Monday, August 02, 2010

Simmons Ad: A Much-Needed Medical Station on a Bloody Campaign Battlefield

If you live in Connecticut and have been anywhere near a television in recent weeks you probably are aware that candidates for state and federal offices in both parties are slugging it out in competing advertisements, pulling no punches and going for the knockout in the August 10 primary.

The Democrats' gubernatorial candidates, Dan Malloy and Ned Lamont, are at each other's throats with Lamont - the convention endorsed candidate - implying that Malloy is corrupt and Malloy stating that Lamont is a lightweight and a fraud.

Republican gubernatorial (I'm sorry, that means they are running for governor) candidates Tom Foley - the convention endorsed candidate - and Mike Fedele are literally in a bloodbath. Fedele is calling Foley a criminal and hatchet man, alleging that Foley killed a town down south by closing its textile factory, while Foley is painting Fedele as a tax and spend liberal posing as a Republican.

In the race for the Republican nomination to run for Attorney General the fighting between Martha Dean and Ross Garber made it onto the pages of the Hartford Courant today, but honestly, their fight is over qualifications and actually seems polite compared to the other races.

In the middle of this fray comes Republican Rob Simmons who was narrowly defeated by Linda McMahon at the party convention in May for the nomination to run for US Senate. Since then Simmons has been running a non-traditional primary campaign, keeping his name on the primary ballot but acknowledging that he has no way to raise enough money to compete with McMahon's tens of millions, and thus eschewing huge advertising expenditures.

Nonetheless, Simmons has just released a new television ad titled Lest We Forget that is remarkable on many fronts, but mostly because it inserts a huge dose of civility and class into what has become a street brawl in the other races.

When I saw Simmons' ad I was immediately reminded of a place in Vietnam called Charlie Med. It was an advanced medical station, south of the Demilitarized Zone and southeast of Khe Sanh. It was on the reverse side of a very high hill which meant it couldn't be hit by direct artillery fire from North Vietnam, and unlike Khe Sanh it was out of sight from the Laotian border.

Although Charlie Med was built like a sandbagged bunker it had the personnel and facilities to repair a wounded Marine, and stabilize his condition so he could be transported to a hospital ship out on the Gulf of Tonkin or to Da Nang 60 miles away if necessary. It was adjacent to a base that originally was called Cam Lo, then LZ Stud, and as it grew eventually became Vandergrift Combat Base. You could land a helicopter right on the roof that was marked with a red cross. Charlie Med took fire, but not on a par with firebases closer to Laos or the DMZ.

Getting out of the line of fire and spending a few minutes getting wounded troops into the care of the medical personnel was a welcome respite, for the troops and the helicopter crews who brought them there. When I was looking over the primary campaign battlefield I couldn't help but compare the new Rob Simmons ad to Charlie Med.

In the interest of full disclosure I work as a director for the Michael J. London & Associates public relations firm in Trumbull, CT, and we did NOT work on the Simmons campaign. Lest We Forget was produced by the Cashman & Katz firm in Glastonbury, CT and from one PR guy to another, what a great job they did.

Don't misunderstand me. Simmons took the gloves off early in the campaign prior to the May convention and went toe to toe with McMahon on a plethora of issues. They fought hard and they fought tough. McMahon wrested the nomination away from Simmons initially by a small majority at the convention, which turned into a larger majority when the rules committee allowed vote switching before the results of the first vote were announced.

Delegates who were tracking the voting saw that the third candidate, financier Peter Schiff, was out of the running at the convention and with Simmons and McMahon so close, a second vote would have been interesting to say the least. Schiff even released his delegates to Simmons, but delegates who had no loyalty other than to themselves and worried about being on the wrong side when the final results were in, began switching to McMahon initially in a trickle, then in a flood, and the final outcome was a more than 100 vote majority for McMahon.

That was then, this is now. I say that Rob Simmons has been running a non-traditional campaign, but as I think about it, I guess that depends on your definition of traditional. Because what Simmons has been doing since May could well be defined as a truly traditional, old-fashioned shoe leather campaign. By that I mean he hasn't relied on the media to spread his message, instead going full-tilt on the campaign trail to let Republicans know he is still on the ballot and still in the race.

He has worked his way across the state, even appearing at events on behalf of other GOP candidates, but also leaving the message that he is in the running too.

There is a method here. Every candidate who is on the primary ballot August 10 needs the support of their party's rank and file voters. These are not people who are likely to be influenced by favors or long-held (or for that matter shifting) loyalties to party officials. They will vote for the person who they believe is the best fit for the job. In the GOP primary for the US Senate nomination Simmons, McMahon and Schiff - who petitioned his way onto the ballot - are all vying for the Republican nomination.

Thus each in his or her own way must get their message out to registered Republicans. Linda McMahon obviously has the advantage in ability to buy advertising space, although Schiff supposedly has lots of his own money too. Simmons on the other hand has been working one-on-one, meeting people face to face, engaging in debates, and spending enough media money to create and release a really well-done political ad based on the concept of "Service."

Here Simmons has the edge, considering that he has literally spent his entire adult life, from his Army days in Vietnam, to the CIA, to working as a US Senate staffer on intelligence matters, to state representative to US Congressman, to state Business Advocate, in public service. His commercial does not directly criticize either of his opponents although it does contain a line that service "can't be bought."

In conjunction with his new ad, Simmons also has picked up endorsements from the New London Day, Norwich Bulletin and Hartford Courant in recent days. Simmons' endorsements may be offset by the rumored endorsement of McMahon by Connecticut's Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell later today, but if that does occur it too can be spun a million ways.

What is really refreshing in all of this high drama is the simple fact that Simmons produced a decent, informative ad that tells you who he is, what he is bringing to the position and doesn't vilify his opponents. I won't go into Schiff's recent attacks on McMahon who is the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, which is run by her family. Simmons and McMahon went over that territory with a fine-toothed comb earlier this year and it didn't make much of an impact. McMahon for her part has run her post-convention campaign based on issues and qualifications.

Late on the night of August 10 we will know whether Simmons will be going forward as the GOP nominee to run against Democrat Richard Blumenthal, or out of the race. But either way, he can hold his head high and take pride in the fact that in the midst of political chaos and gutter fighting he has taught us all a lesson in civility, class and dignity.


houdini987 said...

It is so refreshing to see a politician take the high road with their campaign ads. I hope the electorate votes on merit this primary.

Another exquisitely written piece Ron.

Anonymous said...

Your laudatory piece conveniently forgets that Simmons ran a very negative campaign against Linda McMahon before the convention, far more negative than Linda's. No wonder Simmons laid low for the last 10 weeks. He needed people like you to "forget" the bad Simmons.

Lastly, I am cynical about the motives of the Day, Courant, etc. They are so much in the tank for Blumenthal that they are endorsing a candidate who does not have a prayer of beating him. What for, old times sake? Lets get some new blood in the political arena.

Robert H. Hall

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