Anatomy of Two Campaigns

UPDATED: 11/09; Stapilus validates my examination of the vote totals as verifying widespread Democratic apathy as a significant player in the midterm election in Idaho.

The Idaho Statesman published a Popkey article front page containing the most vapid analysis of Minnick's loss as simply succumbing to a Republican wave. While certainly Republicans were highly motivated to go to the polls, the array of Minnick campaign apologists, which interestingly included IACI chief Alex Lebeau, and yet-to-win-an-election Dan Williams, simply glosses over the fact that Minnick ran his entire campaign targeting only Republicans, either taking the Democratic vote completely for granted or merely assuming, incorrectly, Democrats weren't a factor.

Worse was this comment by campaign manager John Foster.

Minnick campaign manager John Foster said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ran ads that were more negative than Minnick's and ran them earlier in the campaign. He said that's one of the reasons Reid beat Republican challenger Sharon Angle, and it shows the impact negative ads can have.

Minnick fell victim to a nationwide Republican wave, Foster said, that was not unexpected.

“The voters were intent on sending a message to anyone with a 'D' after their name,” Foster said. “It's tough being a Democrat in Idaho.”

Actually, that last statement will be funny to Democrats in Idaho because we don't recall ever seeing a D behind Minnick's name in any of his advertisements. Indeed Walt took every opportunity to distance himself from Democrats despite repeated warnings of the consequences.

But lets look more closely at Foster's comparison to the successful Reid campaign. Remember Reid was Republicans' most sought after trophy, pouring millions upon millions to defeat him in a state laden with Republicans. He was not only a trophy but a pick up opportunity and looked toast just six months ago. Both Minnick and Reid were quite successful in picking their opposition, securing the most extreme candidate through clever media placement of opposition research. It was no accident Vaughn Ward's campaign imploded. Raul Labrador simply had not the resources nor the experience to be responsible for the implosion.

And yes, Reid ran attack ads. And here I'll take small issue with the Mountain Goat Report's most excellent election day analysis predicting the Minnick campaign's demise. Attack ads work and have particular value against newbies with low recognition in driving up their unfavorables. Minnick's apologists acknowledge the value and I don't disagree. But these ads weren't like Reid's in two important respects, 1) Minnick's ads demonized the Hispanic voting bloc that propelled Reid to victory, 2) they were overreaching, personal and irrelevant to national politics.

Certainly Minnick needed to follow Reid's template of painting Labrador as extreme, but they missed. Minnick had a target rich environment to choose from, to repeal the 17th amendment, to return to the gold standard, to Labrador's desire to outlaw all abortion including in cases of rape and incest, let alone the massive quantity of self contradictory platitudes dominating the Republican noise machine. Indeed Minnick's Angie Leon ad's goal was to mark Labrador as extreme on domestic violence legislation, if that was what people took from the ad. But many people thought Minnick was trying to make Labrador responsible for her death, which they found offensive. I strongly agree with MGR that the "ads also gave otherwise ambivalent Democrats more reason to oppose Minnick."

But the ads weren't the Minnick campaign's greatest failing. Unlike Minnick, Reid ran an unapologetic campaign as a Democrat, not that he could hide it as senate majority leader. He actively courted his base. He didn't run from it. And he actively courted the Hispanic vote, an as yet untapped reserve in Idaho despite comparable numbers to Nevada's. Idaho's Democrats are concentrated in urban counties like Ada. In 2008, Minnick won Ada County with 56,557 votes. In 2010, Minnick received only 30,990 votes from Ada County ceding victory here to Labrador who got over 10,000 more than that. That 25,000 vote swing was the margin in this race. In Hispanic Canyon County Minnick's vote totals went from 28,367 in 2008 to 15,805 in 2010. With Minnick's prodigious war chest he failed Idaho Democrats in not using it to help secure this voting bloc which saved not only Reid, but virtually all of California. And while there was a ten point discrepancy in vote totals from a presidential election year, clearly that alone doesn't explain these fluctuations. Indeed just days before the election, Minnick debated Labrador before what should have been an enthusiastic audience, yet disillusionment with him was palpable.

