Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Terry McAuliffe’s Risky Strategy

In Governor on May 24, 2013 at 10:35 am

Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and current party nominee for Virginia governor, just launched his second general election television advertisement (see link above), but his media strategy should raise questions.

The ad explains and emphasizes that McAuliffe lobbied Democratic legislators on behalf of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) controversial transportation bill. The underlying message credits McAuliffe’s involvement as a key factor in passing the legislation. The objective is to show his ability to deliver within the legislative process, while simultaneously proving that he reaches beyond partisanship in order to achieve the common good.

The ad graphics include a singular still photo of McDonnell and newspaper headlines that allude to “GOP infighting”, while an announcer mentions that “Tea Party Republicans refuse to support the plan.” The scene then fades to a banner illustrating that McAuliffe and McDonnell “congratulate each other” over achieving legislative success.

In our opinion, the ad is evidence that the McAuliffe campaign may be making some key strategic errors. First, they target “Tea Party Republicans” at a time when certain members of the Obama Administration are coming under intense fire for targeting Tea Party groups. This should give conservatives and tax fairness spokespersons more fodder to support the contention that Democratic and liberal leaders both in and out of government are unfairly singling out and pillorying their organizations and allies, and now it will be easier to portray McAuliffe as being part of that group.

Second, coming to the defense of the McDonnell transportation bill, which conservatives claim is a tax hike, could be another questionable move. The public’s confidence in new construction projects solving the terrible northern Virginia traffic problems is low. Wading in to support legislation that will successfully raise new revenue with a very low probability of making area transit any better may result in opening up more avenues for criticism than accolades for success.

Third, attempting to highlight what may be a good relationship between he and McDonnell also might prove more hazardous than helpful. Though the governor’s job approval ratings remain high, the FBI investigating a contributor paying for part of his daughter’s wedding, and whether such remuneration constituted a gift under Virginia ethics laws, won’t go away any time soon. Should the press and publicity get worse for McDonnell, which is likely, McAuliffe may regret placing an ad on the public airwaves that voluntarily highlights his positive relationship with the Governor.

Fourth, McAuliffe involving himself in a controversial automobile business with former Mississippi governor and Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, and now tangentially aligning himself with McDonnell on the transportation bill, could cause him some problems with liberals. Though there is little chance of committed left wing northern Virginia or Tidewater area voters ever supporting Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli, it’s possible such revelations may engender less enthusiasm for McAuliffe within the Democratic base. A base fall-off for any candidate during a close election often times spells the difference between victory and defeat.

Through this media foray, Terry McAuliffe attempts to bridge certain gaps and establish ties to moderate and right leaning Republican voters, but he has also chosen to highlight at least two subject areas that have high backfire potential. His risky strategy might pay off, but there also looms perhaps a more likely possibility that it causes him harm. We shall determine in relatively short order if his new ad strategy is brilliant or toxic. Either way, this is only the first salvo of the campaign, but the strategic fore-thought driving McAuliffe’s early approach is unorthodox.

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