AR-02: You Were Saying Something About “Best Intentions?” Oh, You Were Finished?! Well Allow Me To Retort!

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    Regarding Joyce Elliott’s chances and the recent Talk Business poll, Blue Arkansas writes:

    This was always going to be difficult. But like I said from the beginning, Elliott’s path to victory has always been one that involved a big win in Pulaski, more than 60 percent, and not getting destroyed in the other counties, keeping them above 40%. There are a lot of people on our side being typical Democrats and panicking, saying Elliott needs to do this or that different. To them all I can say is shut up and chill out.

    I assume that ARDem is including me among the “lot of people” based on this post.  While he is certainly entitled to his opinion — an opinion that can generally be summed up as “Joyce Elliott is a fantastic candidate who is campaigning very, very well and can still win this” — I am going to have to go ahead and disagree with his assertion nonetheless.

    Actually, I have two disagreements with his statement. First of all, I am not “panicking.” “Panicking” implies that I was suddenly overcome by fear and anxiety after seeing the poll results. This could not be further from the truth; I’ve said for weeks months now that Elliott was running a lackluster campaign that needed mass improvement if Elliott was to have a chance.

    Just three days ago, before the Talk Business poll was released, regarding Elliott’s first-to-the-airwaves ad (more on this in a second), I wrote:

    Really? You are a Democrat running for a seat currently held by, arguably, the most popular Democrat in the state, and you are facing a Bush/Rove lackey with a record of suppressing minority votes, and you choose this approach?? Pardon my iFrench, but WTF? Oh, I totally understand that you have been painted as this radical liberal — thanks, Robbie! — and that you now have no choice but to move toward the center if you are going to shake that label. I get that. I don’t even fault you for having an ad that takes on Washington, considering that anti-Washington sentiment is pervasive around here these days.

    What I do fault you and your camp for, however, is squandering a chance to really frame the debate, either by making an issue of something (perhaps “protecting voters’ rights” or “not returning to failed Bush-era policies”) that would require Timmy! Griffin to fight that battle from an unfavorable position, or by drawing parallels between your record as a legislator at the state level and Vic Snyder’s record in D.C. (i.e. “like Congressman Snyder, I [insert typical campaign rhetoric]“). You had a great opportunity here, at least insofar as people care one way or the other about what they see/hear in commercials, and you blew it. Nothing in this ad requires Timmy! to change his message, nor does any of it, save perhaps the misguided “reform” message, provide something that you can build on moving forward.

    It’s simply a forgettable and uninteresting ad, which, I fear, is how Elliott’s campaign is likely to be viewed down the road if she doesn’t make some major changes in strategy, tone, and tempo. So, again I say, “ugh.”

    On June 30, regarding Suzi Parker’s article on the Elliott v. Griffin, I wrote:

    As for Elliott, “I love guns” is, in my opinion, a proxy for the “a lot less liberal” part of the consultant’s equation. By which I mean that she is going to have to openly embrace some of the more Blue Dog-esque positions to convince people; merely saying over and over that she is “a lot less liberal” will not be enough.

    On June 2, regarding an Elliott campaign ad, I wrote:

    Was it a good ad? Good enough, especially in its punchline. I think it will play well with on-the-fence voters, too, assuming any exist. But — and I hate to say this, given where BHR’s endorsement rests in this runoff — it’s just another example of how Elliott’s campaign keeps doing well almost despite some of their efforts. They were late to get any issues/policies on their website (or have their website be even slightly interactive), they were horrible in their use of Twitter and other social media, and now they keep churning out almost-well-done ads.

    Point to all this being, to suggest that I am suddenly “panicking” because of the Talk Business results is, in a word, incorrect.

    My second disagreement is with the “shut up and chill out” part, at least insofar as ARDem is implying that we need to give Elliott’s strategy more time before we expect results.  According to ARDem,

    [S]he hasn’t lost yet, and bad polls or not her campaign is still running strong.  She’s revamped her website, was the first major candidate in Arkansas to go on tv for the general election as far as I can tell, and she’s got a good ground game going.  What’s more, she’s got a ton of excellent volunteers who will lay down on railroad tracks for this woman, and that has always been a strength that she has had that no one else, Democrat or Republican, does.

    The revamped website is designed around her “Clean Up Washington” message that was on display in her television commercial.  You know, the commercial that has her running against Washington after opining that “any pinhead can do that.”  The commercial that talks about ending automatic pay raises for Congress while ignoring that Elliott voted for five pay raises for herself while in the legislature.1 The ad that attacked the influence of special interest gifts while ignoring the huge amount of special interest donations Elliott has received.2

    More importantly, though, I cannot fathom how someone could think that Griffin was not well-organized or did not have a good ground game.  You don’t spend that many years nose-to-butt with Karl Rove without picking up a few tips and tricks (both legal and otherwise) about getting out your vote and spreading your message. No, he might not be spending time in Havana or Pangburn, but, then again, spending one’s time trying to woo some voters in a town of 400 does not necessarily mean one is spending her time wisely or efficiently.

    Here’s the thing: Elliott has two options as of right now. (1) “Shut up and chill out,” stay the course, continue doing what she is doing, and hope that she makes up ground through a combination of traditional campaigning and Griffin losing support for some reason.  (2) Change her message away from the Washington Reformer idea, embrace her record as a legislator, inform people at every turn that Timmy! Griffin actively worked to suppress minority votes in Ohio and Florida (and feel free to reference the US Atty scandal as well), and counter Griffin’s “retire Pelosi” idiocy with a “Griffin is a return to the failed Bush policies” message.

    If she chooses (1), she is banking on a whole bunch of trends reversing themselves without her actually creating anything that one would reasonably expect to trigger that kind of sea change.  She is running on a platform (no pay raises, limit special interests, etc.) that her own record suggests she won’t actually follow through with.  She is also running anti-Washington at a time when “anti-Washington” overwhelmingly means “anti-Democrat” or “anti-anyone who would support anything Pelosi and Obama suggest.”  Unless she’s willing to take that message all the way and vocally (and repeatedly) declare that she won’t “support the Obama-Pelosi liberal agenda,” I can’t imagine that this is the best tact for a black female Democrat to take.

    On the other hand, if she chooses (2), she removes the incongruities of her being anti-Washington while her party is in power, she gets to run on things she’s done well while in Arkansas state government, she theoretically forces Griffin to respond to (or at least acknowledge) the accusations about voter caging and the U.S. Attorney firings, and she can point at the economy/wars as proof of what happens under GWB policies.

    Maybe it’s just me, but choosing (1) has a very limited upside and relies an awful lot on other people or happenings changing the current dynamic; choosing (2) maximizes the assets that she has and, at the end of the day, leaves it all on the field.  THAT is why I have been saying and will continue to say that she needs to run a different and better campaign if she wants to have a prayer two and a half months from now.

    Am I voting for Joyce Elliott?  Of course.  Do I still support her and hope she wins?  Without a doubt, and none of what I’m saying here is about anything other than maximizing her odds of winning.  But no matter how much I like Elliott or think she would be a great choice to replace Vic Snyder, I am not going to delude myself into thinking that everything she is doing is better than everything she could be doing.  If we are talking about who is being a “typical Democrat,” I argue that the person who believes that Joyce Elliott’s current strategy will result in anything other than a large loss is ignoring reality and letting his or her love for Elliott trump reason.

    1 This is, of course, a gross simplification of what Elliott’s votes were about, but it’s also indicative of how such votes play in the media.
    2 Granted, campaign contributions and gifts are different creatures, but, again, that’s a distinction without a difference for many voters.