Nationwide Reid's campaign sits in stark contrast to blue dogs, like Minnick, who ran from their party, ideologically failing to accomplish a positive record upon which to run, and feeding right wing media narratives demonstrating Democrats as out of touch, even with people in their own party. Blue dog failures made their election losses a self fulfilling prophecy. Over half of Democratic losses in congress were blue dogs, selfishly and with extreme malpractice, looking solely to their own careers, instead of realizing they'd have no success to run on, except those touted by Republicans. Minnick lost, not just because of the Republican tidal wave to which he contributed, but because he shunned his date to the dance.

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Nice job

I think the most disturbing thing is that Foster/Minnick and apparently every "heavyweight" in the IDP (from Popkey's "vapid analysis") fail to grasp that the immigration ads weren't just negative, they were race baiting and bigoted. The demonization of brown people using loaded language and imagery was most offensive and if the "heavyweights" believe that's what Walt needed to do to win, we've got much bigger problems in the IDP than any of us thought. Walt secured the endorsement of white nationalists and left the Idaho Hispanic Caucus declining to make an endorsement in the race. Pretty sure that's not the sort of "big tent" we should be pursuing.

Thanks MGR

And you're exactly right, they continue to be absolutely tone deaf on the subject. I find it amusing that the article hints that LeBeau was a member of the opposition when in fact IACI went to Minnick after their boy Ward floundered in the primary. I suspect IACI may have had difficulty had Minnick began actively courting a Hispanic caucus since that poses a threat to Republican interests.

I understand the forces arrayed, but my math skills seem a hell of a lot better than theirs. Treat the general like you're in a Republican primary and you're gonna get killed. One of those heavyweights got in my face last night repeating that Dems were only 19% of the district. So how'd the election turn out for you again? In fact every time I mentioned rank and file discontent to our Dem leaders I was met with blunt force anger at the idiocy of the rank and file. Well alrighty then. Dipshits.

I actually felt cleansed after this election because I thought we finally put the death knell to the notion that the future of Idaho Democrats was to tilt right. Instead I get this BS article telling me there was nothing we could do. Well I know one thing we shouldn't do. We need to stop helping Republicans kill our brand in this state. There are lots of committed Dems, such as the likes of Governor Schweitzer, who run proudly as a conservodems and they seem to survive re-election in western states. And meanwhile our illustrious team wonders why candidate recruitment is down.

Oh yeah

the bigotry. That was another thing I got in their face about because by my perception, for every xenophobe they were discouraging from Raul, they were losing a Dem vote through disgust. And they spurned the entire potential of an Hispanic caucus voting bloc. Just the opposite of what happened in Reid's race. Angle was running the bigoted ads and Reid pounced on the opportunity that represented. Given that Labrador is Hispanic Minnick's tack had to work in Labrador's favor. At no time did Minnick highlight Labrador's extremist views on immigration. Indeed there was very little in the ads that had to do with substance. That just fueled disgust among Democrats.

Reid is NOT a blue dog.

He diverges from the traditional liberal Democratic orthodoxy on guns and *did* vote for the partial-birth-abortion thing (but he's a MORMON, and the bill passed with a filibuster proof majority even without his vote). However, Reid is a no nonsense Democrat first and foremost and has a 30 year history of being just that. Blue Dogs (with a few exceptions) became the home for Rahm's Republicans - they were typified by running AWAY from all things Democrat this election. And also by losing in massive numbers.

You are spot-on with the difference in the messages between Reid and Minnick. Reid knows his people and his ads were pitch-perfect; negative doesn't mean personal attacks which Reid didn't generally use. But you can't lay it all on the candidate, the IDP is in a sorry state. No ground game. And (from the outside) it looks like they are more interested in enforcing some kind of clique-like hierarchy than they are reaching out to new members (at least here in CDA, maybe it's different down Boise way). Rather than pressure Minnick, they enabled him.

