Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why The Edwards Campaign Blew It With the Bloggers

With all the hubbub about the actions of the two bloggers hired by John Edwards, what I think is most misplaced is how the campaign really lost the chance to turn something that was a political weakness into a strength.

Think about it, it’s only February 2007. Campaigns might have a long tail but this story wasn’t going to last. Even Fox News was going to drop it soon enough. It was a weeklong story, at most, and the real audience for the story isn’t the conservative Republicans who watch Fox News or the handful of people who find what Donahue says interesting.

No, the audience for the story in February 2007 is Democratic primary voters and early donors. And guess what? They don’t find Donahue’s outrage all that newsworthy. What the early donors (both the big and the small) want is to know is that the Edwards campaign has a chance to win.

When the story broke in The New York Times (and AP) the Edwards campaign started running around like a chicken with their head cut off. What they should have done is waited. A week is an eternity in politics but there’s also got to be an adage that the farther from the primary the shorter the “entities in politics” lasts.

So if I had been on the Edwards team what would I have advised? Push-back. Let the cable news chatter. And then do some pitch back to friendly columnists. There were points to be made about all of Donohue’s outrages. All of the offensive statements he’s made in the past. How about a simple statement that most democratic voters don’t find Donohue a credible critic (while agreeing that you don’t agree with everything your employees write, you don’t enforce past-tense loyalty tests.)

I think there were many in the media who could have sympathized with the point that the ball can’t be moved so that campaigns are responsible for things that bloggers say before they are hired. (With the right framing). While there are lines, what Amanda and Melissa wrote would probably have been found less offensive than Donahue. Not to mention less offensive than other people, like Michelle Malkin, who were criticizing them. Use the opportunity to link Republican candidates cozying up to conservative bloggers and flash their most offensive statements. (These guys show up at CPAC don’t they?)

Frankly Edwards could have used the opportunity to make his campaign about highlighting the right wing noise machine. The early donors would have liked to see the energy and the ability to push-back. In way I miss “Slick Willie” for his deftness in going around (and sometimes through) personal attacks and coming out cleaner on the other side.

And furthermore the blogosphere would have started giving everything to back Edwards for showing loyalty to his employees AND for pushing back. In the end he might have been able to shift the frame away from “Does Edwards endorse everything his bloggers write” to “Are conservative politicians as much at risk for associating with bloggers?”

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