Monday, August 15, 2011

Bachmann Repeating Hillary's Mistakes

Bachmann Repeating Hillary's Mistakes?

While Iowa City waits for Rick Perry's Hamburg Inn appearance this afternoon, Politico offers a must-read on the face-off between the Platypus and Michele Bachmann yesterday in Waterloo, saying Perry emerged as a clear winner:
Perry arrived early, as did former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The Texas governor let a media throng grow and dissolve before working his way across the room to sit at table after table, shake hand after hand, pose for photographs and listen politely to a windy Abraham Lincoln impersonator, paying respect to a state that expects candidates, no matter their fame, to be accessible.

But Bachmann campaigned like a celebrity. And the event highlighted the brittle, presidential-style cocoon that has become her campaign’s signature: a routine of late entries, unexplained absences, quick exits, sharp-elbowed handlers with matching lapel pins, and pre-selected questioners.
I wasn't there yesterday, but it's eerily familiar:
The Clinton campaign, in contrast, ran a cautious general election campaign in the ultimate retail environment. But like a singer with perfect pitch who misses the meaning of the song, Clinton kept errors to a minimum but failed to capture the spontaneous spirit of the caucuses. She started out doing one on one meetings with undecided local activists, but as her national lead held, Clinton moved toward a "general election strategy," as she said at a debate. By the time Obama was catching up in the fall, it was too late to go back and adapt.

No one incident captures this perfectly, but little detail after little detail paints the picture.

A staffer subtly steering me away from a friend of many years, directing her to the public seats and me to the roped off press area. Offering the press free pizza after the speech, rather than what we really wanted: time to ask the candidate a question.
The analogy isn't perfect, of course. Clinton was supremely qualified for the big job, and has served with distinction as secretary of state. But the same tone-deafness to the caucuses, right down to the planted questions, is there.

Yes, we Iowans are spoiled. But if you are going to make a serious caucus run, you can't just show up and give the speech. You have to shake every hand, pose for every picture, and allow every question, even when the questioner is obviously a looney tune. (You have to have a staffer who can gently lead you away from such people.) You have to have a rebuttal ready for the disruptive protester. (And this is bipartisan, as some groups don't distinguish between a hostile Republican and an imperfect Democrat. I saw Bob Kerrey get chased out of the state back in 1991 by pointed questions from the left.)

And you have to keep doing it, event after event. Bachmann has the skill set, I've seen it. But she can't abandon the one on one stuff just because she won one straw poll and switch into what Hillary Clinton called "general election mode." She has to shake the same hands a third and fourth time and fifth. Caucus-goers see it as a birthright. The old joke is that a national reporter asks a caucus veteran if they're voting for so and so and the Iowan replies: "I don't know. I've only met him three times." The punchline is: this isn't a joke.

Whether or not he knows it, Rick Perry is taking a big risk coming to the People's Republic on Day Three of his campaign. But we'll see how he handles it. As for Bachmann, it's not too late for her to adapt... but she'll need to.

No comments: