Achy Breaky Campaign

After our last post, which we were afraid would be fairly misinterpreted, we felt it necessary to follow up on a few thoughts we had – particularly in light of comments we have already received (that you can read here).

The first, and main point, is about the negative ads.

People are jumping on the “negative” ads by Ricketts for the blame for his loss. This is entirely misplaced. It could well be argued that were it not for the sheer number of negative ads, Ricketts would not have lost as badly as he did. But had Ricketts merely had a light number of negative ads, or gone completely positive, with the message that he ran, HE WOULD NOT HAVE WON.

Oh sure, he could have hit a Scott Kleeb or Jim Esch forty-five percent, and had a “respectable” showing. And that’s fine if your goal is to have a respectable showing – especially if you just want to set yourself up for “next time”. But Ricketts wasn’t running to come in second — to be the sacrificial lamb for the Republicans. His goal was to beat Ben Nelson. And that wasn’t going to happen without negative ads. And with Nelson’s high positive numbers, particularly among Republicans, he needed to bring Nellie down. Ricketts had to swing for the fences. And sometimes when you do that you strike out bad.

Now from here, we reiterate our position that Ricketts main problem was that he didn’t establish himself and didn’t have a message or theme to deliver. Pete Ricketts had much more to offer, more of a story to tell and should have had a better theme than just “I’m a Republican, and he’s not.” But you wouldn’t know it from the ads his team put together. And because of this, his negative ads had an even harsher ring, where people were asking, “Who IS this guy doing the bashing?” Add to that Nelson’s pounding theme of “Wall Street Pete” and Ricketts was in a hole he would never climb out of.

But without an effective (or ANY) message and theme, negative ads could not work.

Now, let’s also raise the point of that theme of Nelson’s – “Wall Street Pete”. So we’re to think that Nebraskans hate negative campaigning? Well Nelson came out with THE negative theme right out of the freaking blocks! The day after the primary! Nelson wasn’t selling, “I’m a great guy.” “I vote conservatively.” It was, “This guy’s an a-hole who wants to give your money to corporations.” This was, of course, a load of crap.

So let’s be clear: Nelson, who won this race by twenty-seven points, didn’t raise the debate, didn’t run on the “the issues”, and brought it down to class-baiting politics (remember that it was Nelson who initiated the whole “property tax” garbage). And he won big. Well that’s fine. He had a catchy theme, “Wall Street Pete.” You know who else had something catchy? Billy Ray Cyrus. The mulleted one. See if you can get “Achy Breaky Heart” out of your head for the next hour. Well “Wall Street Pete” was the “Achy Breaky Heart” of this campaign: It rocketed Nelson to number one. But let’s not pretend he created a work of art.

Finally, we’d like to make a point about the thwacking Jessica Moenning is taking now that the campaign is over. We don’t have a lot of inside info (at this point – and that could/should change) about her real position in the campaign. But we do know this: the campaign theme and message were already set by the time she came in after the primary. And we strongly doubt that she had the influence, or could have exercised any influence, to change the message that was already decided upon by Chuck Hagel, and Lou Ann Linehan, and Doug McAuliffe and moreover Pete Ricketts (who had to be mainly listening to the first three). Moenning was handpicked by Linehan and as campaign manager was going to be chief at mail and signs and GOTV and money and the nuts and bolts of the campaign – and she may very well deserve criticism for her job doing that stuff. But we strongly doubt she was drafting the campaign theme or the ads that went on the air.

Now that we’ve gotten much of that off our chest, feel free to weigh in.

27 comments

  1. Uncle Wiggily says:

    Can’t find a thing wrong with your analysis, SS, but I would add this:

    No one likes to talk about it but the fact is, fair or not, Pete just looks untrustworthy … close-set eyes, bald pate, glibness out the wazoo whereas Ben just looks like everyone’s Uncle Ernie – short, squat, benign squinty-eyed grin… yadda, yadda.

    It’s still true – perception is all. Look at what happened with Kleeb – he dang near got elected just on his looks.

    Sometimes I think we’d be better off choosing our leaders by drawing random lots.

    By the way, kudos on all your election coverage – it was the best of the lot.

    UW

  2. Street Sweeper says:

    OmaSteak, I’m rejecting your comment because of the “good family man” part. There’s no need to even reference that here. Feel free to resubmit with that part excised.

  3. Street Sweeper says:

    Now THERE’s a bold statement.
    Care to give ANY sort of back up to it? I’m not necessarily doubting your belief, but bring some sort of argument, please.

  4. Anonymous says:

    what kind of campaign manager has no say over core message or themes? the fact is that jessica was given basically a blank check and she had the same results as david hahn. she was terrible. she was incompetent or ineffecitve – either way she has no business in politics.

    but that doesn’t mean that hagel and linehan should be off the hook. their much vaunted (but little evidenced) “political acumen” took them straight down the toilet. I hope this helps puncture the hagel bubble that should have deflated a long time ago given his utter lack of accomplishment.

    but i do want to take issue with this “one day after the primary” nonsense that republican operatives are throwing around to excuse their pathetic showing. Nelson did not run a “negative” (or comparative) ad one day after the primary. The NE Dem Party ran a bunch of positive ads for weeks before Ricketts went negative. so what are you talking about?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Politics, as with showbiz, is all about casting the right players. You do not run the son of a billionaire in Nebraska, where we revel in being populist and comfortably middle class. This race was over when Johanns rediscovered his aggie roots and Bruning opted for an easier road in 2008.

