Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reflections and Advice for 2010

Eric Luedtke’s analysis of the impact of the District 4 campaign on future Montgomery races was truly excellent. So naturally, I’d like to spoil it with my own two cents.

First, many politicians I talk to seem to have learned the wrong lesson from this race. They assume Nancy Navarro won in part because of the negative mail and anticipate more of that in 2010. They may be right that negative campaigning will increase, but it is fundamentally unknowable whether the anti-Kramer mailers put Navarro over the top. Ben Kramer was able to use those mailers to depict Navarro as a nasty opponent and himself as a victim, and that may very well have helped him to increase turnout among his base in Leisure World. Politicians emphasize this tactic in part because of its mass visibility. In contrast, the micro-targeting that Navarro’s campaign used was never matched by Kramer and had no downside. Since it was largely invisible, it does not receive sufficient credit for helping Navarro win the primary.

Eric also said this:

I think we saw a profound difference between the way the Navarro campaign treated bloggers – as real media targets in the same way they pursue reporters – versus how the Kramer campaign treated bloggers – as, well, bloggers.
And how! I have two pieces of advice for politicians on how to deal with bloggers in 2010.

1. Send us every bit of positive information about your own campaign.

The Navarro and Lamari campaigns fed us a steady diet of positive news about themselves. Navarro’s staff sent us lots of endorsements, pictures, videos, mailers and everything else short of a new sauna. Lamari did the same thing and even contributed an op-ed column. (We encourage all politicians to steal Cary Lamari’s community land trust idea as long as they give him credit!) But the Kramer campaign sent us very little positive info about him. We had to go out and obtain his endorsements from those organizations themselves. We also had to ask Duchy Trachtenberg’s staff for her endorsement of Kramer. We only received two unsolicited pro-Kramer statements – one from Kevin Gillogly and another from Alison Klumpp – and neither of them were paid Kramer staffers. If we did not affirmatively seek out positive information on Kramer, very little of it would have appeared here because his campaign did not volunteer it.

Kramer’s people did respond to requests for information. One item they sent me – a set of notes from the State Highway Administration about the Georgia-Norbeck intersection – directly contradicted a statement made by Lamari in a debate. Why didn’t they offer this to me right after the debate and not wait for me to ask for it? If I had not gone out of my way to pursue this information, Kramer’s side of the Georgia-Norbeck issue would not have been told.

2. Don’t lie.

At the very beginning of the campaign, I asked Ben Kramer this question:

Delegate, the last time you ran for County Council, you finished seventh out of eight candidates in the 1998 at-large race. If you finished that badly last time, why do you think you will win this time?
Kramer replied the reason he ran poorly in 1998 was that he dropped out of the race but missed the withdrawal deadline. He told me that his name was still on the ballot, but since he did not campaign, he attracted few votes.

I quickly discovered this was untrue. Kramer earned County Executive Doug Duncan’s endorsement prior to June 1998. He participated in a candidate debate in August. The Gazette mentioned Kramer’s candidacy on August 26 and discussed his mailers on September 2. Also on September 2, the Gazette reported that 40% of Kramer’s contributions came from developers. The Gazette reported the results from a poll on the at-large race, including Kramer, on September 9. And on election night, Kramer went to a vote count at Richard Montgomery High School before learning of his loss. The Gazette carried this quote:

“I don’t have an answer [about what happened],” said a key Kramer supporter, Gino Renne, president of the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization.
I did not report this at the time because I was hoping that Kramer had made a mistake. What candidate would deliberately make such a claim when it could be so easily checked? But the more I thought about it, the more my skepticism of his campaign’s statements grew. One problem was Kramer’s position on ICC traffic mitigation. His sister, Senator Rona Kramer (D-14), defended a plan by SHA to build a bypass around Georgia Avenue and Norbeck Road at a community meeting attended by Ben Kramer. But shortly afterwards, both Kramers slammed it in writing as “convoluted.” The honesty issue boiled over when Kramer told Leisure World that he was not accepting contributions from developers while looking me in the eye, a statement that I had previously found to be untrue and exposed again the day before the election. Thousands of visitors saw that post. The Kramer campaign never responded and I caught them taking a developer contribution again after the primary. The issue of truthfulness will now dog Ben Kramer throughout the rest of his political career.

We are not naïve. We understand that some issues can be interpreted in multiple ways. We know the differences between honest disagreements, spin, parsing words, using context and outright falsehood. Remember that this blog is based in part on research. If you lie, we will find out. So just tell the truth. It’s easier that way for you and for us.