Some Dems Fretting Over Team Obama's Ineptitude

Some Dems Fretting Over Team Obama's Ineptitude

By John Ellis - May 15, 2012

On a balmy night in early June of 1986, a successful business executive and two-term Congressman named Ed Zschau won the GOP nomination for US Senate in California. Seen by professionals as the rising star of California Republican politics, Zschau defeated a divided primary field of more conservative candidates. It was widely expected in political circles that he would go on to defeat incumbent Sen. Alan Cranston in the general election.

The very next night, the Cranston campaign unleashed a sustained, weeks-long negative campaign advertising attack on Mr. Zschau. The idea being that if Zschau was given time to regroup for the general election, he would be unstoppable.

Sen. Cranston did not have a record that demanded his re-election. The issue had to be the challenger, not the incumbent. It was the first time in modern campaign history that a statewide incumbent had ever gone flat-out negative so early in the general election cycle.

It worked. Zchau's campaign wasn't ready for the assault. The damage done in June proved too much to overcome in November. Sen. Cranston was narrowly re-elected.

This year's presidential campaign sets up much like Senator Cranston's re-election campaign of 1986. President Obama cannot risk an election that becomes a referendum on his record. Fairly or not, that's a framework for defeat. So the task of his handlers is to make the election a referendum on his opponent.

Since even my dogs know that Mr. Romney is going to frame the election as a referendum on President Obama's stewardship of the economy, the Obama handlers must do everything they can to make people imagine that President Romney's stewardship of the economy would be worse; an assault on the interests and values of "average" Americans. Thus yesterday's 2-minute ad on Bain Capital's unsuccessful turn-around of GST Steel in Kansas City. The ad's thrust is that Romney was (and is) an economic "vampire."

What's remarkable about the ad is not its content (mis-leading though it may be). Anti-Bain ads have been used against Romney in 1994 (by Ted Kennedy's handlers), 2002 (by Shannon O'Brien's campaign) and 2012 (by New Gingrich).

What's remarkable about the ad is that it raised at least as many questions about the Obama campaign as it did about Mr. Romney.

On the very day that the ad was released, President Obama attended a fund-raiser in New York City hosted by a senior executive at the Blackstone Group, a leading private equity firm and frequent co-investor with Bain Capital on turn-around projects.

And, it further turns out that a 2008 and 2012 campaign finance bundler for President Obama, one Jonathan Lavine, was a managing director at Bain Capital during the time that GST Steel was being “run into the ground” by the evil Bainiacs.

And, just to put some icing on the cake, it turns out that Mr. Romney was off fixing the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics during the time that Romney and Bain were allegedly “vampiring” GST Steel.

It makes you wonder. Did Team Obama think that no one would notice? Did they assume that only right-wing bloggers would care?

Had this been an isolated event, Democrat campaign professionals might not be all that concerned. Mistakes, after all, are made. But this was hardly a "one off." There are, in the view of many Democratic pros, far too many other examples of the Obama campaign making a hash of fairly straightforward political matters.

Most recently, for instance, Vice President Biden previewed the president's "evolution" on the issue of same sex marriage on NBC's "Meet The Press." The press, predictably, made it the next day story.

Two days later, the voters of North Carolina, in large numbers and by a wide (61-39%) margin, voted against same-sex marriage. As messages go, it was hard to misread.

The very next day, President Obama told the North Carolina knuckleheads to take their referendum and shove it; he endorsed same sex marriage, although he didn't make a federal case out of it. He left it for the states to work out the legislative details (conveniently enough).

The mishandling of the President’s endorsement of same sex marriage sent the president's re-election prospects into a tailspin; electoral college handicappers busily moved North Carolina from “toss-up” to “likely Republican.” And it necessitated today’s "let's-get-the-media-talking-about-something-else” news event (the Bain attack ad).

Because we have been told for so long that Team Obama is the very model of the modern campaign operation, we have come to sort of believe it. In reality, they’ve been surprisingly inept since they set up shop last year. They've been through three slogans and four over-arching re-election "themes." They've made a big deal out of Romney's dog. They've introduced us to "Julia," which seemed like a right-wing parody of the perfect constituent of the nanny state. One could on (and on).

So far, the president's re-election campaign measures up poorly, in terms of its execution, against the Alan Cranston re-election effort of 1986. Imagine that. 

John Ellis is a contributing columnist to RealClearPolitics who lives in New York.

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