It's obvious from the way the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is handling their support of various candidates in Colorado's Congressional races that they are using the Bennet Strategy -- or rather -- the strategy they have come to believe was Bennet's. Commercial after commercial slams Republicans on women's reproductive choice issues, just as Bennet's commercials against Ken Buck exposed him for his misogyny on women's health. DCCC support of Miklosi, for example, consists almost entirely of these types of ads.
But are they working?
Women's reproductive choice is a popular issue among moderate and left-leaning women, and ensuring a woman's rights about her own health is a no-brainer. As an outspoken feminist and a organizer in this area, I speak out daily on this issue. What's missing however, is the recognition that women are multi-faceted. Important as this issue is, there are other issues women care about as well. If Democrats want to reach suburban mothers and grandmothers, they need to broaden their message, and do it now.
As a supporter and frequent volunteer on both the Bennet and Miklosi campaigns from day one, I see the benefits -- and the pitfalls -- of such a strategy. Their strategy misses some important elements from the very succesful 2010 Bennet campaign -- a perfect storm of unlikely events, strong local community support outside the Democratic party, hiring local Colorado talents for key positions of leadership, and the candidate's ability to raise mounds of cash on the East coast. These elements illustrate the unique quality of the Bennet campaign; for these reasons, the exact same strategy cannot be (and should not be) replicated exactly.
Pro-choice ads have been very successful up until this point, but women are sick of them. They are now tuning them out; some are becoming increasingly offended women are being seen as one-dimensional beings, as if they care only about abortion and birth control. News flash to the DCCC -- there is only one thing many women care about even more than their own bodies and their own health, and that is -- their living, breathing children.
As much as I despise Mike Coffman and his complete lack of integrity, for example, I have to give him credit for his marketing sense to go with ads knocking his opponent -- in this case, a principled Colorado legislator with mountains more integrity than every Republican member of Congress combined -- that hit the most basic emotional buttons of mothers everywhere. By opportunistically using innocent children to perpetuate his lies and exaggerations, Coffman sinks lower than lint on a snake's belly button, but does so effectively.
Where are the ads slamming Republicans for lack of support on bills that would give children health care, school lunches, substance abuse prevention, public education, environmental protections, legal protections, educational television, necessary inoculations, and so much more? Why are campaigns, overwhelmingly dominated by men in their leadership positions, oblivious to the fact women are almost always the strongest advocates for children?
One can hardly blame the DCCC for missing the boat on this one. What really worked on the Bennet campaign can only be fully understood by local supporters on that campaign. By the time uber-arrogant big-shot DC storm-troopers arrived on scene in Denver, the Bennet campaign was already strategized and on-track to win using local talents (I literally remember the late-to-the-party D.C. folks in 2010 pushing past the locals they saw as inferior, with their long trench coats, flowing in the wind, as if they had been called in for some top-secret mission --> gag.) Bennet's winning campaign began when Governor Bill Ritter appointed Michael Bennet to replace promoted Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. What seemed at first to be a huge liability for Bennet -- the almost complete lack of support from Colorado Democrats below Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak -- turned out to be one of his greatest strengths in the end.
When Bennet began his tenure as Senator, he literally only had a few prominent Democratic elected officials, and even fewer Democratic activists, on his side. Everyone else below friend Pat Waak -- all the way down throughout 98% of CO county party offices, strongly pledged their support to Andrew Romanoff. I recall meetings, phone calls, and appearances in those early days that consisted of the same people at almost everything: Terrance Carroll, Karen Middleton, Brandon Shaffer, Daniel Kagan, Mike Johnston, Jane Goff, and a handful of passionate activists. In my own county, there were less than a handful of Bennet supporters until months after he won the primary -- so much so his photo was not hung on the wall with the other elected officials until late in 2010 (although the entire executive Board at that time claimed it to be a mere oversight).
The lack of support from his own party was not the kiss of death for Bennet -- in fact, it was a blessing. It forced the Bennet team, led by RBI's Craig Hughes, to be very creative. Craig's approach was two-fold from what I remember: (One) Market to independent women first, and (Two) Emphasize field, building a strong network of community support using existing community structures rather than working inside the party. Hughes was brilliant to make his first hire Field Director Adam Dunstone.
Those early days on the Bennet campaign, when Colorado residents Craig, Adam Dunstone and tireless rooky-intern Chris Rork (to whom I credit equally with Bennet's success along with Craig and Adam) were spent reaching out to apolitical community leaders. Bennet's team wisely hired a Community Outreach Director from Colorado early-on too, knowing that strong, well-established external networks would be the key to a large and vital field game. As much as I support and admire many of the people working on 2012 campaigns, not having a well-connected Commmunity Outreach Director from day one has been to their detriments. And that decision, in my humble opinion, is because the campaign strategists they have hired from the beginning are almost always men. Research shows women are generally better at networking than men. Yet, those who are paid to advise are almost always men. Most women would know that emphasizing Community Outreach, for example, is a winning strategy. http://www.forbes.com/...
Among the Bennet campaign's other strengths were his wife, Susan Daggett. Susan's willingness to spend as many (if not more) hours making phone calls and appearances on her husband's behalf, was paramount. Few campaigns utilize the skills and time of the spouse that the Bennet campaign did (and few spouses would be willing to do as much).
Perhaps Bennet's biggest weapon, however, was his children. In his stump speeches,
Bennet often spoke about being the parent of three little girls, and what that meant to the decisions he would face in Congress. Women immediately identified with him. Bennet's commercials with his little girls softened the hearts of even the most die-hard Tea-Party wingnuts, and made them believe his father must truly care about children (which he does).
While Colorado's political pundits have poked fun at Senator Michael Bennet over the past several years, affectionately calling him "Thurston Howell" or "the Anointed One", they have not given Governor Ritter nor Senator Bennet the credit they deserve. Ritter will tell anyone who asks that Michael Bennet gave the superior interview during the selection process for the Senate seat. Add to that Michael's extensive network of support on the east coast (his father was President of Wesleyan University and his brother is the Editor at the Atlantic), and the substantial ability to fundraise as a result of those connections, and Michael Bennet really was the perfect candidate.
Democratic Congressional races in Colorado are currently being run by competent, highly-skilled Managers who have deep connections to important communities of influence all over the state. Still, the enormous impact of decisions being made outside of this state, and the funding that comes along with them, cannot be underestimated. Will the DCCC continue to spend every penny these last two weeks on ads that assume women care more about their bodies than their living, breathing children, and that this monotonous point is more important than a strong field program, or will they read this diary from a Bennet insider and reconsider last-minute decisions?
If I were the DCCC right now, I'd swap out ads dissing Republicans like Coffman on abortion, in exchange for their atrocious records on children's welfare (the point has already reached overkill and there are so many other failures to choose from!) and spend as much money as possible helping their candidates in the GOTV ground game. Either that, or quickly show a new ad showing how Joe Miklosi has made children's lives better in a very specific way. Joe's work with Project Cure is a great example.
And next time, Democratic Candidates, hire local women strategists (preferably those with children) in the same age groups of women you wish to attract.