Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Crunch Time

The blogsphere is abuzz with speculation about Dean's replacement of Trippi with Neel. But there are few answers about what it might mean for the campaign.Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall seems shocked. Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit is simply linking into other commentary; seems to be making up his mind. Kos points out the obvious causes, but declines to speculate any further. Most other blogs are similarly mind locked in expository mode.

Well, it's going out a limb to predict much of anything at this point, but there are some fairly obvious facts from which to make a few guesses. Here are the harsh facts:

1) The Dean campaign is broke. The word is: 3 million in the bank, 3 million in debt. Staffers asked to do without pay until some scratch is scared up.

2) The wheels came off in NH and IA. The structure of the campaign just didn't gell. Communications and logistics has become something near a nightmare. The Stormers were more a wandering mob than a cohesive force.

3) Neel has been brought in to pare down the staff, get fiscal controls into place and smooth organizational wrinkles. He also is a conduit into a network of powerbrokers, lobbyists, and carreer pols whom Dean needs now to stay in the kitchen and keep Kerry's boney hand out of the Nomination cookie jar.

These are just educated guesses, I am a sieve through which a lot of info passes, but I don't know much for certain. Here is what I think this means for the campaign:

1) One of the most obvious consequences is Dean is will be retooling his message and moving to the right before anticipated. He always expected to move his message rightward and stand more on his record once he has captured the nomination, but Kerry's unexpected surge on a perception of 'electability' means that Dean is going to have run right to cut off Kerry's march to the endzone.

2) Dean will begin to emphasize problems with Kerry's record that are likely to be zingers during a general election. Dean will highlight his support for the first Gulf War and Kerry's vote against it (damned if you, damned if you don't, eh Kerry?). Hammer Kerry on his vote in favor of Bush's tax cuts in preference to Kerry's Iraq War vote and hook it to a theme of fiscal discpline and responsibility. Criticize Kerry's expensive Cadillac health care proposal, and other spending packages as budget busters when combined with his pandering middle class tax cuts; then demonstrate the deficits expected from the plan.

3) Launching a proxy air war using Dean endorsements (including Gore) to work the issues on the media circuit and paid media. Also, possibly using grassroots ideas for ads to save on costs and increase effectiveness. The well-known Switch2Dean ads recently inked an agreement with Trippi's firm to air their ads and produce new ones focused on coming primary states. I'm guessing there will be a lot of demand for former Kerry, Clark, and possibly Edwards converts. Whether this deal will stick through the Trippi shakeup is unknown, but Trippi's firm continues to have Dean's ad work for the time being. Whether going to the grassroots was a measure of their creative bankruptcy, or an inspired and much belated move, I leave to you to judge.

Finally, the big speculation. Dean hasn't the money to make media buys in the Super 7 tier of states. If he isn't able to get an injection of capital soon, he may barnstorm about the states some, but I suspect he may just make a lot of satellite appearances while hunkered down in Arizona and New Mexico until Feb. 3rd, hoping for a really strong showing or a win in one or both to boost him along for another month. From there he squats in Michigan for two weeks until that primary on Feb 17th, skipping TN and VA except for satellite and air time, if he has the resources. Michigan is the crown jewel before March 2nd. If Dean can pull a Clark/Lieberman and work that one state hard and pull out a win, it may revitalize the campaign and inject new money into the campaign heading into the day that decides it all, March 2nd. A win here may also de-spin the frontrunner enough to build a comeback buzz heading into March 2nd. The winner of CA, NY, and OH will cap the race like nothing leading up to it. Every candidate with an ounce of life left in their campaign will stay in the race until March 2nd hoping to pull out a miracle. Luckily for Kerry, MA is one of these states and virtually guarantees him at least one win.

So what can you do? Donate, donate, and donate some more. Sell some stuff, and donate. Sell an organ, and donate. Then get out there. We have to deliver this state. AZ and NM are very much must-win states for Dean. Edwards has SC, Clark looks good for OK, Kerry is strong in many states due to the hysterical rush into his camp, especially MO. For Dean to remain credible, he needs at least one win on February 3rd. So get out there, and let's win one for Dean!

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