Friday, October 31, 2008

JLT is Doomed!

I call myself "painfully objective," and if I can't say this now, I should forfeit the title:

Jill Long-Thompson will lose her bid to become our Governor, and she should.

Her campaign is the worst-run statewide race I've seen since Linley Pearson lost his bid to unseat then-Governor Evan Bayh in 1992. Only an Obama Indiana tsunami will keep JLT from losing by Pearson-type numbers (Pearson got 37%). In fact, she might actually poll as high as 46%, but it will be in spite of her campaign, not because of it.

I've known she was in trouble for a long time, but how deep the hole was only became clear when an acquaintance came into my office the other day and said the following: "I've voted Democrat my entire life, but I don't know a single reason why I should vote for Jill Long-Thompson. Can you tell me something?" Of course, took her out of the Daniels' column. But then this morning, a Democrat lawyer I know said, "I'm so angry. Where is Jill Long-Thompson?!? I'm going to vote for Daniels because she's been nowhere." This is a conversation I've now had with friends all over the state.

Mmm mm mmmmh. Unless there are a hundred thousand people doing one-on-one conversions every day, JLT is toast.

Lest you think I'm one a disgruntled Schellinger Dems, you should know that while I did support him during the primary and donated to him, since then, I have:

(1) co-hosted an event for JLT;

(2) gave JLT 3 times what I gave Schellinger;

(3) tried to assist JLT's campaign strategically by repeatedly sending e-mail suggestions (more on that later);

(4) helped on policy as best I could; and

(5) generated adverse press for Governor Daniels as a byproduct of writing a letter criticizing one of the Governor's ads that featured an endorsement from the director of a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity. The resulting story ran on the radio and in 14 different major dailies in Indiana plus the Chicago Tribune.

In other words, you can't say I'm not "invested" in JLT's effort. I want her to succeed, and I'll keep telling people until the polls close to focus on policy, not public relations.

But I can't deny her campaign has failed catastrophically, which is hard to say because I have some friends there. But I know a rudderless ship, and it's been that way from day one.

Where to start? How about running for office without knowing what you're going to do?

Week after week after week, the media was begging JLT to talk about what she would do, and she waiting way too long to show up. The JLT campaign never grasped that the media only covers you when you're saying something new, and media coverage drives a challenger's fundraising as much as posting a good campaign finance report. Nobody gives to a candidate they don't see "out working," and if it's not in the paper, it might as well have not happened.

When Bart Peterson ran for Mayor the first time, he had issues committees, some of which had up to 20 members each that broke up into sub-committees. We all researched, wrote, discussed, and revised. The Peterson Plan was a top-to-bottom concrete blueprint for governing by a lot of knowledgeable people. In contrast, for the JLT campaign for the ENTIRE state, I never met with anyone but the policy director. There may have been hundreds working behind the scenes, but they weren't working in concert like the Bayh, O'Bannon, Kernan, and Obama.

Some colleagues have suggested that JLT was not accustomed to having to have proposals to govern, since her background is mostly legislative, where apparently you can sit back and give up and downs on other people's ideas. There may be legitimacy to this theory because JLT has not said much substantively.

Because JLT had no real message, her campaign was forced to "repackage" old news. I remember attending what must have been JLT's third HQ opening. It was billed as a big deal, but I remember seeing no more than 15 people who were not on staff. One attendee remarked that if this was a legitimate event, either JLT or Dennie Oxley would have appeared, at least telephonically. They didn't. Even they knew it was a non-event.

Because JLT had nothing substantive to say, her campaign wasted weeks on non-issues, such as the Governor's plane travel. Yes, it engaged the media (which loves a good scrape), but I assure you, it didn't move a SINGLE vote into JLT's column. The same thing could be said of the story surrounding my letter. Yes, it got major play, but it didn't move a single vote. What was distressing was that during the week of "the letter story," there was no JLT news coverage. A "process" story had taken precedence.

When JLT finally came out with her full-blown plan, which was ineffective repackaging itself, she had a disastrous press conference during which it became clear that JLT did not know her own plan.

What is maddening for me, though, is that about four months ago, I sent an e-mail to the campaign stating that JLT would get easy and widespread media coverage by doing something that was easy to understand and of limited risk: she should publicly call for an ombudsman in the Indiana Department of Child Services. This was a bill proposed by State Representative Charlie Brown in the previous session of the Indiana General Assembly.

The Indianapolis Star had chronicled the months-apart deaths of two children in the child welfare system extensively, and the comments from almost all Star readers were visceral and hostile. Some suggested that DCS director James Payne should be jailed! Whether fairly or not, everybody believed DCS was to blame, and nobody believed DCS could police itself.

Any political tactician knows that the best campaign issue is one where the "independent media" coverage provides a context or "story flow" which you can just jump into and ride. Think of the insane amount of coverage the immigration reform proposals received on CNN after Lou Dobbs made illegal immigration his baby, or how well covered the Daniels property tax plan was covered after the Ballard election.

Newspaper editors have policy ideas, and it was clear the Star felt the system was broken. And because newspapers would rather cover a policymaker proposing the solution than actually putting out its own suggestions, all JLT had to do was say ANYTHING.

But she didn't. A month passed and three more stories followed. Another month passed, and Judge Marilyn Moores was proposed some changes, but not the ombudsman. Another month passed, and even the Star got tired of waiting. It was making making a non-specific call to action for reform on its editorial pages. Finally, it happened.

