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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Gray Davis as a Model for Obama? Bad Advice.

At the Wall Street Journal, political consultant Doug Usher says that California Governor Gray Davis's 2002 reelection campaign should be a model for President Obama:
So how did Mr. Davis win in 2002? By using his fund-raising prowess to break all campaign-finance records in California political history, and by playing in the Republican field to knock out his strongest opponent.

Mr. Davis raised money from the day he was elected in 1998, despite criticisms from politicos and the press. In 2002, his political team then isolated his biggest threat—the moderate Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles—and spent millions on ads to defeat him in the Republican primary
This advice is bad.

For one thing, the situations are not comparable. Davis won mainly because Democrats were the dominant party in the state. They had a 10-point edge in party registration. Even though Republicans had a slight lead in party identification nationwide, Democrats had a seven-point lead in California. Unlike Davis, the president cannot count on a Democratic advantage in the electorate, as the 2010 election and survey data suggest. Moreover, Republican nominee William Simon was a first-time candidate who was singularly inept. Whatever mistakes they have made on the trail, Perry and Romney both have substantial campaign experience.

Ads can matter a great deal in a gubernatorial election, less so in a presidential election.

In any case, Davis's cynical tactics worsened his already-poor image and helped create the conditions for his recall in 2003.