Saturday, December 09, 2006

Learning the Wrong Lessons

I was hoping that we were done with most of this, and I am reluctant to revisit the past election season to this degree, but it must be done.

Today I had the opportunity to attend the District 26 monthly meeting which hosted the Kenskis as the featured speakers. They shared many of the “lessons learned” from the past election season from their perspective, and were overall very informative. I did notice however, that there were many points of revisionism that more than likely did not originate with them, but are nonetheless being passed along. Here are a few of the canards that need to be corrected in general:

1. The District 8 primary was a nasty affair on all sides. It really wasn’t. All of the nastiness began and continued with Steve Huffman, period. Steve attacked Graf, he attacked Hellon, and ran an overall despicable campaign that did major damage to the party in Southern Arizona. Now there can be disagreements as to how this is to be handled going forward, and the prices that those involved will need to pay, but if the state and local party believes that Huffman’s behavior can ultimately not be addressed or at least recognized, the damage will continue. Especially dangerous is the idea that Huffman could be simply inserted back into area politics without the issue being discussed and a solution going forward agreed to.

I am inclined to be forgiving to a point. However, the most disturbing issue is that we all knew who Huffman was when he began the campaign and where he would ultimately go. There was no controlling authority in place to dampen this and to make the competitors stick to a certain code of conduct or face a withdrawal of support. Or, if there was, those involved failed miserably and should be called on to offer a plan of how things will be handled differently in the future. This is the action item that must be addressed by 2008. I fear that covering up this issue will preclude that from happening.

2. The Kyl campaign was masterful and the lone highlight in Arizona politics. I am as glad as the next Republican that Kyl won, and recognize that a lot of hard work and money was poured into his reelection bid, however, the major saving grace for Kyl was that Pedersen was just plain unlikeable. Let’s face it, had Janet retired from being governor and run against Kyl, there is a better than even chance she would have won.

As Republicans we have been doing a lot of coasting, all the while depending upon Democrats to run terrible candidates. Most of the time they have been happy to oblige us. This election cycle, this attitude finally caught up with us. Instead of running on new, innovative ideas, we have clung to the “same old, same old,” volunteered with our checkbook rather than time and shoe leather, and sneered at longtime loyal subgroups with “What are you going to do, vote Democrat?” Low and behold, the Democrats found some candidates that made some of us say “perhaps.”

To not recognize this and adjust is just foolishness. Kyl benefitted from as much sheer luck as a masterful campaign. To anoint those involved as some type of political geniuses will only create more Karl Rove-type mythical heros. The decisions Karl Rove has made over the past two years helped directly contribute to Republican failure this cycle. He began to believe his own hype, and it cost us. If we are not careful, the same thing could happen to the Kyl campaign organizers. We got lucky this time, next time may not turn out as well for us.

3. Area Republicans are ready to put the last election behind them. There are rifts to be healed, not glossed over. Problems need to be recognized and steps put in place to make sure that the same problems do not arise again. Some of the ones that I have heard about, if not personally experienced:

1. Personal attacks in primary campaigns.
2. Republican leaders (not voters) crossing over to support Democrats
3. The suppression of feedback in party meetings
4. Single-shot voting in the state representative races
5. The perceived usurpation of the Graf and other local volunteers to work for Kyl, with no reciprocation from Kyl, either in endorsement or fundraising.
6. The throwing around of the “RINO” label.
7. Any process that circumvents the spirit of democracy in party governance.
8. The perception that National, State, and Local elements of the party are working at cross purposes.

Even if all of these slights are in some portion imagined, they must be addressed and a contingency must be put into place to deal with them BEFORE they become a problem again. There is plenty of time to get this done, and it will all need to be in stone especially with the added dimension of a McCain presidential run.

Update. . . . In rereading this, it does appear that I was a little hard on John Kyl and I didn't mean it to look that way. I did volunteer work for Kyl as well and recognize that he is a very good and respected senator that deserved to win. He also ran a very good campaign and is good on most if not all of the issues that I feel are important. All that said, Republicans lost this cycle that were just as talented and strong as Kyl, and it happened because the Democrats ran strong candidates against them. Respected incumbent senators should win by 10 points, we simply did what was necessary in this race to do the expected. We were also gifted with numerous flubs and missteps by Pedersen. Absent those, this is an entirely different race, and little to none of it had to do with Jon Kyl personally.

