Take a peek and be the judge for yourself:
Ken made his name as a grassroots politician, and that was what his campaign was all about. I have rarely seen more volunteers out knocking doors and making phone calls in a non-presidential year than I did this year. He kept focusing on the basics and he did a very good job of turning the base out. Looking at the turnout numbers – which were far, far higher than anybody predicted before the election – it’s clear that both sides brought their A ground games.
So I’m sure you’re ready to ask me why, if Ken got so much right, he still lost. My answer to that is simple: I don’t think anybody on our side could have won this year. Not Bolling, not McDonnell, not George Allen, not anybody else we could have nominated. Think about it this way – the Democrats nominated their weakest gubernatorial candidate in pretty much forever and he still won. There was something more than just campaign tactics at work here against us.
To which I will respond with a sophisticated Latin phrase familiar to us all.
To review what the Cuccinelli campaign got wrong, let’s start with the top, shall we?
1. Cuccinelli never got out and raised enough money to be competitive. Outspent by $5 million? OK… against T-Mac, that’s acceptable. $15 million? That’s a dagger… and even then it was still close.
2. What grassroots game? Schoeneman praises Cuccinelli’s grassroots efforts from the prism of Fairfax County, where Cuccinelli had to be competitive. The rest of Virginia is plagued with stories about offers to volunteer that weren’t even given the courtesy of a reply call. Victory efforts were horrible stem to stern. When even paid Cuccinelli staffers refused to be photographed or seen carrying Cuccinelli signs? That’s not good folks (and yes, that happened).
3. Messaging. Quick — why did Ken Cuccinelli want to be governor? Can’t think of the reason off the top of your head? That’s because the campaign was so undisciplined, they couldn’t find a “big idea” to rally around. D.J. Spiker mentioned it here in the pages of Bearing Drift:
Below, you’ll find subject lines from the Cuccinelli campaign and RPV for the past 24 hours worth of emails. If you think you can find a common thread, feel free to share below in the comments.
Let’s begin with Monday morning:
. . .
There’s plenty of very real media bias out there, but if you were a reporter, how would you know what to write about? All of it? GreenTech? ObamaCare? Jobs? Mental health? SEC Investigations? Clinton? Obama?
Click on the link yourself and be the judge. Allen had ending parole. Gilmore had no car tax. McDonnell had jobs. Cuccinelli had “McAuliffe is a scumbag… and by the way, did we mention that McAuliffe was a scumbag?”
4. Polling. Three letters — RRR.
5. Press relations and new media outreach. It simply wasn’t there, guys… and when it was, it was horrible. Jackson’s new media metrics far outpaced Cuccinelli’s new media outreach. That should send shivers up and down your spine.
6. Cuccinelli pandered by not establishing any message control. Let’s be honest — was this the campaign everyone expected in May 2013? Compare this to the May 2009 convention floor with the Gasden Flags waving… in a heads up contest against Terry McAuliffe, where was the substantive policy debate? Where were the big ideas? Where was the message control hammering that one point home time and time again? It simply did not exist. In an effort to stand for everything, Cuccinelli’s campaign allowed him to stand for nothing. Even then, Cuccinelli still came withing 2% points, because…
7. Obamacare nearly pulled this election out of the crapper. Schoeneman is dead on when he observes:
This election was on its way to ending in a loss last General Assembly session when we started hearing about transvaginal ultrasounds and minting our own currency. It was headed in the wrong direction when the Star Scientific scandal cut down one of our greatest assets – a popular sitting Governor – and kept him on the sidelines the whole time. It was headed in the wrong direction when the junior Senator from Texas decided he wasn’t getting enough press and shut the government down for almost two weeks less than a month before the election for no real reason.
This election was over the moment Governor Bob McDonnell refused to resign after GiftGate broke. This election got worse the moment that Ted Cruz decided to grab the spotlight rather than work in coalition with fellow Republicans. Even then, with McAuliffe up by 10 points and with the worst campaign in modern Republican history, Cuccinelli almost managed to pull it off.
…and instead of hammering home on Obamacare and the outrage of 5 million Americans losing their health care coverage (a fight Cuccinelli led the freakin’ charge on), we spent the last three weeks — wait for it — hammering Libertarian Robert Sarvis.
Think about that one, folks.
8. Bill Bolling. Even if Bolling was being a total weenie, could we at least try to reach out to his supporters in early May?
