The story that so far no one has dug into is why the Deeds campaign (through the Washington Post) chose now to dig into Bob McDonnell’s college thesis to find a hidden supposed bogeyman. When campaigns traditionally go into high gear after Labor Day, who’s trying to drop an “October Surprise” in August, of all times? The timing here suggests there’s more to this story, and it’s not about whether Bob McDonnell wrote about policy options supporting marriage that even Governor Tim Kaine supports. There’s likely more to this story. Much more.
McDonnell has been crushing Creigh Deeds in the polls, by between nine and fifteen points for the past several months. Donors see these, and begin to figure that sending money to Deeds is a waste, which is a very reasonable conclusion. With the campaign finance reporting period ending tonight, if Deeds shows lackluster results that may cripple his ability to gather campaign funds through the rest of the election, other than the reliable union contributions and those from the party, his campaign could end up on life support. Deeds needs something to rescue his faltering campaign, and instead of springing some twenty year old thesis paper written by McDonnell in order to get a good grade from a Christian university in October, when the electorate might not have enough time to process it objectively and react emotionally at the polls, he pulls the trigger now.
It’s unlikely that this was just a matter of the Washington Post not sticking to Deed’s campaign strategy and running this story earlier than he wanted. Given what I’ve seen from the Post, I seriously doubt that’s the case. They’ve been close to the Deeds campaign from the beginning, consistently support liberal candidates, their primary endorsement certainly was a big part of his success in the primary, and I have a really hard time believing that if the Deeds campaign asked them to defer this story the Post would refuse. Deeds knew this would run now, because they have quotes in the Post article. They wanted this run now. There’s a reason for that.
So what happens when a campaign starts running what they think are the big negative attacks early? It gets the phones ringing, and gets the contributions rolling in. In this case, it gets them rolling in at a critical time, when Deeds needs to prove his campaign is still viable after months of lagging behind terribly. Democrats really do seem to think that money is the determining factor in campaigns, and Deeds hasn’t been getting a whole lot from the looks of his last campaign fianance report. After a few months of looking like he’s effectively out of the race, this last minute cash might make his campaign look a lot more viable going into the last sixty days of the election. It could keep his campaign afloat, and allow him the chance to fight his way back.
The problem here is that by November, this will all be old news. Really late in the cycle a surprising negative attack can bring you votes. Earlier in the campaign cycle it can bring you cash, so what Deeds seems to be doing here is trading potential votes later, when they’re needed, for cash now. That’s a pretty desperate tactic, since it’s the votes that win you an election and trading them away for the opportunity to keep a campaign afloat is simply bad strategy. You have to be pretty desperate to fire your political ammunition too early for it to translate into votes.
I’ll be very interested to see Deeds’ campaign finance report ending August 31. If that report shows that a significant portion of his money showed up in the last few days and the campaign wasn’t getting contributions to speak of in late July through mid-August, that will confirm this hypothesis. We’ll know that Deeds’ big strategic play for the election cycle had to be pissed away early in order to financially rescue his campaign. Very likely, he will have fired all of what he thinks is his most important political ammunition, praying that any lingering effects might get him over the top. Strategy-wise, that’s just plain dumb.
Deeds has clearly been struggling with his lackluster campaign, and the Democrats have not been flocking to him as he hoped. To see him plucking out of the archives Bob McDonnell’s twenty year old thesis papers when Deeds’ own papers are as strangely unavailable, as are Barack Obama’s, really has to make me wonder whether this early attack is a sign of desperation more than part of a real campaign strategy. Although we’ll have to dig through the finance reports in order to really see what happened, this really looks like a “Hail Mary” pass thrown in the middle of the second quarter of a football game to try to prevent you from walking into the locker room at halftime being down twenty-eight to zero. When you’re pulling that stuff, you know the rest of the game is going to be ugly.
Maybe Deeds is as lost in the woods as I thought he might have been. I didn’t think his campaign staff could have possibly been that bad.
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