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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Flailing, Failing

Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith note that the Democrats are flailing in search of enemies, much as John McCain did two years ago.

For more than a year, the Democrats have been all contrast, all the time.

The cycle starts with the recorded or reported words of a Republican, any Republican, anywhere in the country. This may be a well-known Washington figure like John Boehner, or it may be a name that sends reporters racing to Google, like Nazi re-enactor Rich Iott, the long-shot House GOP challenger who got his 15 minutes this week and gave Democrats something to talk about for a moment.

The words, sometimes with the Democrats' help, make their way to news outlets from the New York Times to POLITICO to TalkingPointsMemo.

Aides and operatives then push that report to other media, and the outrage of the day finds its way into Obama's speeches and typically is reinforced by a modest cable buy -- $20,000 or $30,000 to air an ad for a few days in Washington, D.C. - by the DNC or by a labor-backed ally like Americans United for Change.

Sometimes it can mean winning a news cycle - Joe Barton said what about BP? - but the small tactical victories have added up to very little.

The all-out September assault on Boehner, which featured a much-hyped Obama speech in the Minority Leader's native Ohio, has been largely discarded in favor of elevating Rove and the specter of foreign money.

The off-and-on attempts to revive the ghost of George W. Bush have also been fruitless - no surprise in an era of short attention spans and warp-speed news cycles.

"The weakest messages assert we should 'go forward, not back,'" wrote veteran Democrats Stan Greenberg and James Carville in a memo earlier this month based on focus groups. "Voters are not moved by Democratic messages that say 'go forward, not back,' mention President Bush, compare then and now, or even that hint the economy is 'showing signs of progress."