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Video: Allen and Kaine Senior Advisors Talk Strategy, Money, “Total Crap” SuperPAC ads


Yesterday, I attended a post-election forum (“After Virginia Votes”) held at GMU Law School in Arlington between George Allen senior advisor Boyd Marcus and Tim Kaine senior advisor Mo Elleithee. The discussion lasted about an hour, and covered the 2012 Kaine-Allen race, as well as some thoughts on 2013. A few points that jumped out at me from this segment of the discussion (note: I’m still uploading parts 1 and 3; this is actually part 2) are as follows. Note that it got pretty colorful at times, with Marcus slamming his own “team,” broadly speaking, in language for more candid than we normally here from political consultants…

1. It’s fascinating to me, and not in a good way, that Marcus STILL has no compunction about their wildly irresponsible, false, Big Lie, whatever you want to say, use of “sequestration” to attack Tim Kaine. The fact is, this was a bipartisan effort, supported by Republicans like Bob McDonnell, Eric Cantor, etc., and which Tim Kaine had absolutely NOTHING to do with. The alternative at the time, by the way, was for the U.S. to default on its national debt, which would have been utterly disastrous. Whether Boyd Marcus understands this or doesn’t understand this, it really tells you a lot about the Allen campaign.

2. Marcus’ whining about a supposed lack of money to run ads  – largely attacking Tim Kaine – is just laughable. Basically, what he’s doing is trying to deflect responsibility for his candidate’s crushing loss from himself to Allen himself, for not raising enough money. Lame.

3. Marcus’ whining about having to go through a Republican primary, against what was in reality a field of nobodys, is also laughable. Excuses, excuses (note: last I checked, Jim Webb went through a brutal primary in 2006, was absolutely broke at the end, and beat Allen anyway – hmmmmm.)

4. After all that, Marcus seems to claim that the ads didn’t matter anyway, and that it all came down to “turnout.” Huh?

5. Marcus claims the RNC 72-hour model for getting voters out “doesn’t work.” Marcus says there “was a lot of activity going on…[but] most of it was pretty worthless…not very well done.” (note: this sounds to me like more blame-passing and excuses by Marcus)

6. Elleithee says the Kaine campaign had the best fundraising operation in the country, “born out of necessity” (because they knew how much of an “onslaught” they’d be facing from Crossroads, Americans for Prosperity, etc.). It’s hard to argue with that, given that – as Elleithee notes – there was over $30 million in outside spending against Tim Kaine; more money against any other candidate in the country except for one: Barack Obama. Wow.

7. Elleithee says the Kaine campaign felt at a “distinct disadvantage” in terms of spending throughout the entire campaign. They felt a “little bit better” at the end, but they started spending against Kaine 12 months out.

8. Elleithee argues that the Kaine campaign got more bang for their advertising buck in part by purchasing the ads earlier. That allowed them to lock in better ad placement and better rates, helping to compensate for the massive amount of money against Kaine coming in from outside groups.

9. Marcus correctly points out that the outside groups had to pay more for their ads.

10. Marcus says the outside ads were not helpful. Elleithee says it was “total crap.” In fact, Elleithee said he saw the ads and said “THANK YOU, there is no way that ad is going to convince one single voter to vote against Tim Kaine.” Marcus says there were a “couple” that were decent ads and “that followed the themes” of the Allen campaign, but “well over half” didn’t follow the Allen campaign’s messaging and were “not well done.”

11. Elleithee says that Allen’s refusal to agree to Kaine’s offer to try to limit outside groups spending probably ended up helping Kaine in the end. “I was afraid you were going to say yes, because I was counting on these outside groups being as bad as they were.”

12. Marcus says they “had no idea what was really going to come in from the outside,” that those ads didn’t “make it worse” for Allen, it just “was a lot of wasted money.” The key, according to Marcus, is having someone in the SuperPAC who actually knows what’s going on in the particular state they’re running the ad in, not “just somebody sitting in New York who makes an ad.”

13. According to Elleithee, some of the best outside group ads were from the RNC and DNC.

14. Marcus says the Chamber of Commerce ads were “just about the worst” of the outside group ads, “really cookie cutter stuff.”

  • A few highlights:

    1. The introduction of Marcus at the beginning, noting that he  was seated at the “far right,” got a LOT of laughter from the audience. Funny moment.