As an independent wishing the Democrats would get it together, I'm glad Minnick lost. He served his purpose to get rid of Sali, but he was a crummy representative and didn't fight for Idaho one bit. I do think he left the party in a better position than when he was elected. He didn't do anything that freaked out the voters (I don't think those ads he ran are going to be what sticks in people's memory). Labrador would be hard pressed to do much less for Idaho, he's just likely to look like a total asshat while doing it .... shades of Sali. *Hopefully* he likes to hear his own voice as much as Sali did. Aside from internal power games within the Dems who have a sad that their niece won't be getting that internship in Washington after all, it's totally a lateral move that frees up roster space so someone better can come up through the party ranks.

Labrador is still Labrador. Just because Minnick failed to define him doesn't mean that the Democratic party can't set the groundwork to do so from the moment he swears that oath. The key to 2012 seems to lie in grooming your candidate early (picking one who didn't serve in Nixon's administration might not be a bad start BTW) and use that person to define Labrador real-time as he does wacky stuff. More press releases, the occasional issue ad defining a more rational position that the Democrats *would* take if given the chance (couched as, "Hey Raul, let's work together for Idaho"), etc. You guys really have an opportunity to cement the image as the "sane" party. Minnick has eliminated the idea that a "D" in Idaho means Nancy Pelosi ... now move a bit to the left so we can get someone fighting for Idaho instead of the bogeymen of conservative orthodoxy and capitalize on it.


Reid is not a blue dog. I'll clarify the post since I didn't mean to give that impression.

And I'm certainly NOT laying it all on Minnick's doorstep. I agree with your characterization of "enabled". They struggle for viability and obviously will embrace anyone willing to enter the fishbowl without any standards whatsoever, even if they wanna trash the brand. I'm thinking if someone wants to use the apparatus we should have minimum standards on protecting what's left of the brand instead of being a doormat to all comers. Allred and Olson leap to mind.

I disagree that Minnick sucked. Labrador would never vote for SCHIP, Lily Ledbetter, FIN-REG or to repeal DADT. I just think Minnick was out of step with the times as a fiscal conservative ideologue. The stimulus mostly worked for a jobless recovery and didn't finish the job because it was too small and poorly targeted, the tax cuts did nothing but placate Republicans and blue dogs who weren't gonna vote for it anyway. I also think his earmark reform crusade hurt Idaho since this state is completely dependent on federal beneficence. The crusade was also pointlessly Quixotic. The national party shares some blame here for failing to articulate a national message, presumably in a futile effort to save these guys as they ran right. Buh bye Rahm, don't let the door hit you in the ass.

I got to laugh at your last paragraph since it contradicts your otherwise accurate criticisms of the party. There will be little selecting or grooming. "Minnick has eliminated the idea that a "D" in Idaho means Nancy Pelosi"--not sure that's true since he lost, but I did see that as a big tent plus of him getting re-elected. Trouble is, his media image ran so far afield he alienated his base who decided to solidify the relationship. I don't think we have to move to the left so much as have a leader willing to demonstrate that a progressive policy can be popular politics. Minnick failed to sell a single one. And frankly, the Democratic party is the worse for it.

Fair enough.

Agreed on the value of some of his votes, and not even pressed about most of his crossovers; Pelosi knows how to whip pretty well and seemed to handle moving legislation. The problem with Stimulus was they didn't follow it up with the rest of the needed funding in other bills - I figured they'd do a quickie transportation bill or maybe generic energy infrastructure but they went all omnibus on us for everything. On my Minnick criticism I was more thinking about his appropriations and how he approached his job in relation to the state more than national legislation. Often you've tended a bit more forgiving than I generally feel about some of his antics. And for me it wasn't his earmark reform *campaign*, I'm all for that. It was his childish decision to hold his breath until we all turned blue unless his demands were met. The lack of national message didn't help ... but really, the guy was doing teabagger rallies with Simpson; do you think he'd have done anything but run away from it even in the event a populist national message emerged? Not that it ever would with Rham (I wouldn't mind seeing the door hit him in the ass on his way out one bit!).

