Monday, October 17, 2005

Riding for a Fall

An Open Letter to Tim Kaine
by F. T. Rea

OK candidate Tim Kaine. Take a deep breath. This is for your own good. It has been written by a guy who has written in support of you in the past and who supports you now. I believe you would make a splendid governor. That said, if you don’t change the direction of your campaign this warmed-over scribe fears you are riding for a fall, and so is Virginia.

Not unlike many a losing candidate, or general, or coach, you seem to be doubting your own instincts at crunch time and listening to the wrong advice.

Alas, it appears to be the Democrats' pattern these days: They nominate a decent, smart candidate who can think for himself, someone who would likely do a good job. Then they -- whoever they are -- convince him to try to broaden his appeal by emphasizing certain things they pulled out of a focus group. Eventually his natural rhythm and confidence give way to a contrived image that was spawned a committee room.

Then another election gets flushed down the drain, and another Republican who mostly wants to make his pals richer gets elected. Now, in the stretch run of this contest, you’ve been attacked by a low road series of television ads. Who didn’t know that was coming?

What’s been your response? You duck the punch and protest. Then you attack back, but in a lighter manner. We all saw how effective that Republican-Lite, try to seize the middle by being righteously bland, strategy was for John Kerry.

It’s said you have played a little basketball and are a decent athlete. Well, I ask you as a competitor, can’t you see how weak the strategy outlined in the paragraph above really is?

On the basketball court -- with his ads -- Kilgore has just shoved you hard with his hip, moving you a couple of short steps, as the two of you jostle for position near the basket. Your lame strategy has been to shove him back hard enough to take back only one of the two steps he took away from you. Well, if you played much basketball you know that can’t give ground to an opponent. You must shove back hard enough to get the two steps you lost, and perhaps a little extra, or you go around him to establish a new position.

So, I’m not necessarily saying you must hit him back with a meaner ad than his was. No. My point is you have to either do that, or you have to go around him. By going around him I’m asserting that you have to set the agenda rather than react to his.

For instance: You could swear off attack ads, altogether. Rather than be Republican Lite you could push off from Kilgore’s recent spooky/dark style and try to be as different from him as you can. Make and show commercials of you speaking with confidence about the bright future at massive sunlit rallies. No studio stuff, no long self-aware looks at the camera. All documentary-looking shots. Lots of familiar faces on the podium -- politicians and others with a following.

When you served as mayor it seemed you wrote most, if not all, of your own copy. You had a style that was recognizable and that style is no longer evident to me in your campaign literature or your remarks. In interviews your answers seem canned. And, when you use that talking-points style in speaking, it takes away from your natural spontaneity. It makes you seem more like the cardboard candidates who can’t think on their feet.

Although it is unthinkable that I could support Jerry Kilgore, looking at today’s political landscape I suspect that while your potential base is wide, it is not all that deep. I also sense you are losing momentum. Then again, who’s going to get but so excited about voting for what appears to be a Republican Lite kind of liberal-in-denial, who is losing an ad war because he’s getting outsmarted and out-toughed by a lightweight like Jerry Kilgore?

Bottom Line: Tim, trust your basketball instincts. Either shove your opponent back harder, or roll off the screen and go around him. Either way, please start writing your own copy again. Virginia needs you to win this election.

1 comment:

Shaula Evans said...

F.T., I am delighted to discover your site via RVABlogs.

And as for what you write above, I couldn't agree more. I hope Kaine's people read it.