    2. Elleithee joked (?) that he got along better with Marcus better than with some of the people on his own campaign.

    3. Elleithee noted that Kaine never had any intention of distancing himself from Barack Obama, given how close Kaine is to Obama. In addition, the Kaine campaign saw it “as a strategic asset” to be running on the same ticket as Obama. Still, the Kaine campaign did feel there would be some Romney-Kaine voters out there, but VERY few Obama-Allen voters. For this reason, the Kaine campaign’s bipartisan message was effective.

    4. Marcus said that they saw the campaign as driven by whether Romney would win Virginia or not. The feeling was that if Romney won by a sufficient margin, then the Allen campaign could connect Kaine to Obama in an effective manner. The race overall was driven by the presidential contest in terms of issues, outside groups, “the environment we were working in.”

    5. Marcus issued a mea culpa that “there were no Republican consultants or pollsters in this country who got this election right…every one of them got it wrong; thank god I wasn’t on Fox News to do it publicly.” (Marcus then said there were “no cameras,” even though I was sitting in the 2nd row, center, not hiding my camera at all. Weird.)

    6. Marcus claimed the Allen campaign’s final polls (a week before the election) showed Romney leading by 5 points, Allen leading by 5 points as well. Wow. Just wow. What were they using, Rasmussen? Gallup? The worst pollster in America? Whatever the morons at Faux “News” pulled out of their butts? Delusional.

    7. Also delusional, Marcus said that no Republicans imagined the possibility that Obama’s campaign could get his vote out in the way he did. Huh?!? These people should all be fired (or never hired again) for total incompetence if that’s true!

    8. Marcus joked that he would have preferred that someone “run over all those people who ran against us in the primary…but unfortunately that’s not allowed.” Hahahaha. Not.

    9. Marcus claimed they ran an “extremely disciplined campaign.” OK, I get the “extreme” part, but as far as “disciplined” is concerned…well sure, if you consider not letting your candidate be made available to the press, not even having contact info on the campaign’s website for the press, basically being terrified 24/7 that your candidate would repeat his “macaca” disaster of 2006, well yeah, that’s “disciplined.”

    10. Marcus said there were very few voters who were undecided, as almost everyone knew who Kaine and Allen were.

    11.  Marcus claimed they had to spend money early in order to win the primary convincingly. He also claimed the Allen-Kaine race was the closest of all the “open seats in the country,” but that they just weren’t successful in getting the Romney campaign to win. Yeah, whatever dude…

    12. Elleithee said “we started this race tied.” Through 2011, it stayed tied. Negative ads started against Kaine in 11/11, “didn’t move the needle at all.” “We did not go up on the air with our first ads until the end of August 2012.” Then, “a few weeks later, we started to see the polls move our way” due to positive ads. My view is that it’s far more the effect of the Democratic convention.

    13. Elleithee said after the first presidential debate, the Kaine campaign “felt the ground shift under us….wasn’t a freefall by any stretch of the imagination,” but “Republicans became energized…about Mitt Romney.” Still, the Kaine campaign didn’t go into “panic mode,” figuring that the surge in Republican enthusiasm was temporary. The Kaine campaign thus didn’t change its strategy. “We knew that the other side was underestimating the strength of our get out the vote effort, and we were very happy about that…”

    14. Elleithee said the key to winning the race was winning three “meta-messaging battles” – on the economy, on the deficit/getting our fiscal house in order (“we went on the offense…one of the few Democrats in the country” on this issue, reminded people about George Allen’s fiscal record in the Senate), and most importantly on the issue of gridlock in Washington (that Congress was “hyperpartisan” and that Kaine was the one who could break through the gridlock and get stuff done). One of the ads that made the biggest splash in the campaign was Kaine talking about working with both President Obama AND President Bush. (“We may be the only candidate in the country on either side of the aisle who mentioned President Bush in a positive way in a television ad.”)

  • Teddy Goodson

    While he was apparently in candid mode insofar as a Republican advisor looking for a future campaign job can be, all of his mea culpas about what went wrong and why Allen (and Romney) did not win never really got to the core of why the Republicans lost. Everything he had to say was about failures of the Romney campaign, how they tried to “soften” Allen’s image, and appeal more to women and that mythical center pundits love so well… and the independent expenditures and Romney mucked it up for Allen.

    It never seems to occur to these GOP apologists that a little tweaking of their messaging and buffing up the Republican brand is not the answer to their dilemma. The Virginian voters, like the rest of the American voters, just plain do not like the Republican philosophy, that is, their basic world view, and, therefore, they reject Republican policies and candidates. The only way the Republicans can repair the damage and win future elections is to jettison most of their bastardized free market economic theory and their dogmatic Old Testament religiosity. Changing their “marketing” and sort of pretending to modify their fundamental attitude won’t cut it… and I frankly doubt they will undertake such major surgery.