You guys know the innards of the party far better than I, mine is an outsider impression. Usually I just lurk. The one time I tried to visit the Democratic HQ here in CDA there were a bunch of old people hanging around who looked at me like I had one eye and an antenna .. awkward. So I imagine my thoughts on your party are probably silly. Ha! But that won't stop me from thinking ... I thrive on silly.

I sort of got the impression he's one of few Dems who did himself in on merit - not so much by linking the generic "D" with insider Washington. Do you see it differently? I agree if *he* tried to run again the base would be alienated. But wasn't that was more a personal turn off, or would it extend to anyone who wants to run for the party? And yeah, you put what I meant by "move left" far better than I did. But I'm not 100% sure him being MIA on that left the party worse off. This was a rough year to try and make a case for what the National folks were calling "progressive" if you wanted to be popular. It's possible having Minnick hoisted on his own petard instead of it being so much about the case he articulated leaves the Dem brand more of a blank slate for the next candidate.

And just curious. Doesn't the party recruit? How long *do* they usually wait before prepping to campaign?

The point made better

Benen riffs of some Joe Klein to illustrate what I'm trying to say about blue dog ideology and frankly what we've been bellyaching about for over a year.

Joe Klein noted the other day that the conservative Dems contributed to their own defeats through "counter-productive" "ideological myopia."

Normally, I don't have much patience for the whining on the left about the Blue Dog democrats.... When they lose, the Democrats lose control of the Congress. This year, however, I do feel that there is an argument that, to an extent, the Dogs brought this on themselves by being penny-wise, dogpound-foolish.

The argument goes like this: a larger stimulus package might have helped the economy recover at a faster clip, but the Dogs opposed it on fiscal responsibility grounds. A second argument: the public really has had it with Wall Street, but the Dogs helped water down the financial regulatory bill, gutting the too-big-to-fail provisions. There is real merit to both points. If the stimulus had been bigger and the financial reform package clearer and stronger, the public would have had a different -- and, I believe, more positive -- sense of the President's agenda.

Klein regrettably went on to add some false equivalencies about the left, but this point about the conservative Democrats has real merit.

In fact, we can even keep going with the list of policies. Blue Dogs balked at cramdown legislation, which would have helped with the foreclosure crisis, and which their constituents would have benefited from. They also didn't care for a little something called the "public option" during the debate over health care reform.

The point is, the Blue Dogs' operated under a series of assumptions that were badly flawed. For purely ideological/philosophical reasons, conservative Dems opposed good ideas, fearing a voter backlash. As a result, policies voters would have liked either didn't happen or were watered down, generating less success.

And less success meant weaker support meant more losses.

I'm well aware of the response from conservative Dems: if we'd been more supportive of ambitious progressive legislation, we were more likely to lose.

But they lost anyway. How'd that strategy work out?

Saw that. Klein article.

Didn't see the Benen piece though. We've been kicking around the whole "Get more conservative" vs. "Just be Democrats dammit" thing over on DagBlog (mostly TPM Cafe refugees). I've been basically following your line of reasoning regarding Blue Dogs. This take from Greenwald (spurred by some tiff with MSNBC's O'Donnell I guess) is also an interesting perspective ... once you get past the few paragraphs of meta-sniping.

Thanks for the input. Nice to get the pulse from a real Democrat.


Glad to have your voice here as well. I'll take a peak at Glennzilla's piece.

And as far as "real" Democrats go, I'm pretty sure that Democrats in Idaho would feel a whole lot better losing an election run on Democratic policies, than one where our candidates were trying to be Republicans. That's just mind numbingly frustrating providing us the worst of both worlds.

I think that came out wrong.

I meant "real Democrat" as opposed to myself. I'm not at all partisan, so it was cool to check my POV against someone strongly self-identified as an Idaho Democrat.

But I do agree. Idaho has *plenty* of republicans, what's the point of having a party if you just give voters the same "choice" the other side is giving.

It boils down to this

Minnick is a textbook example of someone who could have benefited from a libertarian Democrat message. He voted against the health care bill. He voted against the stimulus package. He was one of only a handful of House Democrats to vote against both. He was hardly a product of the so-called "evil Pelosi/Reid agenda." Utter crap, he could have easily said.

He could have run on that, his solid pro-gun record, and frankly would have been well-served by injecting a message of civil liberties as well. Instead, he spent a great deal of time and resources attacking his opponent, a Puerto Rican named Raúl Labrador, for being soft on illegal immigration. This in a district in which even in good years Democrats need all the Hispanic votes they can get. Yeah, I don't get it either. Utter fail.

Labrador has the distinction of being the first Mormon elected to represent the Idaho 1st CD in Congress, EVER. The panhandle counties voted for a Mormon Puerto Rican anti-union Republican from Eagle to represent them in Congress. Think about that for a moment.

Only 19% of the district

So instead of growing the base, you abandon it; instead of driving the polls, you cower behind them and instead of becoming a statesman, you become just another slimy politician, more worried about your own reelection than the people you've been elected to serve.

There was a successful American company who once thought they'd abandon their sluggish, flagship brand for something newer and more appealing to the customer. "New Coke" didn't last very long and became the joke of the '80s but it did end up revitalizing the classic brand once the company realized how it had infuriated its loyal base. Maybe a lesson there for the IDP.

"Maybe a lesson there for the IDP."

Cue maniacal laughter. They'll do whatever any willing candidate wants them to do. Poobahs shoved that poll in my face six months ago like it was revelatory. I responded with simple math and expressed skepticism, but a willingness to see how well they could make up that amount among Republicans and independents. Then during the course of the election when I warned of base disaffection they had the temerity to get pissed off at the base like it was the fault of the rank and file. Democrats simply had no dog in any fight in Idaho.

They seem to have this idea that running as a hybrid is impossible. You're running as a Republican which means you must eschew all things Democratic. Hell, all I wanted was for Walt to pick one progressive issue to champion. Here's a candidate, Chellie Pingree in a purple state who ran hard as a progressive against a teabagger. She defended the stimulus, championed health care reform, as well as cap and trade. Like Minnick's, the race was rated a toss-up going into election day yet she won by double digits. Clearly she had more Democrats to work with, but she illustrates the point nicely:

Pingree, who represented a conservative state Senate district before coming to the House, said she's used to being challenged. "Honestly, I've been a legislator for a long time in a tough district, and I've learned over the years that if you stick to your guns, people have more respect for you over time," she said.

And this in a state that just elected a tea bagging whack job for governor. Walt earned some cred with independents and moderate Republicans through adherence to the fiscal conservative policies he ran on, but he seemed to think he could do it at the expense of losing cred with Democrats. Its plain and simple folly to merely say the red tide was too high and this was unwinnable. Moreover, its self defeating, this excuse is going to be thrown right back in their face when they go asking for money and volunteers.

Poobahs and maniacal laughter

And whose fault is it that only 19% of the 1st District identify as Democrats? When the GOP was stampeding off the cliff and opposing the President's entire agenda, even things they had previously supported, where were the IDP poobahs? Where was the IDP when Republicans (and Walt) were calling health care reform socialism and talking about death panels? Where was the IDP when a $2.5 million stimulus fund grant was secured to build the new COSSA tech center? Or the district's highway improvement projects? And the hundreds of construction jobs those brought to the district? Where was the IDP when 2 out of 3 people thought Pres. Obama had raised their taxes when he actually lowered them? The IDP remained silent. They let Republicans in this state define every program and every policy and demonize the President who just a few months earlier had turned out record numbers in the caucuses. No one should be surprised at the shellacking Democrats took in this district after all of that. What is amazing is that despite that, 19 % of the district were still willing to identify themselves as Democrats to pollsters.

