Campaign2008

This blog features information about the political campaign nationally and in the state of Pennsylvania. it will discuss congressional races western PA, but it won't restrict comments to those jurisdictions. On many occasions, it will feature humor, but its main purpose is to "cut the legs off" political jihad. This is a site for political grown-ups of all ages.

Name:
Location: Ambridge, Pennsylvania, United States

I have a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester (English and American Literature). I taught for 10 years at various educational institutions (Univ. of Rochester, my alma mater, College of William and Mary, and University of Georgia, where I was also Asst. Ed. of the Georgia Review. Later, I worked as a speechwriter and "thinker" at various large companies, including Phillips Petroleum, Gulf Oil, Aetna, Merck (consultant), and Eli Lilly (consultant), among many others. I'm a full-time writer and political commentator/analyst. Favorite company: AudioTech Business Books. Favorite female: my wife, Patricia Ann Maloney. Favorite politcal candidate: Diana Lynn Irey (PA's 12th congressional district)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rick Santorum: Retail Politics and Missed Opportunities

I sent part of the column below as a letter to Paul Kengor, associate professor of political science at Grove City College (GCC), an institution that has done a wonderful job of resisting government control of its operations. Kengor, author of a superb book on Ronald Reagan, wrote a remarkable article ("A Guy Called Santorum") that appeared in the November 19, 2006, "Forum" section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His point was that Rick Satorum is a man of principle, particularly in his opposition to abominations like partial-birth abortion. He noted that in the 2006 election secularists supported the supposedly pro-life Bob Casey, Jr. by a margin of nearly four-to-one. In contrast, regular churchgoers voted for Santorum by an even higher ratio.

Kengor's article brought several critical letters-to-the-editor from people committed to the culture-of-death. My column directs itself mainly to how candidates can target their resources to increase their vote totals.

From the letters in the "Forum" section, I guess your [Paul Kengor's] Santorum piece struck a nerve. I'd consider writing a letter about some of your critics if the Post-Gazette would publish my offerings, which it won't anymore.

One critic tiptoes around with the issue of infanticide [perhaps a better term than partial-brith abortion]. I've always thought the ancient Greeks, who practiced infanticide, may have been more honest than their modern counterparts.

Although the magnitude of Santorum's defeat (59% to 41%) still mystifies me, I think that in the campaign he failed to reveal the "impressive Rick" side of himself that you identified.

When the Penn Hills "residency problem" came out, however unfair it might have been, I thought it would be very harmful to Rick, which apparently it was. (Note: Santorum paid taxes and had a house in the Penn Hills suburb of Pittsburgh, but he and his family lived together in Virginia, where Penn Hills paid for their "cyber education.")

Another factor in his defeat was his heavy reliance on very expensive TV advertising. (Something similar happened with the Tallent senatorial campaign in Missouri.)

For candidates like Rick and Diana Irey, 12th District opponent of John Murtha, the "ground war" is critical. That is, they need to have a ton of people (some of whom they will have to to pay) knocking on doors and making phone calls.

These people shouldn't be mere"hired guns." They should be individuals who believe in what the candidate stands for.

One thing Rick forgot was how he won his first campaign for federal office -- against congressional incumbent Democrat Doug Walgren in 1990.

In that effort, Rick engaged in a lot of "retail" politics, having face-to-face contact and knocking on doors. In contrast, Walgren relied on name recognition and abundant advertising and brochure sending.

To the amazement of just about everyone, the newcomer Santorum defeated the supposedly bullet-proof Walgren. It was a campaign reminscent of this year's Irey-Murtha battle, although one with a happier ending.

In Rick's 2006 campaign, he had a big advantage in money, with his $27 million-plus against Bob Casey's approximately $16 million. But Santorum's big spending campaign didn't translate into nearly enough votes.

He started with a core vote of about 40%, and by election day he had increased to a disappointing 41%.

Rick paid top dollar for his consultants and advertising spots, but he didn't get his money's worth. His opponent, Bob Casey, also spent a great deal on political ads, mostly playing it safe by saying little -- aside from the usual Democratic demagoguery ("tax cuts for the wealthy . . . sending American jobs overseas," etc.)

Yes, it's necessary to appear in TV ads to establish yourself as a credible candidate. But much of the estimated $11 million or so Rick spent on ads, many of them not very complelling, should have been directed to more productive activities.

In one ad, Rick talked about how he'd "worked with Hillary Clinton" and "Barbara Boxer" on a couple of minor issues. Did he really believe that approach would earn him any votes?

People who vote for Senators Clinton and Boxer aren't going to vote for Rick unless perhaps they're at the point of a gun. An important rule in politics is to avoid being disingenuous.

He also had an unsuccessful ad featuring his six children. That particular spot dealt with Rick's controversial action of having the town of Penn Hills, PA, pay for his kids' online home schooling in Virginia. In political commercials, it's best if children are seen and not heard.

How could Rick have spent his money better? Admittedly, it wouldn't have been possible for him to go door-to-door throughout a large state, something that would take a lifetime to accomplish.

However, what if he'd hired an additional 200 or more fired-up political organizers and had at least one such person in every PA county?

Also, he could have provided the organizers with good regional leadership. The paid staffers would vouch for Rick in every key community and build substantial groups of committed volunteers to work in their neighborhoods.

Finally, the paid organizers could have cooperated with local Republican leaders to build party participation at the grassroots level. That approach has lasting benefits not found in the usual "one-short" political campaign, where organizations built with great efforts tend to fade away quickly after election day.

In the last days of the recent election, the Santorum campaign boasted that it had 40,000 volunteers statewide. Obviously, they needed perhaps 80,000, a number that was at least theoretically achievable.

For Santorum, such an organizational effort woulld have cost (very roughly) $3,500,00 -- about $17,500 per paid organizer, including expenses. In other words, somewhat less on TV advertising (wholesale politics), somewhat more on organizatio (retail politics).

By the way, such efforts done very well, can be almost self-financing, mainly through sparking relatively small contributions ($200 or less). In the political world, you can never go wrong by asking people for their vote or their financial contribution (whatever they feel they can afford).

In fact, if you can get someone to contribute something as small as a dollar, you can be almost certain you'll get not only their vote but their enthusiastic support.

Would Rick have won with the approach I suggest? Maybe not, but he certainly would have done significantly better.

For a candidate, having a big campaign war chest -- as Rick did -- can provide a false sense of security. As the Santorum campaign shows, attempting to drown your opponent in a sea of advertising certainly isn't always a winning strategy.


Stephen R. Maloney has political experience tracing back to the Nixon-McGovern campaign (1972) and the first Gingrich campaign for Congress (1974). He wrote most of the grassroots organizing material for the Pharmaceutical Manufactuers Organization (now called PhRMA) in the 1980s and 1990s. His most recent activity was as a volunteer in Diana Lynn Irey's campaign against (the odious) John Murtha in PA's 12th Congressional District.

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