For the record I would have given the same analysis about Bush's victory over John Kerry if I would have had a blog back then. We deserved to pat ourselves on the back in 1980 and in 1994. With the victories we have been eeking out lately, there is still plenty of room for humility.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how the Graf supporters can constantly attack Huffman for his tactics, while denying their own ugly tactics in the primary and before that, over the past four years - first against Kolbe and then against Huffman.

Whisper campaigns against Huffman by religious right voters, terms like "Kolbe's butt-boy", loose interpretations of "amnesty" rather than realistic discussion of the problem and cocktail party attacks on Huffman because his wife is of hispanic heritage were all part and parcel of the Graf strategy.

Whether or not they choose to admit to it, the Graf campaign did as much (if not more) nasty politicking than all the other campaigns together.

zona said...

Framer....you do put out a neat analysis. However, the trash-talk began over four years ago with the Green Valley contingent...continuing now with several defeated contenders. Unfortunately it seems to be a constant rather than moving toward a healing process. We need desperately to put it behind us and press on for unity.

Framer said...

anony-

Not even close, at least as far as the last primary is concerned, and I refuse to let the "everyone is equally to blame" crap fly.

1. Isn't Graf's wife from South America? I can hardly see him spearheading an attack on Huffman's wife for the same.

2. There were no serious accusations form the ubiquitus "religous right" about Huffman's sexual orientation in any systematic manner. Michael Bryan posted a parody about the flashlight ad in this vein on his blog, but he is hardly a Graf operative.

3. If there was bad blood between Graf and Huffman, and it was earned, why then does Huffman attack Hellon by distorting the information he placed on Vote Smart (something Huffman refused to do himself). I darn well know that Hellon wasn't taking shots at Huffman.

4. Peep gate. Enough said there.

When someone is being as truly reckless and shoddy as Huffman was, someone in power needs to draw a line. Instead he was rewarded with a cool quarter million by the national party. Do you wonder why there is some cynicism, earned or not?

all that said, I agree with zona that the conservatives have done their woofing too, and that needs to end. There is certainly room for challenges in the Primaries, as well as a time for the camparing of issues and records. These issues should be debated with fairness and openness. The party should be strong enough however to reel the debate back inbounds when it turns sour. If our leaders cannot or will not commit to this, then they need to let others who can move in.

CD8 resident said...

anon,

I might have bought into your line that some Graf supporters we talking bad about Steve until you used the term “cocktail party attacks.” Nice try but Randy’s supporters were not on the cocktail circuit. Wrong faction of the party!

As to your comment “whisper campaigns … by religious right.” There was no whisper campaign; the religious (or social) conservative could not stand Huffman and why would they. Steve thought unrestricted abortion was a great thing. Sorry, that does not fly with a lot of social conservatives. If you want a voting block then you need to appeal to them.

You have lots of rumor and innuendo but the facts are the ads that the campaigns ran and the mailers sent. The truth there is that Huffman ran a smear campaign.

CD8 resident said...

Re: Update

Please, please tell me who lost this year and was as talented and strong as Kyl (and as calculated.)

AZAce said...

Kyl's major campaign effort in Southern Arizona consisted primarily of Pima County party resources and GOTV people. Outside of that, where were the walkers and phone callers? How many Kyl signs were put up at polling places on election day? The Kenski's say the campaign is a lean machine. That's putting it mildly, but made possible because state and party resources carried the campaign.

When Lisa James says state party workers helped candidates in Southern Arizona, she left out the part about—other than Huffman in the primary—the statement only applied to Kyl in the general since the other Republican candidates never saw them.

sirocco said...

I certainly am not "in" on what rumor and innuendo might have been sweeping around amongst Republicans during the primary, However, looking at it from the outside Framer is right on -- every negative thing I recall from the R's in the primary originated from Huffman.

Framer said...

CD- 8

Talent and Allen certainly deserved better than what they got, although they did not have the seniority of Kyl.

I guess to restate a few pages of rambling, I would boil it down to this: That seat was ours and we held it against inferior competition. I will allow that there was a slight degree of difficulty due to Pedersen's unlimited finances and the overall political climate, however, much of this was mitigated by Pedersen's poorly run campaign and unlikable personality.

