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A Wider Lens: The Democratic marketing quandary

Aaron Okin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
By Aaron Okin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 1, 2004
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For having so much of Hollywood behind their cause, one would think that the Democrats would be doing a fairly good job of marketing themselves and their presidential candidate.

That would be an incorrect assumption, and the polls are starting to show it.

As the Republican convention is occurring in New York this week, recent polls show Kerry's support eroding on a national level and also in battleground states like Florida and Ohio.

It's no help for them when the publicity stunts of the Democratic campaign machine have backfired - and that's happened twice in the past six days.

Last week, Kerry's campaign seemed like it was doing a pretty good job at making the Bush campaign responsible for things it wasn't responsible for (e.g. the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads) by flooding the campaign trail media pool with unnecessary rhetoric about how the Swifties were doing Bush's "dirty work" and that the president needed to go beyond blanket condemnations of 527s.

While not opening up the whole issue of the Swifties after it seems more or less to have disappeared, it merits noting that the whining from the left made quite a hasty exit from media outlets after a colossal strategic mistake that had "failure" written all over it.

"Tasteless," "shameful," and "transparent" are also appropriate terms to describe former Sen. Max Cleland's attempted delivery of a letter to the president at his ranch in Crawford.

Whoever choreographed the event, which had the triple-amputee Vietnam veteran Cleland paired with the man who's appeared various times in Kerry's campaign commercials speaking about how the senator saved his life in Vietnam, should have had the good sense to realize that their delivery entourage wouldn't get past the gate. Beyond that, the fact that Cleland was escorted by such a prominent figure in the Kerry campaign effort takes away any potential for the act to be perceived as being motivated by a genuine desire to do what was right and have the commercials stop.

All in all, they were quite lucky that the mainstream media outlets were so forgiving of the whole charade. Unfortunately, it was not at all surprising considering Kerry's political affiliations and how friendly news outlets have been to his candidacy.

Earlier this week, another prominent Democrat's marketing technique had attention called to it. Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate minority leader, was airing commercials that relied heavily on his support for the president's actions on terrorism and, in fact, showed a video clip of him and President Bush embracing. He must have thought the ads wouldn't make it past his home state's border. While this is nowhere near as shameful as John Kerry's tactics, it still raises some interesting issues regarding how the Democrats' interactions with Bush are meant to shape their candidacies.

In Daschle's case, the Republican National Committee's communications director released a brief statement pointing out how the party is claiming poor leadership in the war against terrorism, yet its legislative leader is running a campaign that attempts to use Bush's effective leadership to his advantage. And with Kerry, things just didn't go his way after the Cleland incident - the president, once again, repeated his disdain for all 527 ads, and even later stated in an interview with NBC that John Kerry was more heroic for going to Vietnam while he stayed in the United States.

Effectively, Bush lost no face with his remarks since they were sentiments that didn't clash with anything said before, while Kerry lost everything in that battle.

This election year, the Democrats have made a point of running off of Bush's actions, but the split between members of their own party has been anything but effective. The presidential candidate bashes Bush's record while one of the top party members lauds the president and tries to benefit from his successes. It's reminiscent of the Democratic primary season where the comments from candidates were too divisive and the party too fragmented to formulate a coherent platform to toss the Republicans out of office.

While for the past few weeks it seemed as though Kerry had somewhat gotten his act together, as unjust and inaccuracy-ridden as it was, the trend now seems to be going the other way. If the Democrats can't win by attacking Bush, and they set themselves up vulnerability to attacks by siding with the president, one has to wonder what their next strategic misstep will be.

Aaron Okin is a regional development and political science senior. He can be reached at

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