A mentor once taught me the difference between a Lesson Learned and a Lesson Noted. By documenting things we learn and suggesting a better approach, we are generating Lessons Noted. Only if we take appropriate action to do things better have we developed a Lesson Learned.
So after a year working as a full-time volunteer on Aimee Belgard’s congressional campaign, here are some Lessons Noted. It’s up to the next candidate two years from now to make these into Lessons Learned.
Money is King. Tom MacArthur’s vast wealth enabled him to overwhelm the airways with his negative ads, hire scads of paid canvassers, and advertise everywhere from Facebook to on-line games to Jeopardy! But it’s not just the fact that he could afford to buy the election. In order to remain competitive, Aimee Belgard had to spend a minimum of 30 hours per week on the phone soliciting donations as well as attending countless fundraisers both locally and across the country. This is time that she could have spent meeting voters – a luxury that MacArthur had and she didn’t. If we don’t correct the Supreme Court’s egregious error in Citizens United, then congressional seats will not be determined by the will of the people, but by the highest bidder.
Negative Ads Work. It seems like every campaign uses negative ads, but Tom MacArthur brought that practice to a new level. He started his campaign with a grainy video of Aimee Belgard promising not to take a salary in a campaign she lost and then excoriated her for taking a modest salary in a subsequent race that she won – where she never made a campaign promise not to. He then promulgated lies about Belgard’s votes as an Edgewater Park council member and painted her as a divisive official – just the opposite of how she behaved. Like the Communists treated their people in the 50s and 60s, if you repeat a lie often enough, people believe it. MacArthur’s millions gave him the wherewithal to propagate these lies about Belgard.
Support from the Democratic Party is a Double-Edged Sword. The party provided an excellent field team, opened several offices, and ran a great ground game. But this is the same party that ran misleading negative ads about MacArthur – an initiative that backfired when MacArthur threatened to sue and the Democrats were forced to withdraw. This took valuable time away from a serious discussion of the issues that separated MacArthur and Belgard.
The other problem with the state and national Democratic parties is that they apparently need geography lessons. Their e-mail blast putting the District in Central Jersey and the one urging District 2 voters to vote for Belgard just added fuel to their perceived incompetence.
There needs to be an improvement in coordination. I’ve had several friends who offered to volunteer through the party’s web site and never got called back. If you value volunteers, show it.
Endless Pleas for Money Don’t Help. The incessant, annoying barrage of e-mails and phone calls has turned off many voters. I’ve had friends – easy votes for Belgard – tell me that they’re fed up with these invasive techniques and would not vote this year. Democrats should fund a scientific, independent study to see how effective these things are. I think they’ll be in for a rude awakening.
The South Jersey Political Machine Matters. Despite the fact that Belgard was the one who introduced Donald Norcross at Norcross’ announcement to run, the South Jersey political machine was mute on Belgard’s race. Donald Norcross was not shy in showing up for some of Belgard’s high-profile events (like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden), but as far as I know, there was no real support for this difficult race coming from the shoo-in. George Norcross’ diversion of House Majority PAC money from Belgard to his own brother just to run up the numbers was a travesty. But it should be noted that even though the machine’s Godfather sat back, the rank and file was quite active in supporting Aimee. Many District 1 residents realized that Donald Norcross was a sure thing and decided (correctly) that their efforts would be better spent in District 3. Thank you to them.
New Jersey Matters. There needs to be a seasoned New Jersey politico on the senior campaign staff. Tom MacArthur had Chris Russell. From where I sat, it seemed that the Belgard campaign did not have the equivalent until late in the campaign.
Issues Don’t Matter to Voters. Unless you’re a partisan on either side, issues don’t matter. Belgard’s supporters cared about women’s issues, equality, and fair pay. MacArthur’s supporters espoused disdain for government and taxes. But based on listening to a year’s worth of solicitation calls, I think the vast middle is agnostic on key issues and it votes based on personality, gender, and presentation. This is exemplified by the fact that two key issues – the environment and gun safety – were pushed to the back of the agenda.
PolitickerNJ is the Fox News of New Jersey. Up until near the end of the campaign, PolitickerNJ’s reporting could have been written by MacArthur’s communications team. Granted, in the last few weeks of the campaign, they have been more even-handed, but the South Jersey reporter’s posts seemed like he was auditioning for the role of MacArthur’s communications director. And PolitickerNJ’s obsession with a candidate for Burlington County Freeholder having the same name as a beloved Phillies baseball player was amateurish and unnecessary.
Chris Christie is Irrelevant in Electoral Politics. At least in New Jersey. Nuff said. After all, he is irrelevant. He’ll run for President, but even he is too moderate for today’s crop of Republicans.
It’s common after an election for both sides, the winners and the losers, to espouse the fact that they will now strive to work together. This is bullshit. I am saddened that we have elected another white, male, homophobic, trickle-down anti-environmentalist anti-women’s health person to represent my district. But as invested as I was in this election, MacArthur’s win was just the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg. With the replacement of democracy with an oligarchic form of government, America is on a slippery slope to becoming a third-world country with a few “haves” and a vast majority of “have nots”. I wish I could be more optimistic, but it will take decades to undo the harm that last night’s election will bring to the nation. If it can be done at all. With the power of money on the other side, our lessons may never have a chance to be learned. We can’t wait until 2016 to make a fuss. We need to regroup and restart now.