When a “War Room” Clever Idea Goes Bad: Case Study With Alix Rosenthal in SF

Political campaigns are always seeking out new and innovative ways to reach voters. While most are content to do things as they’ve always been done, others, such as Ned Lamont in Connecticut, have found new and innovative ways to try and make their case to the voters.
However, current and future manager of campaigns should take note that for every groovy great new idea that works, there are about a million more that sound great in the “war room” but in the real world, fall flat. That’s because the good ideas tend to come from regular folks who are smart and savvy, and the bad ideas tend to come from people who spend too much time cooped up in a campaign “war room” , spending all their time with like-minded people and read like-minded blogs and news sources. It ensures that whatever that walled-off-from-reality group comes up with will be bad for the candidate.
That’s how you get some of the venal, negative ads we saw this past June and why you get boneheaded moves such as Mayor Frank Jordan’s shower with some LA DJs on the eve of the election, or Dukakis in a tank. That’s why it’s so important for campaigns to have people around who aren’t totally plugged into one particular sub-group or so totally in to politics they lose touch with reality.
Not all bad moves are game killers such as these. Others can simply add to existing doubts about a candidate, and reinforce an overall sense that the candidate is not ready for prime time. While the “war room” folks are patting themselves on the back for being so clever, the average voter reacts with a “huh?” or (worse) a “wtf?” .
Campaign 2006 in San Francisco already has such an example. Take a look at the late-starting campaign of Alix Rosenthal, who is trying to unseat popular incumbent Bevan Dufty who represents the Castro and surrounding neighborhoods on the Board of Supervisors.
Recently, the campaign sent out what was meant to be a clever “e-vite” to a fundraising event with a “cute” headline that suggested people to get in bed with Alix at a self-styled “Burning Man meets Cirque de Soleil” event. (No, I am not making this up.)
That in and of itself may not be so bad, aside from some eye-rolling it’s produced amongst the echo chamber of political insiders and denizens of City Hall. But in a campaign where the candidate has already had to deal with a less than flattering “Burning Man” picture in the San Francisco Chronicle , eye-rolling comments about how how she’s a “freak” in “freaky SF” , and the fact she’s a non-gay woman running against a popular gay incumbent in the district with the Castro in it, well, you see what I mean.
Plus, relying on the SF Party Party for significant help is probably not a great idea. (Don’t get me wrong, I am as entertained by the SFPP as anyone, and appreciate their views, but this is not helping Alix in the Get Taken Seriously Department.)
You can almost see the independent expenditure hit piece with quotes and that Burning Man picture in thousands of mailboxes this fall.
Lesson for all you aspiring and practicing politickers: an idea might seem like a great idea to you and the kids in the war room, but may, in fact, sink your campaign. Stop. Take a deep breath. Go outside. Talk to humans who don’t spend all day reading blogs and cable news, who are based in the real world. If after a breather that oh-so-clever idea makes you have doubts, DON’T DO IT. Find someone cooler than you and smarter than you to come up with something better that actually works.
Your campaign will appreciate it, even if they don’t tell you. Trust me.
PS: Special thanks to SFist.com for the link! Thanks!

Leave a Reply