Linda Pence issued a press release saying she would investigate fatalities as AG. Yes, the gubernatorial candidate got scooped by her own AG candidate. What was the result? The story ran in the Star, of course, and also in seven other papers in the state. This story was a nice, simple, political slow pitch down the center of the plate, and I couldn't get JLT's camp to swing the bat. But Pence knocked it out of the park.

Then, quickly picking up on what JLT didn't, which was his potential vulnerability on this child welfare issue, Daniels went out with the aforementioned TV ad featuring institutional leaders in the child welfare system talking about how much safer children are now then they've ever been. Innoculation complete! Now, anything JLT would say would be competing against a cemented impression in the electorate.

Admittedly, one issue wouldn't have gotten this victory, so even if JLT had jumped on the idea, it wouldn't have mattered. Candidates need to be consistently newsworthy, and they have to effectively reinforce their earned media message through paid media. But all of JLTs ads have been unoriginal and terrible. JLT's latest ad, which says nothing specifically except Indiana = bad and high school drop-out rate = bad. She pledges to do better, but offers nothing about how. But the ad did manage to misspell JLT's treasurer's name, so there's that.

That type of error has become common in JLT communications. A few days after the new ad aired, I received an e-mail that I'm sure was sent to every donor, media outlet, and volunteer. It told me that JLT's "Road to Change to Change" tour was beginning.

And this is the tip of the iceberg. I'd keep going, but at some point, isn't it just piling on?



j. hagedorn said...

Many of my friends and colleagues don't even know what "JLT" on those yard signs actually stands for. Of course I see more "Ditch Mitch" signs than JLT signs anyway. The problem is, "Ditch Mitch" wasn't on my ballot.

I also don't have a clue where Dennie Oxley has been hiding, because he's been nowhere to be seen in Southern Indiana - at least as far as his old district is concerned. It seems as though Dennie has been banished. I certainly wouldn't blame him if he "went rogue" on JLT.

I suggested to members of the campaign that voters down here were still extremely pissed about the time zone fiasco, and it hasn't been mentioned by anybody other than disgruntled voters looking for ANYBODY to at least say something about it. From top to bottom, I agree that this is the worst statewide campaign I've ever seen, and it's a shame because Mitch SHOULD have been extremely vulnerable.

Unfortunately, the JLT campaign may blunt the Obama coattails for deserving candidates down-ballot, specifically the finest AG candidate we've had in years: Linda Pence.

Anonymous said...

JLT could actually drag down the remainder of the Dem state ticket. I wonder why Emily's list dumped her after the primary. They invested big time in the primary but disappeared after that.......we blew a great chance to defeat a sitting governor.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I expect a Democrat tidal wave to wash over Indiana on November 4th. I can see it now...drowned Republicans everywhere and Mitch Daniels sitting on a rooftop, high and dry. The Democrats will look back on the Obama tidal wave of 2008 and wonder how they missed also winning the Governor's office. It was apparent from the polls she had a chance 6 weeks out but never made the case.

reunionpi said...

Lou Dobb of CNN and what he pays in property tax on some parcels of land in New Jersey

14 acres for $26.03 annually
31 acres for $146.94 annually
30 acres for $238.08 annually
62 acres for $414.78 annually
43 acres for $368.28 annually
90 acres for $597.06 annually

270 acres for $1,793.27 equals $6.64 (six dollars and sixty-four cents) an acre for property tax

arnie said...

Our campaign also repeatedly sent emails to JLT Indianapolis HQ suggesting issue points. No response. Others,principally House candidates did use them. And successfully. Its a real shame and I just do not get it. We could have sent Mitch's bus into the ditch.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad really, what an awful campaign they have run. Some of them over on Delaware are pretty good people too, but they don't get it. Campaigns are about relationships, and they've done nothing but burn bridges since day one. Would Schellinger have done any better? Yes. Would he have beat Mitch? NOt unless he dumped his ENTIRE campaign team and started with some new, fresh blood. Version 2 was better than the first, but not nearly good enough.

Anyway, it looks good for Marion County Dems. Lots of great candidates and campaigns.

Predictions for 11/4:

Mitch wins by 11.5
Pence wins by 1.5
Obama wins by .9
Carson wins by 10.5
Barnes wins by 2
Sullivan wins by 6
DeLaney wins by 8
Joven wins by 4

arnie said...

Hickman, The big surprise, and DeKemper in virtually tie and moving upward hour by hour.

Jeff said...

I really agree with this post gang. I also tried to work with the campaign to no avail. Signed up to volunteer and never got an email or a call. Went to a fundraiser and met JLT who I personally think is a class act. But when I met her young, naive and non hoosier staff I was pretty certian the campaign was doomed. I actually heard a story that they fundraisers did not know who the Simon's were.

It's too bad for Hoosiers that this campaign was not run well. Hopefully after this we will see Dan Parker go bye bye. It's a crying shame.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous....Lou Rosenber will easily defeat Joven for circuit court judge......your other predictions seem on the mark.

iPOPA said...

Jeff 1:19:

No way you can blame Dan Parker for this fiasco. While many in JLTs camp are blaming the Indiana Democratic Party (and Parker) for not doing enough, he wasn't running this campaign.

J. Hagedorn:

It's funny you mentioned the time zone issue because, lo and behold, I got an e-mail from Travis Lowe, the campaign manager for JLT, and it was talking about JLT's support for a referendum on the issue. Now, I personally love the change. I like the days when I work late and still have plenty of daylight. I like having a late dinner in downtown Indy and being able to sit outside. But if SHE thought this was a REAL issue, she wouldn't have waited until the time change itself to say something....errr, I mean to have Travis say something.