fact that he still did as well as he did despite Wright.

It's hard to say exactly what would've happened had there not been a second Wright flare up last week, but what seems fairly clear to me right now is that if we had these same results now as we had pre-Wright, with the "split" talking about simply extending the campaign a few weeks ago, that's basically exactly what would've happened.  The media would've looked at this and said "Looks like they split..." and moved on to the next states.  


yes (0.00 / 0)
I think you are right. The CW was definitely:

NC will be a comfortable Obama win
IN is a toss-up

So the Wright stuff did lower Obama's expectations which he was then able to exceed.

An added "bonus," if you call it that, is that many voters now have "Wright fatigue" so it won't hurt him as much when McCain's people trot it out (which they will).


[ Parent ]
Also... (4.00 / 1)
"An added "bonus," if you call it that, is that many voters now have "Wright fatigue" so it won't hurt him as much when McCain's people trot it out (which they will)."

Not to mention the fact that he was being attacked on Wright from both sides... with Clinton (and therefore trickling down to her supporters) legitimizing the attacks on him.  With the nomination wrapped up, those attacks will not be nearly as effective any more.


[ Parent ]
Crucial swing voters? (0.00 / 0)
I have never seen any poll where Clinton does better than Obama amongst Independents.  Since when are Democrats considered swing voters?  I know self-identifying Dems don't vote for our candidates as assuredly as Republicans generally do, but Hillary's general election problem has always been that she has almost no appeal to Independents, especially when paired against McCain who has independent-cred or at least has been given the label by the media.

That's funny (4.00 / 1)
Among the many lessons I have learned as a blogger, one of the bigger ones is that I don't want to make a habit out of working for electoral campaigns.
Oddly enough, among the many lessons I have learned as an electoral campaign staffer is that I don't want to make a habit out of working for electoral campaigns, either.  Law school, here I come - something with shorter hours and higher ethics!

Yeah I blog.

Zing! n/t (0.00 / 0)


Former Edwards Supporter, Obama Supporter since January 30, 2008

[ Parent ]
Well... (0.00 / 0)
I think that's why it's really important to only work for people you really trust and believe in. I've gotten that advice from lots of cynical, crusty old campaign veterans and they're right. Too many people get into politics to make a difference, but then wind up working for whoever will hire them or pay them the most or give them the best title.

Of course, campaign work is so unstable, so you can't really hold that against people, especially younger staff. But still. It's good career advice to hold out for the candidates you really respect.  


veep (0.00 / 0)
I absolutely agree with the underlying idea that reinforcement and balance go hand in hand. Conventional notions of balance on a ticket are not keeping up with the current political climate as I understand them. Therefore, I have for months been touting Governor Sebelius. With her tapped for veep, Obama could put all states in play and possibly win a huge landslide. No, she will not pass all litmus tests among all groups (ie hardline pro-lifers and Sean Hannity), but she has some kind of magic to have been re-elected as Democrat Governor of Kansas. Kansas! It would be foolish to pass up the plusses offered by Governor Sebelius.
Unless Obama were to go for the jugular against McCain by tapping Governor Napolitano. If I am not mistaken, a statewide poll in Arizona showed Napolitano more popular than McCain. In other words, Obama/Napolitano would be in a position to sweep even McCain's home state! Ouch!
I don't mean to say that I favor these women governors to the exclusion of all others. I don't know enough about others to disfavor them. But I absolutely believe that Sebelius or Napolitano as Obama's veep would lead to a sweeping November win ... and a purposeful beginning of the end for this war and the politics that took us/allowed us into it.
Sorry for the long-windedness here, but it is a pleasure to have stumbled on a website populated by thoughtful, articulate folks. Thanks!

Yes thank God you don't (0.00 / 0)
work for a campaign.  If you did, this blog might see things like Jerome Armstrong's latest zinger:

I hope everyone gets that-- Clinton won the Indiana gas tax debate over the last week of the campaign, haha.



Spin...and Offensive Ridiculiousness (0.00 / 0)
We all spin.  I think it was Woody Allen who said that rationalization was more important than sex because almost no one makes it through a 24 hour day without making a rationalization.

Still, there comes a point when the spin gets so silly, so odious, that it becomes insulting.  The Clinton Campaign has not quite reached that point.  They are just doing thier jobs.  I think they are, however, treading close to the line when thier credibility goes so far off a cliff that it will take years & years to rebuild.  

Anyway, I look forward to the finger pointing tell all books about who lost it for Clinton.  The answer, of course, is that none of the spinning staffers (sounds like a good name for a DC based garage band) matter.  Hillary Clinton lost it, with a big assist from Bill.


Campaign staffers have a choice (0.00 / 0)
In fact, we all have a choice in what we do and say. The fact that it is the job of campaign staffers to spin and lie, is not an excuse.

I was once in a position as an owner of a company where the board sent me out to talk to the press, and I hedged and spun and dissembled to the point where there was little distinction between what I said and outright lying. That was years ago and I still feel soiled. I look back on it with great regret. It was a low point in my life as a moral and ethical person.

I have since moved on to a career where, although the money is not as great, I can at least say that I am making on honest living.

I recommend it.

Slacking toward the apocalypse


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