Depending on the media outlet you favor, you could view the lack of a clear front runner in the Republican primary race as disarray in GOP ranks or a plethora of possibilities.
Some pundits claim that the ever-shifting poll positions indicate total dissatisfaction with the GOP field, while others maintain that lower tier candidates are successfully getting their messages across to voters, thus offering some choices.
Regardless of whose opinion you want to mimic, it is clear that GOP voters nationwide were not and are not enamored of the 'anointed' candidates in either party - Republican Rudy Giuliani or Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Reports in the spring for instance gave us the impression that Giuliani and Clinton were the "establishment" candidates whose only real challenge was not getting bored while waiting for their coronations, and the presidential race. Primary races were viewed by some as mere formalities that had to be endured before the obvious was set in stone.
Odd isn't it, how in a democracy when the voters have had enough they start flexing their muscles? Here we are months later and no one backing any candidate in either party can say with certainty who will get the nomination.
Many strategies can come into play in long campaigns, and often what appears initially to be a losing strategy is merely a delaying strategy. That strategy would keep a candidate within striking distance when challenging an opponent who is trying to build a huge lead right out of the gate.
There are some who prefer to sit tight way back in the pack, avoiding too much scrutiny, and using just enough voter donations to assure their base that they are indeed in for the long haul, while waiting for the right moment to surge forward.
For example, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was considered a long shot in the late spring and early summer. But now he and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are slugging it out as if Iowa and New Hampshire are the last stops on the primary trail, not the first.
Many pundits also are saying that after surging unexpectedly, Huckabee has "peaked" too early and the glow is wearing off in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
That "unexpected" part refers to the mainstream media, not to me. I wrote about Huckabee's chances months before he became popular in the mainstream media - and yes you can pin a rose on my rear end for that flash of clairvoyance.
But the way I see it, if a candidate is going to "peak" at all, instead of surging to the forefront and staying there, then there was a fatal flaw in that candidacy from the outset. If you are running a campaign based on timing, in the sense that you hope voters don't learn all there is to know about your candidate before election day, you are fooling yourself as well as the voters.
Sooner or later the dirt will come out, and when it does the carefully constructed house of cards is going to collapse in a slight breeze. It is better to start off with a candidate whose positions are known, whose past foibles have been hung out for everyone to remark on, and who isn't going to be upset with an "October Surprise."
If voters stop supporting your candidate once they get to know your candidate, you have a pipe dream, not a campaign.
Much the same can be said for newspaper endorsements, which have made a lot of news in recent days both in Iowa and New Hampshire. Romney, for instance, is getting hammered because he didn't get the big nods from New Hampshire's big news outlets.
Newspaper endorsements mean far more to other media than they do to the voters. I have represented political candidates who received media endorsements in their areas while others got hammered, but in the long run the endorsements usually don't translate into votes one way or another. It's nice if you have them because you can use them in your advertisements, but there is danger in that approach too.
The American news industry is in decline as a trusted source of information because journalists have been preaching a leftist agenda since way before Walter Cronkite lied to us about the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968. The media preened for years over the major role it played in the fall of Richard Nixon, while trying to ignore its own complicity in the millions of deaths it caused in Southeast Asia after Vietnam fell.
I believe the presence or absence of a media endorsement actually carries far more weight in left wing Democratic campaigns than in Republican campaigns, since GOP voters wrote off the mainstream media long ago.
I have cautioned candidates in districts where the media is decidedly leftist - which means most districts - that a newspaper endorsement could be detrimental to their campaigns since GOP voters would be naturally suspicious of what a candidate said in private to get the endorsement in the first place.
Although the ebb and flow of individual candidates' fortunes may not be the optimum experience for them personally, the battles we have been witnessing since the summer are good for the voters. A candidate who surges but then falls back may well have had a good issue that was important to the voters, but the messenger may not have had enough support.
Take the Fair Tax for instance. It wasn't high on the radar until Huckabee started rising in the polls, but then it became an issue to take seriously. Even if Huckabee stumbles along the way, other GOP candidates have begun talking about the Fair Tax and that means more voters are going to research it.
If they do, they will find that it is supported by slew of conservative economists, is not regressive, it won't put an unfair burden on the poor - what a crock that is - nor will it lead to another out-of-control bureaucracy.
Our tax code is berserk, it has been for decades, and it needs to be scrapped. Huckabee has brought a real answer to a totally unfair, regressive tax system, and if he doesn't prevail there still is plenty of opportunity to keep it on the front burner.
We are close to the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, so we soon will see who will benefit from well-run campaigns with lots of money - Romney for instance - and well-run campaigns that don't have much money but have spent wisely - Huckabee and Arizona Sen. John McCain for instance. We also will see which campaigns had money, but couldn't turn dollars into votes.
In that category there is one GOP candidate who is simply mystifying, and has a campaign that seems to defy the laws of gravity in terms of campaign funding. I am talking here of Ron Paul, who is a libertarian by beliefs but is running way back in the pack as a GOP contender, despite claims of broad support by hundreds of thousands of donors.
The inconsistency of Paul's fund-raising claims and his poll standings became even more apparent when his campaign made a big splash earlier this month first by announcing an Internet fund-raising drive, then making more noise saying they had raised more than $10 million when it was over. But all that money doesn't appear to have changed very many voters' minds.
If you compare Paul's fund raising with some of the other candidates, the inconsistencies are obvious.
Huckabee surged without a lot of money by going to Iowa, shaking hands, meeting people, and spreading his Fair Tax philosophy. After the Iowa straw poll the media had to take Huckabee seriously, which meant he could get a lot of mileage with news reports on his campaign rather than buying ads.
On the Democratic side, Barack Obama was seen in some quarters as interesting, but not a real threat to Hillary Clinton. But then support started pouring in for Obama in the form of thousands of small donations that put him within striking distance of Clinton.
He used his money to make smart media buys and milking campaign appearances for their news value. That got people talking about him even more, which in turned brought in more money, and now Clinton not only is no longer a shoo in, but is seen in many polls a likely to lose to Obama in the early going.
Ron Paul has been described as the Internet master of all the GOP candidates. He told Fox News just before Christmas that people were joining his campaign by the "tens of thousands ... hundreds of thousands."
I waited for two weeks after his Internet fund drive, but I still don't see corresponding movement in the polls. Paul is still in the single digits, despite plenty of media exposure, and I don't see that as changing in a week.
By contrast, Obama surged in the polls with the money he raised from small donations, so why does Paul have the money but no surge?
There should have been a direct correlation between money raised and poll positions, if the money was coming from individuals who had jumped on the Ron Paul bandwagon.
Paul has some sound bites that play well with an audience that is sick of politics as usual in Washington, DC. When FOX interviewed him on the made-for-TV 'news' about the other candidates' Christmas ads, Paul responded, "I don't get it," and said those ads are irrelevant.
When he was pressed about taking money from organizations or individuals with questionable backgrounds, he responded, "People send me money because they support my ideas, not because I support theirs."
Again, a great response and a perfect sound bite. Most Americans who vote know damn well that tons of money goes into political campaigns with the hope of getting the candidate's ear later on, if that candidate is elected. Lots of corporations, organizations and individuals donate to both sides in some campaigns just to play it safe.
But while Paul has shown himself to be quite accomplished at manipulating the media and apparently the Internet, the kind of poll response I would have expected from tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of small donors sending in enough money to total more than $10 million, just isn't there.
So what is the answer? Inquiring minds are inquiring.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007