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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will There Be Blood ?

Paul Begala and Chris Bowers lead the charge today, calling for a more attack-focused Democratic convention. At OpenLeft, Bowers asks,

…Other than Pelosi’s less than convincing “John McCain is wrong” call and response, do we have any plans to attack John McCain during this convention? I haven’t heard any of it so far. It would be a massive waste of an opportunity if we don’t really open up on him in this election. For example, the Carter video could have shown Bush and McCain sharing cake when Hurricane Katrina struck. But we decided to take a pass.

A sentiment amplified by Desmoinesdem in the comments following Bowers’ post:

I also feel like we need to build a strong narrative against McCain this week. The Obama campaign has issued a tough statement here and run a state-specific negative ad there, but they are not building a concise case against McCain comparable to McCain’s case against Obama (shallow celebrity politician who’s not ready to lead).

Writing at HuffPo, Begala adds,

This is a no-brainer. The political press is abuzz with overblown stories of a Clinton-Obama rift. There are some hard feelings, but less than you’d think, given the closeness of the primaries. But I have a seven-point plan for uniting the Obama and Clinton wings of the party:
Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack, attack.
…If the Democrats do not spend the remaining days of their convention — hell, the remaining days of the campaign — in an all-out assault on the ruinous Bush-McCain policies, they will lose.
I was for Hillary in the primaries, but when she endorsed Sen. Obama, I proudly sent him a check for the legal maximum. On the memo line of the check I wrote, “FOR NEGATIVE CAMPAIGNING ONLY.” No matter what minor difference Hillary and Barack had, they pale in comparison to the corruption, incompetence, dishonesty and criminality of the Bush-McCain Republicans.
Democrats need to attack as if the future, the country and the planet depend on it. Because they do.

Begala and Bowers echo a concern shared by many Dems, including myself — that the Dem Convention may squander too much precious air time on “getting to know the candidates” and all that. Begala is also concerned by reports that Dem keynoter Mark Warner will avoid attacking the GOP ticket because he needs Republican votes to win his Senate seat:

To be fair, Warner is running for the Senate in a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson. Tearing into war hero McCain while running in a state full of military families could prove problematic for a guy whose reputation as governor was made on bipartisanship.
Democrats should not have put Warner in this bind. They should have chosen as their keynoter someone who, like Pelosi, can give voice to the anger and anxiety of hundreds of millions of Americans. Someone who will show McCain to be the Bush clone that he is.

Michelle Obama did an outstanding and necessary job last night. But Bowers and Begala are right that it’s time to engage the adversaries with the most withering attacks Dems can mount. Here’s hoping the Dems will draw some blood tonight, and that Warner will realize he needs to show some mettle to this audience if he wants to be perceived as a potential president. Certainly Senator Clinton has never been a wallflower about attacking the opposition. Dem leaders should not have to be reminded that this is the largest television audience they will get between now and November 4. We can be sure that the GOP convention will waste little time before they go on an all-out offensive against our ticket.

2 comments on “Will There Be Blood ?

  1. James Vega on

    Your basic point about the relative stability of D’s and R’s and how attack ads mainly mobilize the base is quite valid.
    It’s a little tricky to identify 2004 and 2008 however, because some of the “generic” democrats this year are not really what active Dems would consider the solid “base”. They can’t be mobilized in the same way that the people we traditionally consider the “base” can be mobilized.
    This does not, however, change your basic point that there does need to be a mixture of both strong negative, mobilizing ads and more positive “sense of who he is” Obama-promoting ads.

  2. Cugel on

    This depends on who you are trying to convince!
    We have the record of 2004. Bush’s intensive scorched earth wave of Swift-boat ads ended up convincing . . . REPUBLICANS! And Republican leaning Independents!
    That’s it. Democrats were unmoved. In fact they rallied to Kerry by 89%.
    Bush got 94% of Republicans but Republican loyalty is always higher than Democrats.
    Kerry won Independents by 1%. But Bush won the popular vote by 2.4% overall.
    This year there are 6% fewer Republicans — 31% as opposed to 37% in 2004.
    Meanwhile there are 39% or 40% Democrats. All Obama has to do is to rally his base.
    And that requires negative attack ads targeting McCain.
    But, more than that it requires Obama giving voters a sense of who he is and what he will do if elected. This election is all about Obama.
    McCain is only the default candidate. He’s not really even relevant. He only wins if Obama can’t convince voters to trust him.
    Thus, ads attacking McCain aren’t important in order to wound McCain. They never do that anyway! They rally the base, get them fired up that Obama is “finally fighting back” and get them motivated to vote.
    Psychologically it’s difficult to be for a man who won’t defend himself when attacked, or provides a feeble defense “that’s a negative attack” rather than punching the other guy in the nose!


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