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.