Saturday, June 30, 2007

Damned if he did, damned if he didn't

During my blog hiatus, one of the big things I didn't get a chance to comment on was Dan Popkey's hindsight vision of Larry Grant's 2006 campaign for Idaho's open first district congressional seat. Being that I'm so late to the game, a lot of great posts have come out on the issue, including commentary from Julie Fanselow, Grant's 2006 web campaigner, Randy Stapilus, and fellow Idaho blogger IdahoRocks.

I still had some things I wanted to add, however, because I felt the article demonstrated some bad ways of thinking about running Democrats in Idaho. As Julie mentions, Popkey doesn't actually name any of the "ticked" Democrat sources in his article, and he hardly touched the actual campaigners, so it's important to remember that there's no real indication that the attitudes indicated are widespread amongst Idaho Democrats.

But even if they are, they're a poor way of evaluating the Grant campaign. Here's Popkey's analysis of What Went Wrong:
Though he was a first-time candidate, Grant ignored the advice of people he should have listened to, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He also dissed moderate Republicans ready to support a centrist Democrat.

"He blew a great opportunity," said Dean Haagenson, a former GOP lawmaker from Coeur d'Alene. "Sali is way over in the right ditch." Haagenson met with Grant last summer but came away unsatisfied. "Had I been inclined to vote for a Democrat he squelched that" by saying he'd have to "hew the party line" on issues like prevailing wages and health-care reform.

So Grant shied away from national Democrats too much, but also was too loyal to them. Both of these things can't be true. Popkey says (though doesn't reference any quotes or events) that Grant "dissed" moderate Republicans ready to support a moderate Democrat, even if some of us can recall groups like Republicans for Grant, and Grant's blatant attempts to appeal to Republican voters too grossed out by Sali. And even if Grant had been aggressive about courting national Democratic money, why would that have impressed Haagenson? I thought it was pretty clear that Grant was working to create a place for himself apart from Democratic party that Idaho thinks it knows and hates, and apparently that meant keeping his distance from the Democratic establishment. Was that strategy executed well? That's not clear (and given that Grant lost, it obviously needed tweaking), but Haagenson's words would indicate that it's needed in some form.
Grant had watched former Rep. Richard Stallings lose to Dirk Kempthorne in the 1992 Senate race, in part because he hired an outside campaign chief who didn't get Idaho. But it turns out the DCCC's "kid" was an experienced hand in his 30s. With guidance, he could have helped.

And here, we're seeing Grant being tugged in two opposite directions again. Grant needed a campaign consultant who could understand Idaho politics, but he's supposed to pick from DCCC folk who mostly have experience losing? Especially in Idaho?

And speaking of getting Idaho politics, I found this to be awfully disingenuous:
The biggest riddle of 2006: Why, with polls showing a dead heat in October, did DCCC provide Grant no money? Answer: Because he was bullheaded and busy running what he liked to call "a different kind of campaign." Sali, who knew how to play ball despite his rift with the establishment, got $350,000 in October alone from the GOP. On Nov. 7, Sali won, 50 percent to 45 percent.
First of all, the GOP was not Sali's only backer. The Club for Growth poured millions into his campaign, which teaches an important lesson about how many voters care about where a politician's money actually comes from, but it also means that Sali required a huge amount of resources to run his campaign.

And anyway, when was the last time that the GOP had to dump that kind of money into an Idaho congressional race? Coming in second place in an election is awfully cold comfort, but cold comfort is better than what Idaho Democrats have been able to manage in the past few decades. And for that matter, it was a truly craptacular election for Idaho Democrats running for statewide office. The battle for votes like Haagenson's - who ultimately could not stomach a Democrat, not necessarily Grant - is an uphill one.

And that's the key. Popkey portrays the race like it was Grant's to lose, but I don't see the evidence. Grant did lose, and it's important to think about what that means about Idaho politics. Instead, Popkey has served up Grant as a fall guy to take the blame and let the energy that could be spent on better analysis go into personal animosity.

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