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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Garnering points on the trail

A longtime Spokane Democratic organization handed out an award last week for the best local campaign of the 2008 season. Not surprisingly, it went to a campaign for a Democrat who won his race.

Whether John Driscoll, who beat incumbent Rep. John Ahern in the 6th Legislative District squeaker, ran the best local campaign last year is, of course, debatable. It was certainly near or at the top for drama, as his election night lead all but disappeared in the later tallies and the two candidates sat through a recount.

Republicans might argue that Kevin Parker, the GOP challenger who won that district’s other House seat from Democratic incumbent Don Barlow, ran as good a campaign. True, Parker spent more than Driscoll, but less than Barlow, while Driscoll outspent Ahern. And while drama is admired by news media types, the majority of voters probably appreciate candidates who win election night and are done with it.

There were other legislators who spent far less to win. The congressional campaign was a mismatch in money and other areas, but the county commissioner races, which for the most part also were pricey, had their interesting points. And how about those Obama organizers in the caucuses? Almost as effective as the Ron Paul troops.

Getting a plaque or a trophy is always nice, but more interesting is the discussion it could prompt: How should one pick the best campaign of 2009?

Bart Haggin, the longtime activist and one-time congressional candidate who instigated this award for the Warren G. Magnuson Democratic Club, said he looked at several factors. Money was one, but beyond having enough, there was the question of what a candidate does or doesn’t do with the money. And it should be a team effort, with the candidate involved but not the sole source of the funds, he said. Variety in donors and in fundraising endeavors are both a plus. Communicating a message is another factor, and striking a balance between a positive message for the candidate and criticism of the opponent is important.

“Bottom line: He won,” Haggin added, wondering what others would use to judge a winner.

As a practical matter, I’d agree that last point is make or break before anyone could stand up and give their version of the “I’d like to thank the Academy” speech.

Political scientists can write treatises on the efficacy of automated phone calls compared to direct mail or expound on favorability ratings as indicators of vote tallies. But politics is a result-oriented endeavor.

Beyond that, beating an incumbent has to be worth a bump in the score. If the seat is open, beating a candidate from the party that previously held the seat should be good for about half as many points.

Holding interesting campaign events, giving intelligent speeches, producing commercials that aren’t annoying, all pluses. Extra points for campaign events that start on time, speeches that end before anyone in the crowd yawns and not stacking commercials like planes over O’Hare, so they air eight times in a single half-hour news broadcast.

Points, too, for never wasting an opportunity to explain a program, policy or idea. Mandatory deductions for hijacking a discussion about one topic to rant about something unrelated, calling a press conference when you have nothing to say, or for referring to yourself in the third person.

In Spokane, an award-winning candidate must be willing to knock on doors and – demeaning as it sounds to people who ain’t from around here – stand on a street corner and wave a sign at passing traffic. Smile required, even when getting just half the peace sign.

Going negative shouldn’t be an automatic negative, but going negative after pledging to run a positive campaign should. Likewise, taking money from “interest groups” isn’t a disqualifier – after all, we are all some kind of interest group. But taking money from lobbyists when one rails against lobbyists, or from polluting companies when one champions a clean environment, or from people who break the law when one runs on a “law and order” platform, should cost a candidate with the judges.

Being willing to debate, particularly at venues where the crowd favors your opponent, is a plus. Complaining six months before the election that your opponent is afraid to debate, when in fact there are several forums scheduled but you want 10 more, big minus.

The 2009 election season is well nigh upon us. What would be your criteria for a Best Campaign of ’09 award?

Spin Control is a weekly column by Jim Camden, who can be reached at (509) 459-5461 or jimc@spokesman.com. Spin Control is also a blog at www.spokesmanreview.com.
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