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A Swift Veer Off Message

With the emergence of 527 groups, which were born out of the attempts to better regulate campaign contributions, I’m not sure we’ve really taken a step forward in making our elections more fair or voters better informed. These groups will likely become the bogeymen of political consultant’s worst nightmares.

Often, a campaign’s biggest problems are not its opposition, but overzealous and politically naive supporters. This was certainly true when I ran the two medical marijuana initiatives in the late 1990’s in Washington State; single-issue activists on any given issue rarely understand the nuances of running a campaign.

That’s why I’m relatively confident that the Bush campaign didn’t coordinate the Swift boat Veteran’s For Truth campaign that is taking shots at Kerry’s military record. For the past week, this has been THE hot news story, and I think will ultimately prove to be a losing issue for the right and for Bush’s reelection. The Bush team is riding it out now, getting any benefit they think they can get; but the moment that polling tells them that this issue is backfiring (and it will), they will take distinct steps to distance themselves from it. They will need to regain control of the “message” of the campaign.

And, that is the problem with 527s. Their advocacy will frequently not be tempered by big-picture judgement; they exist to forward a single-issue agenda, but don’t have an overall view of the broad issues that need to be managed in a political campaign. And, with their ability to raise and spend unlimited funds, they can easily overshadow the “official” messaging of a given political campaign. As I say, it’s going to be a nightmare for political consultants.

Now…regarding the actual content of the Swift boat Veteran’s For Truth ads; I find this tactic distasteful and unjustifiable. The defense of this “inquiry” by some on the right is that John Kerry invited this scrutiny by making his military service central to his campaign. Sure; but that doesn’t mean that any question or any inquiry is in good taste. The analogy that comes to mind would be like probing the sexual history of Laura Bush, and then claiming “well, Pres. Bush made this an open issue because he included her in his political campaign.” This crosses the line of decency, and simply hiding behind the “527” is not good enough.

But, I am confident that independent voters will see this for what it is, and ultimately, this will become a net-positive for John Kerry.