9. Conservative outreach to minorities. Obenshain got articles in the Hispanic press. Cuccinelli did not. Why?
10. Cuccinelli’s inner circle chose to fight the last war. The strategy was damn near simple. Obama turned out the troops in 2012 and McAuliffe will have all the cash in the world to do likewise. Bank on the fact that Virginia is a red state at its DNA, run a negative and substanceless campaign, depress the 2’s and 3’s and focus on the 7-10’s. Effectively, the same strategy Romney 2012 was hoping for (i.e. that Obama would never duplicate 2008 numbers). Any small wonder why N.J. Governor Chris Christie opined:
“Political advice from people who ran the Romney campaign is probably something nobody should give a darn about.”
11. …and where the hell was RPV? Chairman Pat Mullins is the exemption. Let me tell you something — not since John Hager have I seen a RPV Chairman hustle the way Pat Mullins has. But were the unit committees really engaged? If so, I didn’t see it…
…but whatever the problem is at RPV, the problem isn’t the Chairman. Now that McDonnell is gone, Cuccinelli did not win, Bolling is out, and Obenshain is on the fence — who is the big dog financing RPV? Who is doing the organizing? I’ve written on this before and probably need to update it, but the basics are still there. RPV has got to restructure and reorient in a big way, and anything folks can do to help Chairman Mullins restructure in preparation for what will be an uphill climb in 2014 must be done. Guns outward, folks… not inward.
12. …and should Cuccinelli choose to run for U.S. Senate in 2014 (and he ought to), he will have to switch up the inner circle. What burns me up the most about Cuccinelli ’13 is that he didn’t lose. He was failed, primarily by those closest around him who were paid to make sure he did not fail.
That really, seriously, unfathomably pisses me off.
Rick Shaftan — architect of Cuccinelli’s three state senate victories in Northern Virginia — offered the most brutally honest and heartfelt summation of the Cuccinelli ’13 campaign.
Cuccinelli’s positive ads made him sound like a liberal Democrat and didn’t attract any. It goes without saying that Ken did not cut into the McAuliffe vote with his ads. Ken Cuccinelli spent seven years in the State Senate and four years as Attorney General building and winning with a strong conservative message that no one saw in 2013 til the final week.
Be bold. Stand up for what you believe. Don’t worry about what the left says. Never defend. Always attack. Keep control of the agenda. Save your money for the end.
…and sadly, that’s the way a lot of folks felt about Cuccinelli ’13. It’s no small wonder why exit polling showed that conservatives — not libertarians or moderates — stayed home on election day. That should scare the hell out of every RPV Victory staffer, every Cuccinelli staffer, every prognosticator watching this race. Cuccinelli never turned out his own base despite millions being spent shoring it up. Why?
The final analysis of this campaign is very simple. Cuccinelli for Governor lost at about every single relevant point of contact his campaign had with the electorate, despite the willingness of friends and associates to pitch in and help in meaningful and constructive ways. Instead, his gatekeepers gave those longtime friends the Heismann treatment… and when your campaign staff treats friends like enemies, you tend to lose elections.
Here’s some more food for thought while we’re at it. Conservatives are sick and tired of being told to march to the sound of the guns while being handed a slingshot and a ping-pong ball. No more of that — frankly, I don’t feel like wasting my fall fighting for a campaign that doesn’t take victory seriously enough.
There’s a classic scene in one of my favorite movies, Kingdom of Heaven, where one of the fanatics begins chiding Saladin about why the army chose to retire rather than fight. Saladin responds:
“The results of battles are determined by God, but also by preparation, numbers, the absence of disease, and the availability of water. One cannot maintain a siege with the enemy behind. How many battles did God win for the Muslims before I came… that is, before God determined that I should come?”
Amateurs talk tactics; professionals talk logistics. What we got was a slew of tactical maneuvering from a Cuccinelli campaign looking for a silver bullet, and very little logistical preparation on any front that was vital to Ken’s success: grassroots emphasis, communications, messaging, field staff, fundraising, or new media.
What’s most frustrating? If only a fraction — and in some cases, just one — of these items was rectified, Cuccinelli would be governor-elect right now, and Obenshain the undisputed winner of the Attorney General’s race.
The bottom line?
Cuccinelli didn’t lose. He was failed early and often by his own staff.
…and yes, I’m bitter about it.