I do not want to see dancing in the endzone until we take something that wasn't ours. Especially as now every activist seems to be claiming that they were affiliated with the Kyl,Brewer, and Martin campaigns and none of the others that came up short. Either this is true, and it is pitiful, or we are a party of bandwagon fans, which is almost as bad.

Again, this is our party, good and bad, and unless we address our difficulties honestly, we are headed for trouble. There is a lot of work to do some of it in the limelight, some of it against hopeless odds, but we must fight each battle with the same intensity.

Rex Scott said...

6. The throwing around of the “RINO” label.

Amen, Framer! I'd like to see that nonsense stopped by arrogant extremists in BOTH parties. Giffords had to put up with that labeling on our side, as did Joe Lieberman. The people who anoint themselves with the "right" to decide what it means to be a member of one of the two major parties are almost always folks who advocate exclusive, narrow agendas that only end up annoying and driving away mainstream voters.

zona said...

You nailed it again, Rex! This is the sort of Common Sense we need! Weight on the Right...Weight on the Left...BUT the Great Tonnage is left for US to steer a heavy load straight to light at the end of the tunnel!!

cd8 resident said...

Framer,

Regarding candidate who were as strong as Kyl and lost I will split the difference with you. Jim Talent is a solid conservative and still lost. McCaskill turned out to be the perfect candidate for the circumstances this year and only narrowly won. To my knowledge Talent did not make one huge mistake in public.

I disagree with you on George Allen. Allen did not come across as very bright and I don’t see Kyl calling someone Macaca and then trying to say that it is a made up word. Should that one moment have sunk Allen? No it should not have but it did. Kyl is a smart enough person to never let himself get in a situation like; Allen’s defeat was self-inflicted.

thinkright said...

T,
Good to meet you at the meeting...
You wanted me to post more, so I'm commenting on my blog about my agreements and disagreements with your D 26 meeting synopsis.
Even though I don't agree with everything, I am a Reagan Republican (big-tenter) and wish to unify, not divide. The basic reason that we lost was that we didn't unify our side and divide their side. We divided our side in the CD8 primary and left those not in the far-right (Kenski said 14% in CD 8 are far-right) to find a candidate that they can associate themselves with. (Kenski also said that AZ is mostly a moderate state with Libertarian leanings - sounds right)
Tom

AZAce said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

This whole argument that the Kyl campaign in Southern AZ snagged all the volunteers from the state and local party and other campaigns is completely, 100% ridiculous. I was able to see this every single day during the campaign working in the party HQ. The simple fact of the matter is that the Kyl campaign was the only group organized and hard working enough to get volunteers mobilized.

The Graf campaign? Well a week before the election they decided that everyone should take a day off and closed the office. Not only that, but the frequently came over to the Republican/Kyl headquarters to "borrow" volunteers because they didn't have any. The Kyl campaign never "stole" a single volunteer from the Graf campaign. A more likely reason that the Graf campaign didn't have many volunteers working for them (outside of GV that is) is because they were a disorganized mess.

The state/local party? Not so much as the Kyl campaign was the only group to have extensive volunteer and endorsement lists. Sure the state/local party had some people mobilized, but they weren't doing Kyl work. They were doing things like walking for all the candidates or putting up signs for all candidates. In response to the comment asking where the Kyl signs were on election day - they were everywhere, right next to the Dean Martin, Len Munsil, and Bill Montgomery signs. A group of volunteers went around putting all of those signs up, and they could be seen all over Tucson in clusters.

The worst part about this argument is the fact that the Kyl campaign did attempt to help the other candidates. In all the call sheets that the volunteers were making from the primary to the general, they included multiple candidates names, NEVER just Kyl's. Randy Graf, Ron Drake, and Len Munsil were just a few of the candidates whose names were read with Kyl's on all of those calls. I believe the point mentioned above about the bandwagoners is a huge reason for this ridiculous perception that the Kyl campaign took all the power and resources from other networks. No one wants to admit that they were helping on the failed campaigns, so it looks like no one was.

Kyl won big, and the theory that the party had was that if we could get voters out to vote for Kyl, they'd vote down the ticket. It's not the Kyl campaign's fault that the other candidates were disorganized, ineffective, off-message, or simply unlikeable. And for those who are putting such significant blame on the Kyl campaign for the others losing - it's a pathetic, weak, appauling use of scapegoating one of the leaders of your own party.