    Ed Randolph
    Saline Co.

  6. nepolwatcher says:

    Moenning deserve as much credit as Linehan and Hagel. Sweeper your defense of her ineptness is admirable. But your posting raises serious questions:

    If Linehan was really calling the shots instead of Moenning, has she violated Senate ethics rules by conducting political activity on taxpayer time? The Ricketts camp made a big deal about senate ethics rules. Seems funny that Linehan would open that argument if she was actually breaking the rules as she has in the past.

    When Linehan came to Nebraska to “stop the bleeding” as Ricketts’ aide on the World Herald’s payroll printed it – she bent over backward to say Jessica was in charge. How does one square that?

    The fact is that Jessica had the title “campaign manager”. Traditionally that’s the boss. She wasn’t Linehan’s assistant. She wasn’t Hagel’s driver. She wasn’t McAulliffe’s copy editor. She would have gotten all the credit if Pete had won – she is entitled to the criticism for the failure.
    Remember when Pete hired her? she cleared house. Muret and others were fired. Jessica asserted control. Now her apologists want to cover her tracks. I dont think so.

    And sweeper – the entirety of Nelson’s message “the day after” was “I’m for Main Street and PEte’s for Wall Street.” – it was comparative, not negative. Wall Street Pete was a cute nickname that stuck – for a reason. Anyone who espouses privatizing social security, the national sales tax, eliminating farm subsidies, and privatizing Medicare is the darling of Wall Street whether one beleives it or not.

  7. Street Sweeper says:

    OK, before you Dems run from it any more, the Nelson camp put out a PRESS RELEASE calling him “Wall Street Pete”, and here’s ANOTHER link for you. http://www.democratsenators.org/
    dia/organizations/dscc/news.jsp?
    news_item_KEY=2287&t=news.dwt
    And that’s negative, childish, name calling. End of story.

    As far as Linehan goes, I have no first hand, or frankly second hand knowledge of her direct involvement. However, she was on hiatus running the party, and could therefore run the message as well. And she could call the Ricketts camp all she wanted without breaking any rules — before you get your undies all in a bunch.

    But make no mistake who placed Moenning in that spot. And if someone else essentially put her there, she’s unlikely to have much sway on something as big as the media plan — which is going to be done by the media consultants.

    And if she’s in a meeting with a “kitchen cabinet” of say, 1) the candidate, 2) the head of the state party who put her in the job, 3) the media consultant of numerous successful national campaigns, and, say, 4) a U.S. Senator – do you REALLY think she’s calling the shots?

    Now if she or anyone else from the campaign came in and said different, I’d let ‘em have their say and step back. I don’t know her and don’t have much inside info on this (again, at this point), but I stand by the position that others are more to blame for the message.

    In case any of you are confused, sometimes the campaign manager is the one completely in charge, and other times, not so much. Sorry to burst your bubble on this.

  8. Reagan Republican says:

    Nepolatcher – I’m not wall street, but I absolutely favor “privitizing” (note: the demagogues way of saying “reform”) social security. Why you ask? because given the choice of managing my own money for retirement versus leaving it to Congress, I’ll choose the sure thing. I certainly can’t leave it to Big Spending Ben, because it will wind up in the Joslyn parking lot. I’m so anxious to see Nellie balance his love of pork with his party’s promise to balance the budget. Just sit back, this will be fun.

  9. Anonymous says:

    oh my goodness. you can’t have a message resonant if it doesn’t speak to what people already know. nelson didn’t make ricketts be a vapid candidate or take dumb positions that helped wall street more than main street or make him spend $5 million in a primary against two guys who barely had two dimes to rub together.

    people were already wary of ricketts before nelson made any statements about him at all. that’s why that comparative message worked. nelson’s camp did a good job sticking to it, that’s commendable in a political campaign.

    also, moenning was ricketts’ consultant and then campaign manager before linehan left the senate office on “hiatus”. so are you saying that she handpicked someone from her senate perch?

    the fact is that ricketts campaign was poorly run from top to bottom. he spent too much money, he had no message, his robocalls and direct mail was excessive and just pissed people off and his presence in many communities was negligible. moenning had the title, she deserves criticism. if she didn’t have the power, then she should be criticized for being an empty shill of two people who did a terrible by proxy job running that campaign. there’s plenty of blame to go around and i would hope republican office holders keep this all in mind in future campaigns.

  10. nepolwatcher says:

    Sweeper – everything you said is true in some cases. All I am saying is with the title and the $12K per month salary should come SOME responsibility. If what you say is true it paints an even worse picture of the woman – that she was a puppet. If I was Jessica Id rather be in charge and wrong than be a puppet. But that’s just me.

    I dont think anyone is saying Nelson DIDNT use the “wall street Pete” name. I am just pointing out that he always coupled it with his pro-Nebraska message. And whatever the state party put out is their responisbility – Barry Rubin isnt a puppet for anyone.

