By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Lesson not learned

Seth Gitell explains one of the fundamental mistakes of the McCain campaign:

I know from my own reporting that McCain campaign operatives examined the Deval Patrick-Kerry Healey race in 2006. They saw how Healey’s tough law and order ads not only failed but also sent the campaign into a downward spiral. Those mean-spirited [ads] alienated independent swing voters and had no resonance in what was then very much a “change” election. Yet despite that knowledge they made the same mistake.

Gitell’s right, and there’s a larger theme, too. For 10 years, McCain has been campaigning on the idea that he can offer a higher level of leadership and independence. But when it finally came time to deliver, he turned over the single most important political task he’s ever undertaken to “operatives.”

Everyone’s got operatives. In most successful campaigns, though, the operatives work for the candidate. Conversely, in many losing efforts, the candidate ends up doing whatever the operatives tell him or her. That was certainly the case with the hapless Healey, who, in a matter of two weeks, morphed from respected if little-known moderate to right-wing nut.

There is no such thing as candidates who are better than their campaigns.

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  1. Peter Porcupine

    I frrely admit that I clapped my hands and did a litle dance when I read that McCain had hired Rob Gray and Gray Media to do his NE publicity. Of course, I was working for Romney at the time.

  2. The Arranger

    It seems to me that in about 40 years we’re going to conflate Bob Dole with John McCain, sort of like I conflate Tony Franciosa with James Franciscus, or Dihaann Caroll with Leslie Uggams, or Peter and Gordon with Chad and Jeremy.Bob in Peabody

  3. O-FISH-L

    Dan, just a few weeks after the media ran with the embarrassing Steve Jobs premature obituary, you run another one for the McCain campaign?Visions of John Kerry, Ta-Ray-Za and daughters accepting “congratulations” on Beacon Hill on Election Day 2004 dance in my head. Keep it up. With the Sox down 3-1, I need a laugh.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: No predictions from me, other than it will be close. I’ve included that caveat in several items. Excluding it from this one doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind.

  5. Ani

    “Ah, but she can’t take you anywayYou don’t already know how to go …”is what comes to my mind (with all due apologies to the Eagles).

  6. Don, American

    When does “having operatives” turn into delegating authority?

  7. Nial Liszt

    And yet, arguably, the three most memorable and effective ads in presidential campaigning history are all of this “negative, mean-spirited” ilk — “Weekend Pass”-aka Willie Horton, “Revolving Door” and “Daisy”.

  8. mike_b1

    It’s Morning in America was pretty darn effective.

  9. Nial Liszt

    *It’s Morning in America was pretty darn effective.*Yes it was, mike. Any ad that helped a Republican to carry Mass. would have to be seen as effective!

  10. Nial Liszt

    Bob- for me, it was- and apparently still is- the Lusitania and the Titanic.

  11. Steve

    nial – “Daisy” was sure memorable, but was it effective? I think it only ran once. That race wasn’t close at any time, as I (dimly) recall.

  12. Nial Liszt

    Steve- It was only aired once as a paid ad and was pulled because it was so contoversial, but it got many contemporaneous showings as a news event itself. Saying that if an opponent is elected, there is a good chance that nuclear weapons would be deployed was probably pretty effective at the time.

  13. Tony

    Agreed on a lot of points here: McCain should have been McCain2k instead of this late campaign incarnation. What happened to the reaching across the aisle stuff from the convention speech? Morning in America was an effective, positive ad. But, remember the times: in 1984, Massachusetts was a lot more balanced with Democrats and Republicans, with indies swinging whatever way the wind blew. I mean, there were Republicans representing Mass. in the Congress! It wasn’t that hard to win for Reagan, either in 1980 or 1984. As well, in 1980, Carter and Reagan were both conservative on social issues. It was a much different time than it is now. No predictions from me either on the presidential election. I don’t believe the point spread in the polls right now or what the state polls say. It looks like a massive landslide and it might be. But I wouldn’t trust these pollsters at all.

  14. Dot Lane

    The Red Sox have the Rays just where they want them…..And Healey’s campaign was absoutely abysmal, the logical conclusion of years of Republican ineptitude at building a serious state party apparatus–one only need think of the legislative candidates Mitt lined up for the charge of the GOP lightweight brigade. When will the Mass GOP admit that in the marketplace of ideas, people just aren’t buying what they’re trying to sell?

  15. Stella

    McCain lost all credibility once he started fawning over Bush. Like too many Americans, he refuses to acknowledge that he defines himself.Then his appalling selection of Palin drove the stakes deeper. She performed as expected and drew attention from what he wanted to lay silent, but like all sideshows grew tiresome – a one trick pony – and the baggage she brought became a burden.Palin, as a multitude of sites pointed out, exhibited McCain’s unstable judgment.

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