The Way to Win: White, Kerrey, & Fischer by Ivy Harper

July 16, 2012


Most of us have, at one time or another, expressed this basic sentiment; where you see/watch/witness/observe someone or something – let’s say an awful building – and you remark, “I’m not an architect and I could have designed a better building than that.”

Or, I’m not a singer but I could have done a better job on the national anthem. Human nature, my friends.

Well, although I’ve worked on a number of Irish male political campaigns – Bobby Kennedy, George McGovern, John Cavanaugh, Bob Kerrey, and Beaghragh O’Bama – I’ve never been the top dog in a political campaign.

Yet, I found myself early on in the 2010 Tom White for Congress campaign so wishing I was his campaign manager. White was “The One” who could have knocked Lee Terry out of his Congressional catbird seat.

Had I been advising him – and the funny thing is the Whites live literally four doors down from my sister on the same street in Benson – I would have put an end to the three moves that sunk Tom White’s chances:

1)   Stop the incessant Nebraska fund-raising. Tom White should have either raised money out-of-state; run with his own $$$, or run with less; one of the three. His campaign drove people crazy with their non-stop requests for cash when the Omaha World-Herald announced that his personal net worth was more than eight million dollars. Fatal mistake.

2)   Never criticize Lee Terry. Nebraskans like him. Republicans, Democrats, & Independents. That “comely lobbyist’ stuff backfired. Big-time. It should have been all about issues and repetition of the phrase, “Lee’s great but 8’s enough.”

3)   Focus on Independents; spend less time with Democrats and convince Dems that that’s the only winning strategy. God Bless Cornhusker Democrats, but they can be so demanding, they drain you of critical time with crucial “undecided” voters of which there were many in the 2nd District in 2010.

Tom White had it all. And “it” was squandered. He was pro-life; a stellar speaker; passionate – and exceptionally well-versed – about issues; quick-witted; strong, and he had a supportive, wonderful wife, terrific kids, and fired-up 20-something supporters who’d been brought into Omaha politics by Obama’s 2008 victory. Yet, it was clear to me half-way into his 2010 campaign that the blow-out that happened was going to happen.

My point: both Senator Fischer and Bob Kerrey are making fatal mistakes. If that sounds paradoxical, it is but remember – as Abraham Lincoln reminds us – one has to be able to hold two opposing thoughts and still think rationally and function well.

Okay, first here’s what Senator Fischer is doing wrong. She’s not the first candidate to do this; campaigns repeatedly make this major mistake:

1)   She’s running the same race that Dave Karnes ran in his match-up with Kerrey. Because Dave Karnes made his “we need fewer farmers” blunder, Fischer believes that if she has a slip-up, her Senate candidacy will tank like Karnes. But that’s wrong. Kerrey was going to beat Karnes regardless. As long as she doesn’t use the word “creepy,” she’ll be fine.

Today, voters are demanding engagement and Senator Fischer already has hurt herself a lot by not debating Kerrey. She should debate him seven times – or at least, say she will; meaning that at this point, coordinating seven debates would be extremely difficult logistically for both camps – because Kerrey is winning Independents on that issue. No question.

Unlike in the Karnes/Kerrey match-up, ordinary voters know the issues these days from all the media sources and they want their candidates to be as informed as they are. Fischer is totally accurate when she tells Nebraska Watchdog that no Nebraska Senate race has ever had seven debates; but at no time in American History is debating more expected by a frustrated and polarized public.

Debates are the new Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

Plus, debates are theatre and Americans like to go to the theatre. More than just Republicans were addicted to the GOP presidential debates; I – and most of my Democratic friends – watched every single one. Bottom line: she should have accepted Kerrey’s “invitation” to debate from the get-go and just started cramming. For goodness sake, “cramming” is the name of the political game. Don’t think that Kerrey’s not studying, too.

2)   Now, here’s what Kerrey’s doing wrong: okay, that picture on that showed Kerrey in North Platte sitting at a table with one supporter pretty much exemplifies what he’s doing wrong. Preaching to the choir.

Why was I – the 2010 Democratic candidate in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District – able to garner with $22,000 thousand dollars the same number of votes that Tom White got in Omaha after spending more than one million dollars?

Why? Because almost all Nebraska Democrats are going to pull the lever for Democrats on the ballot. (This is not true for the GOP. Obviously. Obviously. Obviously, despite what conventional wisdom says about Cornhusker Republicans.) Still, it’s all about Independents. Ergo, every single day Kerrey should be going door-to-door and knock-knock-knocking on their heavenly doors. Independents are the Keys to the Senate Kingdom. And it appears that Kerrey is spending all his time wooing Democrats. Fatal move.

In another Post, I’ll give each campaign a move that will be a certain Senate winner. I know, that sounds impossible. Politics always is.

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