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Saturday, June 26, 2004

How the internet changes campaigning, part 47b  

It's been a day now since I was spammed by the Kerry campaign's Bush=Hitler-Caller email. (Fortunately I didn't respond in kind; a cooler head prevailed, and the next morning I sent a gloat-free link to Oxblog's measured recap.) Over the cycle, some things have become clearer.

First, this is a significant screw-up by the campaign (not the candidate). How significant depends – as always – on if it has legs, and how far up the food chain it can be traced; we shall see. Good thing it broke on a Friday afternoon, in a season when only the hard-core are paying attention. Second, it's unnecessary. A cheap shot that didn't need to be taken, didn't land, and backfired. Third, it compounded itself. They didn't have to send people to the Bush website, but they did. The initial target audience, the base, probably didn't visit – they already know Bush is capable of any conceivable crime; proof is irrelevant – but some people in the spreading ripples surely did, only to discover that it's not the Republicans who accuse their opponents of being Nazis, it's the Democrats – a lot of them, for a good long time.

To swing voters, Kerry has two primary selling points right now:
1) He's trustworthy.
2) He's competent.
He may have multiple positions on issues, but he comes by them honestly; and he doesn't say things that are just flat out not true. And while we're not entirely sure what it is he's planning to do, whatever it is he'll do it competently. He's a professional, not an ideologue. Both of those claims have just taken on some water. Not good.

I suspect there's a low-level geek in the campaign somewhere – maybe brought over from Dean's people, with more web skill than political savvy – who thought this was a way-cool way to turn the tables on Bush, and didn't bother to run it by anybody with any authority/good sense. (Not everyone has caught on to that pesky fact-checking aspect of the blogosphere.) What's troubling is if some higher-ups knew. A rogue prison guard or two, one thing; further up the chain of command, bigger trouble. The Competence thing could take on a big hole here, maybe even below the waterline. These are the people the candidate hired to run the most important campaign of his life, after all.

This was an own goal, for no good reason. Even if it stays minor, scarce resources now have to be diverted to handle damage control.

Ask the Bush people how well that dynamic's been working for them.

posted by Kelly | 10:25 PM link