Rick Davis Was Right: It's Not About Issues

Last week McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, took some heat for suggesting that the campaign was not about issues, it was about personalities. In the context of the campaign, Davis' statement came off as callous and cynical, and was quickly pounced on by the Dems. But, after watching things play out since then, I think it's time to acknowledge that in part, he's right. It's not that the issues are irrelevant. It's that, played correctly, broad themes and strong personalities can overpower the issues in the minds of voters.

The irony is that the Obama campaign should be the first to recognize the truth in what Davis said. Obama didn't beat Hillary in the primaries because he had a better ten point plan then her. In fact, completely to the contrary, his upset win proved the point that meta themes beat microtargeting, and that people will ignore their preferences on issues (for instance, universal health care), if they are inspired by and trust your leadership.

Unfotunately, the campaign's ads lately just scream "generic Dem politician." There's nothing about them that is unique to Barack Obama. They have done a nice job tying McCain to four more years of Bush, but McCain may have partly wriggled out of that trap with the selection of Sarah Palin.

The campaign needs to take advantage of Obama's strengths as a leader and as a change agent. Fortunately, there's an easy answer for that - just let the man speak!

It's time for Obama to pivot back to his strength and run ads that show him in his element - giving speeches to thousands of people, speeches that appeal to our patriotism, similar in tone to the 2004 convention speech. Most importantly, he needs to do in his ads what he did so effectively in speech after speech during the primary - tie his own campaign to the advances in freedom throughout American history and urge voters to move us forward as a nation. In doing, so, he will make McCain and Palin look like second tier imitators.

These ads should be positive, but they can't look like the "Hands" ad Obama ran during the Olympics. In other words, they can't be focus grouped to death. They need to feature Obama speaking most of the time, and let him drive his points home himself.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the focus on McCain=Bush, or on the economy, was the wrong one. But in the final stretch of the campaign it's time for the campaign to go back to basics and run a strong, uplifting campaign. And if he does that, Obama will win.

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The McCain Strategy: Divide and Conquer

Cross-posted at Clintonistas for Obama.

Many on our side of the blogosphere, this Clintonista included, have expressed some concerns as the polls have tightened over the last few weeks.  In an analysis of polling data released on Friday, Gallup argued that the most important factor in the tight polling is weak support for Obama among Democrats.

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Fox News Claims Obama Is Cutting Back On Advertising

Fox News just claimed Obama has pulled all ads from South Dakota, Montana, Florida and Virginia.

Is this true?  I didn't even think they had targeted South Dakota, only North Dakota.

Sorry for the short diary, but i had not heard this before.

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Battleground ad spending - a statistical view

A recent story tells about McCain's focused ad spending in battleground states, and Obama's broader spending pattern. McCain is focusing on battleground states, while Obama is spreading resources more broadly.

Why the mismatch in strategies? I think it makes sense in terms of optimal resource allocation. Both patterns of behavior make perfect sense, given what the campaigns may consider to be their best strategies.

[Cross-posted at election.princeton.edu]

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The Wrong Target

Watching John McCain's increasingly flailing and negative ad campaigns in recent weeks, it's been difficult for many -- myself included -- to figure out exactly what he and his advisors have been trying to get at. Looking across the ads, there has been no unifying message save for the fact that Barack Obama is bad (and even that doesn't always shine through -- calling him popular and running footage of people cheering for him doesn't necessarily make for the strongest attack), and there hasn't been much of anything positive said about McCain's own efforts or platform.

But the more I have thought about it, the more it seems to me that McCain's efforts do have a unifying quality to them, even if a misguided one: Influencing those inside the Beltway. These ads aren't directed at Missouri or Ohio or Pennsylvania, or voters in the other key states who will help decide the outcome of this election. Instead, they are directed at the political establishment, and the establishment media in DC, in particular.

Don't get me wrong, every successful campaign has a strategy for handling the media and spends a significant amount of time, effort and even money to try to cajole the media to relay the message the campaign wants to get out. But I don't think I have ever seen a campaign so exclusively focused on the media. It is as if the McCain campaign is being run not to win over the hearts and minds of the American public but rather to affect the views of the talking heads on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. As one high-level Republican Party operative said to Chris Cillizza about the latest McCain ad, which quizzically and quixotically tries to turn Obama into Paris Hilton, "It seems like they are talking to the press pack, not voters."

Part of this likely stems from the fact that McCain views, or at least viewed, the media as his base. But I think it goes beyond that. The McCain campaign is a creature of Washington, DC. It is chock full of lobbyists. McCain himself has been in Washington for more than 25 years. And even the fact that the campaign is physically located in DC has an effect. Markos has written at length on this issue, and I'd recommend you taking a look at what he has to say in full, but in short, running a DC-based campaign leads to a bubble mentality, less loyal staffers, and a reinforcement of the notion that a candidate is too DC at a time when Washington is less popular than it has been for years and even decades.

In short, the McCain campaign increasingly looks like a one by the Beltway, in the Beltway, of the Beltway, and for the Beltway -- and I can't see how that makes it more likely that he is going to be able to connect with the average voter.

Update [2008-7-31 7:33:56 by Jonathan Singer]: Color The Politico impressed. The strategy must really be working now...

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