  • Here are a few highlights.

    1. Marcus and Elleithee had a discussion about the changing demographics of Virginian and whether it’s better to run as a Tim Kaine centrist than a George Allen conservative. According to Marcus, “it depends what year you’re running” (e.g., in Virginia, presidential years are much “bluer” than non-presidential years). Marcus added that Republicans have a “major, major need to reach out to new groups” other than white people, because that’s where the growth in Virginia’s population is. To date, Marcus said, Virginia Republicans have not done this on a consistent basis. Marcus added that part of this has to do with the way districts are drawn – solid red or solid blue – so there’s no need to reach out beyond your base.

    2. Marcus argued that people in NOVA generally have no idea (or care) about what’s going on in Richmond and the rest of the state, in large part because the DC-based media doesn’t cover it. It’s also true the other way around, in Marcus’ view.

    3. Elleithee argued that “it’s always better to run as a centrist” in Virginia, that “over the last decade…the candidates who came across as more centrist have won general elections.” According to Elleithee, Democrats have “done a better job on our side…rebranding the Democratic Party in the state,” led by Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. In Elleithee’s view, Virginians are not ideologues. Elleithee said that the one political operative who scares him the most is Tom Davis, because he “gets that.”

    4. According to Elleithee, “the reason why Republicans in Virginia and nationally had a hard time connecting with non-white voters was not an infrastructure or a practical issue…it was because you don’t have much of a message that was connecting with them right now.” Same thing with women voters. Elleithee: “Your side was not helped at all by the shenanigans in the General Assembly last year.” “I think too many women and non-white voters felt actually threatened by the overall Republican message this year…that was one of the reasons why turnout went up…a little bit of a sense of self preservation, folks feeling like you know what, we are under assault, so they turned out.”

    5. Marcus claimed that he could recall any Republican running an ad on the issue of immigration or abortion, anything that “threatened,” but that there were a bunch of ads run AGAINST Republicans along these lines. Marcus asserted that there are some “stupid Republicans who have said some extremely stupid things over the last few years,” and have prevented Republicans from having a Senate majority today (e.g., “the witch in Delaware,” “Akin in Missouri,” Mourdoch). There’s a “battle going on within the Republican Party about what we are all about.”  

    6. According to Marcus, Creigh Deeds was a centrist, and he got beaten badly by Bob McDonnell, who was attacked for having written a thesis in college. “Our legislature has done some dumb things in terms of issues it has brought up and ever allowed to come to the floor.”

    7. Elleithee countered that McDonnell, despite being an ideologue, ran for governor as a centrist.

    8. Marcus said that Allen, Gilmore, and McDonnell all are conservatives, all ran on very down-to-earth, want to fix government, try to do some very specific things, and all did well from that aspect. Allen, Gilmore, and McDonnell didn’t all run against bad candidates (although “Deeds was probably the worst campaign”), but all three articulated the messages of what the suburbs of Virginia cared about. “This election was won or lost in the suburbs” (Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Henrico, Virginia Beach, etc.). “Whoever wins the suburbs, wins the election…” Jim Gilmore and Bob McDonnell both carried Fairfax County.

    9. Elleithee said that it’s exactly right that statewide races in Virginia are won or lost in the suburbs and exurbs. They’re becoming more purple. Chesterfield, Henrico, Prince William moving in the right direction from a Democratic perspective.

    10. Elleithee argued that Democrats wouldn’t have had any ads to run on women’s issues if Republicans hadn’t passed the laws and made the comments they had. As for women supposedly not caring about issues like choice and contraception, as Republicans often claim, Elleithee said that he “learned a long time ago never to presume to tell a woman what she actually cares about.” “That was a fundamental flaw in the Republican messaging this cycle.” Same thing in the Latino community and other communities, Republicans didn’t understand how to connect.

    11. On 2013, Elleithee said that turnout most definitely will matter – will “federal Democrats” show up or not? Also, “candidates absolutely matter.” “We wouldn’t have won if Tim Kaine wasn’t such a good candidate.” “We need to begin the process early, early of recruiting good candidates at the Congressional level in 2014, at the General Assembly level in 2013…”

    At that point, my Flip video ran out of juice. Fortunately, the discussion was just about over.