The IDP poobahs squandered every gain made in 2008 and instead of blaming the rank and file for the failure of their Republican-lite candidates, they should look in the mirror. While the GOP successfully uses the State Legislature to develop future statewide and federal candidates, how could the IDP poobahs just let legislators like Kate Kelly and Jim Rutchi retire without recruiting them to run for higher office? Instead they look for some sort of "I'm not a Democrat" messiah to lead them out of obscurity. It's insanity to believe that Democratic popularity can be increased by candidates who shun the very label of the party whose standard they bear.

Precisely where I was going

One of the failures of not only state Democrats, but national Democrats, was to deliver the message that we're on the correct track. I touted the accomplishments of this congress as the most productive of the last half century. And political operatives from both parties were surprised by that fact. Its hard not to get cynically conspiratorial when glaring messages were cast aside. Because, really, no one is that dumb. Not to mention the failure to correct the mass of misinformation out there spread by Republicans and who are astonished and dumbfounded by facts to the contrary. WTF was Obama thinking in getting rid of the man with the plan, Howard Dean? And where is Kaine's head and why isn't it on a pike?

Instead state Democrats seem to happily go down the path of their own futility, and blithely trash the Democratic brand along the way. I actually had the ED tell me two weeks that they, of course, had to be quiet while our top tier candidates were running their campaigns. Now he's sitting there deflated and listless with nothing with which to work.

"how could the IDP poobahs just let legislators like Kate Kelly and Jim Rutchi retire without recruiting them to run for higher office?"--now we get to the crux of the matter. These rising stars saw the writing on the wall and knew precisely with what they had to deal, which presumably contributed to their exodus. Its highly disconcerting that they chose to go on to more fruitful endeavors. I'm sure they're glad they did right about now. Of course both of them were passed over for some major appointments that were Minnick's to make. Either one of them would have made an outstanding choice for US Attorney for Idaho and could have ridden out the next two years to another statewide race. Walt gave us nothing. Another reason Idaho Democrats gave him nothing back.

The other thing about that 19%

that seems to escape them is the concept of "base", let alone the concept of "representative". That's your pillars of support upon which you build a successful campaign. None of the 19% was gonna vote for Labrador and they all had the potential for voting for Minnick. The other 81% was indie and R. Minnick only went after those 81% and lost by ten points, leaving the potential on the table. Split the electorate in half and 19% is well over half of Minnick's potential vote. Considering I'd say Minnick did awfully well in securing as much vote as he did. He can contemplate that in his retirement.

Just gotta say

I really don't buy the 19% number. I'd like to see this poll.

So did I

But it was not forthcoming.

The numbers did not take me by surprise however. The last Boise State Public Policy Survey (2008) demonstrated that self described Democrats in Idaho rose from 18% to 25% during a time when Bush was unpopular. (.pdf) Look on page 24. Without the north and east ends of Boise, CD-1 has no base except in Latah and a weakening Nez Perce. KootCo seems lost and Shoshone County is trending that way as well. Bonner might be competitive but mostly in Sandpoint. I think Valley County could also be taken with the right candidate. And we should definitely focus more on municipal races in Canyon County.

There are some wicked good Democratic operatives who deal with these numbers every cycle. I don't think the operatives play much part in the final say of decision making though. I encourage everyone to take a realistic look at these numbers if you wanna change where we are. That big red slice of the pie is what cowers the poobahs. As kgb999 illustrates we do have a sympathetic audience out there.