Monday, July 30, 2007

The Mailbag, Vol. 2

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 540

This is a post on some things sent over the transom that caught my eye during the past week, but didn't otherwise make for posts in and of themselves.

YouTube Ripple

No, not the latest flavor at Ben & Jerry's; I'm talking about how campaigns are starting to riff on the CNN/YouTube debate. First, the Richardson campaign kicked off it's own initiative to take questions from voters via video, email or on-line form. In an email announcing what its calling "Ask Bill," Richardson's campaign described it as follows:

"We're going to upend the status quo and skip the media middleman. Direct questions, direct answers. That is the strategy we've been using in living rooms and meeting rooms across the country -- and our rising poll numbers show it's working.

Want to know more about my experience negotiating with the world's toughest dictators? You won't get that answer on the CNN debate -- but you will from "Ask Bill." Want to know my favorite flavor of ice cream? I'll take that question too. ¿Quiere saber cómo aumentaré el sueldo de maestros? Pregúnteme ahora- en inglés o en español- y contestaré en cualquiera."

A few days later, John Kerry weighed in with his own twist on the theme, launching the "Roadblock Republican Radio Contest." An email from Kerry's Senate reelection campaign gave the following details:

"Republicans are feeling the pressure for change on Iraq. But I'm not a patient person. Especially when the lives of our troops are at stake. I refuse to wait around for the Republicans to move without giving them a little more pushing.

Quite simply, we want to take an unusual step - and we want to do it early. I think we need to run radio ads in the states of the Roadblock Republicans, making it crystal clear that they don't deserve to be reelected because of their continued support for the Bush Doctrine of escalation without end. We need to turn up the heat even higher.

It's the pressure of activists and the voice of the people that have gotten us this far in the Iraq debate, not the cookie-cutter ads and thirty second soundbites of Madison Avenue media firms.

So we decided, why don't we let you speak in this radio campaign? If user generated content can change presidential debates, I know it can help change the next election on the most pivotal of issues.

That's why we're running a contest. We want you to send in a script for a 30 second radio spot (that's about 65 words long), we'll whittle it down some to the top 20, and then we'll open up the voting to everyone. The winner that's chosen by the people will be what we air in the states. And we'll fundraise for the airing of that spot, with each of you able to choose with your contribution where you think we should run the ad. No political professionals making the spot, or choosing where to run it. It's all done by you."

All this is a direct result of the buzz from this week's voter-submitted questions in the CNN/YouTube debate. Look for more of this in the coming weeks.

And While You're Asking Richardson...

Chris Dodd's communications director, Hari Savugan, sent me an email last week with a subject line of "FYI - Richardson Admits Flip-Flop on Guns." The email contrasts Richardson's statements during his widely-panned May 27, 2007 appearance on Meet the Press with a story that ran in the Albuquerque Journal July 27. What it boils down to is that, in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy earlier this year, Bill Richardson reversed his position on a loophole in current law that allows buyers at gun shows to purchase firearms without passing a background check (Richardson supported the exemption before, and now does not). When I asked how Richardson's current stance on this issue compares to Dodd's, Savugan replied, "Chris Dodd has consitently [sic] favored instant background checks and closing the gun show loophole, whether he's running in a Democratic primary or not." So, while Dodd and Richardson now hold the same position on this issue, Dodd's camp faults Richardson for the switch.

The real story here, to my mind, is not the position on guns, although I think Richardson did the right and responsible thing in switching his position; the switch appears to have been driven by events - not polls, but events - and changing one's views in response to real-world developments is far more virtue than vice (think about the last 4+ years of "staying the course" for perhaps the best lesson here). In my view, Bill Richardson was wrong before, and now he's come down on the right side of this issue. So I'm not really troubled by the flip-flop, if that's what this was.

Rather, I think the real story is that, with a little less than 6 months to go before the caucuses, the sixth-place candidate (Dodd) is taking this kind of shot at the fourth-place candidate (Richardson), rather than one of the top three. As we move into August, the gloves are starting to come off. There's no doubt that Chris Dodd's best hope - perhaps his only hope - of moving up from the bottom of the field is that one or more candidates above him stumbles; but that being the case, I would have thought he would have aimed higher, at Clinton or Obama. Last week would have been a particularly opportune moment for doing so, with the top two contenders embroiled in a war of words between themselves over foreign policy; imagine, then, the impact of a solid shot from Dodd on a domestic issue would have had in opening a second front against the most prominent rivals in the Democratic race. That really might have helped Dodd. As it was, I think his campaign went for the forward pass and wound up not moving the ball at all.

The Candidate Formerly Known as Kucinich

Finally tonight, news from Planet Kucinich. The Kucinich campaign sent around an email on July 22 from campaign manager Make Klein (who took over from David Bright last month), announcing that Kucinich's initial website at had been scrapped in favor of But neither the hiring of Klein as campaign manager, nor the retooling of Kucinich's website could match the breathtaking impact of the news Klein flashed to supporters in an email dated July 27:
"Last week, Dennis Kucinich launched his presidential campaign with house parties from coast-to-coast, a ground-breaking new website and a historic campaign to change government policy by sending text messages."

Learning that Kucinich had launched his presidential campaign only the previous week must have come as something of a shock to supporters who had been laboring under the misapprehension that the candidate who's campaign now refers to by his first name, rather than his last, had declared himself a candidate back on December 12, 2006 ("I am announcing my candidacy for President of the United States" was the exact quote from the speech - not much ambiguity there, I would have thought). But, now that Mark Klein has declared that the campaign has finally begun, I think we can expect to see signs that the kidding around from Dennis has come to an end. Really. Big things will happen. Naysayers will come crawling to Cleveland for forgiveness. Front-runners will lay down and quit the race. The clouds will part, and angels weep in gratitude at the advent of global justice now.

Or not.


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