No Such Thing as a Free “Launch” Anymore
It used to be that when a candidate announced they were running for an office like the US Senate or Governor they’d get their day in the sun before the mud would fly. The press would write a pretty gentle story that would have telling details about the candidate’s life or their positions on various issues, allowing the candidate a chance to frame their own entry into the race. The media might also get a third party to talk about the new dynamic the announcement brings or have someone speak positively about the candidate’s capabilities. Sure the press would be given dirt by opposing campaigns off the record and behind the scenes, but they wouldn’t report it right away. Here’s an example.
In fact, opposing campaign’s would also often publicly greet a new candidate by sending out a genteel press release. Some would even email their own supporters a statement like: “We welcome ‘so-and-so’ to the race and look forward to a vigorous debate about the important issues facing our state.”
Well, such civilities are such old politics. It’s 2011. And this is Massachusetts in the digital age.
Let’s take a look:
A big part of the news around Alan Khazei’s announcement: he’s starting the campaign in debt.
A big part of the news around Setti Warren’s announcement: he’s abandoning Newton. Already? He’s been mayor for only 18 months!
Both of these “hits” were reported in the mainstream media and had nice streams and memes going on Twitter and Facebook. So what’s changed? I can’t speak to why journalists now publish the dirt on announcement days, but I do know that one reason campaigns push it so early is the rise of the digital space.
One of the first times a candidate is “the story” and can make solid media headway is on announcement day, and one of the best ways for an opposing candidate to eat at that headway is to sap the energy and excitement by injecting negative information. Attacks from supporters of one campaign or Party get re-tweeted over and over. People can lash out at candidates on their Facebook page for all of their friends and the public to see. Suddenly, instead of talking about your vision or mission you are talking about your debt or your ambitions.
In fact, many campaigns take a zero tolerance approach throughout the election: No opponent should get away with any clean positive messaging anywhere. Ever. So campaigns hammer each other nonstop, in public and behind the scenes, in an effort to make sure that everyone — reporters, opinion leaders, the press — has the dirt.
It’s a shame really. In this Democratic primary, both Warren and Kahzei are relaying (or trying to relay) some pretty good ideas and positions that really matter. But behind the scenes, their operatives, and other operatives from both the Democratic and the Republican side, are working very hard to make sure we also hear very different information. The nasty stuff used to come towards the end of a campaign. Now it starts right away and is as easy to accomplish as a simple click of the mouse.