As promised I am bringing you part 1 of our series on Lessons from the 2008 trenches. Our first contributor is Ben Porritt. Ben served as the national spokesman for the McCain-Palin campaign and a co-founder of Outside Eyes strategy group in Southern California.
CF What campaign on the GOP side showed real innovation in fundraising?
BP - Although mainstream pundits never took Ron Paul seriously, the amount of money he raised as a dark horse candidate was outstanding. The disappointing factor in giving this award to Ron Paul is that our party never took him seriously. Ron Paul brought a fundraising engine to the GOP side that had only been replicated by Governor Dean in 2004. The difference is that the Democrat party took notice and invited him in to help with the revolution. Our party made Ron Paul look like a fringe candidate who offered very little. Maybe I am wrong on this but this is how it looked from the outside—which is where I was until July.
CF What campaign on the GOP side had the most effective use of New Media?
BP - Although we were overshadowed by Barack Obama’s $600 million force and unlimited text messaging, the McCain campaign had an amazing online team which made up one of our bright spots.
Stephan Dinan of the Washington Times posted a story in March crediting McCain’s blogger outreach as the simple aspect that kept the Senator alive during tumultuous times. During biweekly conference calls with McCain, bloggers provided the Senator the only opportunity outside of staged events to deliver his message. After the implosion the mainstream media was busy asking questions regarding financial longevity and writing the Maverick’s obituary. McCain found solace with bloggers who were interested in talking policy, Iraq, and Senator McCain’s favorite pork-barrel spending.
McCain treated the blogosphere not as an addendum to the mainstream media, but a completely separate application that offered him the opportunity to have a conversation that didn’t concentrate on soundbites.
Throughout the campaign, during the debates, and conventions our new media apparatus was aggressive and in my opinion better and more active than any other GOP or Dem candidate running.
CF What campaign on the GOP side showed the greatest comeback?
BP - You almost have to give this to Ted Stevens just for being part of the game. After being found guilty of seven felony charges he was still able to force overtime.
Here’s hoping we can put Norm Coleman in this category. Four years ago, Norm Coleman seemed destined for bigger things and now he is holding on by the grit of his teeth. Minnesota is a very odd state. In the last decade they elected Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura, Tim Pawlenty, and Al Franken has obviously been competitive. These people have nothing in common. It is possibly the most amazing state in the country.
CF What GOP pollster was the most accurate?
BP - I think the biggest obstacle in declaring a winner here is the simple fact that we were inundated with polling in 2008. We saw more polls during the month of October than we did the entire 2004 election, making it impossible to determine who is the most accurate. On a national level which is where most of my focus was, we were behind nearly every day post Sept. 15 (give or take). So I think the pollsters clearly got it right.
I do think that this election finally took its toll on national polls. When will people realize that the only thing that matters in presidential politics is 12-15 state polls where the race will be decided. And looking back, I am still shocked that we lost Indiana… (CF …me too.)
CF What GOP mail vendor had the most creative and effective designs?
BP - I am a huge supporter of Faulkner Strategies, although I have seen some work from two Southern Californiavendors in the past that I was extremely impressed with. One is Jim Bieber of Bieber Communications and the other is Eric Brown of Dynamic Marketing. Both are creative, innovative and do strong work delivering the message.
CF What GOP campaign showed the best ability to integrate it’s website into its’ over all campaign operation?
BP - Again I would go with Ron Paul and add Mike Huckabee. Right out of Joe Trippi’s 2004 handbook both of these campaign’s used the website as a viral stomping ground for support. These campaigns used their website as more than a virtual doorfront, it was a meeting place of ideas that brought people together using Meet Up, etc.
As we all know the bulk of Mike Huckabee’s support came from the Christian right whose social circles are well defined by churches, home-schooling, or small groups. Huckabee was able to transcend this and move his supporters in and out of their common place to spread his message.
CF What GOP candidate has the biggest ideas for the future of our party (even if they lost)?
BP - For what she stood for I think Sarah Palin did a lot in this regard.
Much has been said about the selection of Sarah Palin. Was it the right choice, a political choice, or the reason we lost? Questions aside it provided the GOP something we desperately needed, which is a different voice. For decades our party has succeeded yet suffered from an old guard unwilling to hand over the reigns or at the very least address the changing electorate.
At a time when our party is badly outnumbered in Washington there is one simple prescription for our ailments. We must recruit different Republican candidates and leaders from a precinct level up.
At a minimum Sarah Palin proves that the Grand Old Party is ushering in new voices. We will always survive, but in order to succeed we need to bring in more Hispanic, African American, Asian, and female voices to our party all across the country.
CF What GOP campaign showed the best use of its email list?
BP - Being at the top of the ticket certainly has its advantages and the email list is one of them. Until the general election funds took over, the McCain campaign used its email list extremely well and were able to raise substantial dollars while doing it. Outside of fundraising our lists were used to drive crowds and host tele-townhalls. I though we did this very well.
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