    Can you imagine the kitchen cabinet meeting where McAuliffe displayed the cajones to say to Ricketts: “You’ve spent ten million and you still trail by 30 points, but I think another $2.5 million will put you over the top.” That must have been a great conversation don’t you think?

    And as far as negative goes, Wall Street Pete wasnt a personal attack. Ricketts accused Nelson of everything from vandalism to fraud. With no proof. And the election results indicated what most Nebraskans think, 64% thought Pete was full of it to be exact.

    C’mon, dont you think Jessica tp’d her boss’ house to attack nelson for it? that “vote democratic” sign was the clincher for me that it was actually an inside job.
    that’s campaign management genius right there.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Here’s hoping Linehan likes her tan. Her time in the sun is over! A new generation of more conservative Republicans must start calling the shots at the State Party.

    -DB
    Omaha

  12. nepolwatcher says:

    RR – maybe you have the means and the ability to invest your own money – maybe you don’t. But what about those who dont have the means to do it? and what happens when the stock market crashes and all your money no longer exists?

    Social Security was created to safeguard against just this kind of calamity because it happened before. Social Security is the closest we can get to a sure thing. And to think, elephants are supposedly the ones with the memory.

    I have no idea how Ben will balance his “love of pork” as you described it.

    Maybe you didn’t notice, but the Joselyn parking lot and the entire project involving the high school and football stadium was brought to Nelson by Nebraksa Republicans looking for the handout. So, its great to parade Nelson around as they guy who loves pork, but the decision to fund that lot was made by Mike Yanney, John Gottschalk and Joe Ricketts who ASKED Nelson and the rest of the delegation for funding.

    And before you even bring it up – the pedestrian bride in Omaha happened before Nelson got to Washington – but CHuck Hagel voted for that funding twice.He’s another “Reagan Republican.”

    I know the truth hurts, but if you are truly a Reagan Republican you have a health savings account and can afford a couple aspirin.

  13. Everything Happens for a Reason says:

    Ben Nelson is joining the Appropriations Committee! Looks like six years of useless pork for Nebraska!

  14. nepolwatcher says:

    RR –
    Really? A republican witholding a compliment from someone? Really? Ooh my feelings are so hurt.
    Maybe I should consider supporting the privatization of Social Security or the National Sales Tax just so you’ll like me. Please?

  15. Anonymous says:

    The OWH reported Nelson’s very first TV ad (“silver spoon”), which aired during the first week of March, had reached deep into a three way GOP Primary and took “a shot at Ricketts”.

    Ricketts had no control over Nelson’s behavior, but he had control over his own.

    Ricketts tried to lower a Democrat who had thrice been elected in mostly GOP Nebraska. And Ricketts was unrelentingly partisan in a state where all but the topmost party leaders will cross lines like Geo. Norris.

    Ricketts might have been fated to lose. But like all who run, the manner in which he ran is forever welded to him.

    It took a awful lot of ill-thought Ricketts ads to make Nelson look good enough for a landslide.

  16. nepolwatcher says:

    last anon – nice try – the OWH is hardly a credible source on what the content of an ad was about – that ad yyou referenced was a bio-ad about Nelson growing up in rural McCook – and not being born into money. It made no mention of Pete Ricketts. the Ricketts camp made it about Pete in an attempt to elevate him above tweedle-dumb and tweedle-dumber in the primary. Nice try -that ad was pasitive for every though.
    second. It was not an attack on Ricketts and the Nelson camp said so at the time. but the OWH was desperate to promote Pete and wrote a terrible article on the ad. Again – its another example of the OWH running Pete’s campaign for him.
    Nice try though

  17. Street Sweeper says:

    polwatcher, don’t drink and type. And why are you trying to spin, a freaking month after the election, what was obviously a shot at Ricketts? Everyone knows what it was, so give it a break. We’re promoting a frank discussion here and you’re still trying to act like Nelson was Prince Valiant. But hey, “nice try” (“nice try” “nice try”).

  18. nepolwatcher says:

    Sweeper –
    did you see Chuck HAgel’s Cut and Run oped in the Washington Post today? I bet the OWH reruns it tomorrow.
    Funny – wonder what aspiring assistant Senator Pete thinks of Hagel’s latest effort to say our troops failed.

  19. Street Sweeper says:

    CH’s article says nothing new from what he’s been saying for months/years now. And frankly, who cares what private citizen Ricketts thinks about it.

    And where’s your boss’s op-Ed? He’s the new power-broker in the Senate, right? Right?

  20. Anonymous says:

    I can tell you with certainty that JM had a high degree of autonomy during this campaign. Ms. Linehan was involved in a rallying the troops during her month as executive director of the GOP. That is like blaming every republican loss on Karl Rove. That is completely asinine. JM had the ability to wash her hands of anything she did not agree with at any time. The mentality of someone else completely circumventing her authority is plausible in the minds of you out there who were not involved with this campaign, but I can put that fallacy to rest once and for all. As for the snide comment that Ms. Linehan is not conservative enough, get you head out of Sam Brownback’s rear end and get in touch with reality.

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