Posted: 9:00 am Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
By Daniel Malloy and Greg Bluestein
The Michelle Nunn strategy memos are sure to be a topic of conversation through November. Among the most bandied about sections among media types — navel-gazing folk that we are — is how the campaign deals with the press.
First, here’s the big picture view on us ravenous, gaffe-hungry beasts:
“The communications department’s first and foremost responsibility is to ensure that the candidate and all parts of the campaign adhere to the message that the senior team has agreed upon. In the zero sum game of elections, resources that a campaign spends advancing a message different from the one that will persuade the most voters is time and resources wasted. In fact – in 21st century campaigns with wall-to-wall media coverage and super-pacs able to put millions of dollars behind video behind a single cell-phone video – a slight deviation from the agreed upon message could end up being very damaging to the campaign.
“The political press is not inclined to cover a candidate repeating their message. In fact, many reporters see their job as getting the candidate to “reveal” what their “true” inclinations and orientation may lay or to cause a gaffe. Any deviation from that message will be newsworthy to them. They also understand that effective candidates and campaigns stick to their message, and will see a deviation in message as an erred campaign or candidate.”
The key to enforcing such discipline is to create a Q-and-A booklet and drill the candidate relentlessly on it. Also, one must give the press events to cover that amplify the message, while cultivating relationships like so:
“Pitching information and scoops to reporters is the lifeblood of reporter/operative relationships. This is almost always spontaneous and hard to plan for – hooks for stories develop based on what’s going on in the race and what’s being covered at the time. The constant pitching and communications with reporters is also good for developing relationships between the campaign and the press corps that can be leveraged to affect coverage. …
“There will come a time when our opponents are shoveling research against our campaign. Part of the communications department’s job (in conjunction with research) is to leverage relationships and find the material to push back against negative research hits. Often we will have fair warning and can work to kill or muddy the story. Sometimes we will get little to no heads up and will be forced to publicly respond to the attack or story.”
Some have interpreted this as the Nunn campaign assuming the media is in the tank for them. We cannot speak to the thinking of the unnamed author of this memo, but “fair warning” in our case generally means that when writing about the Nunn campaign — or David Perdue campaign or whomever — the campaign is asked for comment on accusations or critical facts.
There were plenty of reactions to be had to the memo throughout the Interwebs. Here’s our big picture premium/print edition story that takes a look at the Hamas issue and the relentless focus on fundraising.
The David Perdue campaign swiftly called attention to the memo with a microsite on “The Nunn Plan” that includes a handy donation button, so folks can fight back against said plan with their wallets.
George Chidi at Peach Pundit, an African-American Democrat, is dismayed by the lack if minority faces listed in Nunn’s inner circle:
“Georgia is awash in African American attorneys and highly-educated executives with policy experience who would leap at an opportunity to advise a senator. But even on the proposed voter protection team – the group of campaign attorneys who will guard against voter intimidation and polling place shenanigans faced by Black and Latino voters — every one of the eleven people listed is white.
“I know, I know. Planning document. It’s still transparently stupid and insulting. This is Georgia. I was not aware that there’s a shortage of highly-qualified African-American voting rights attorneys in Georgia. The idea that someone putting a planning document together wouldn’t view that as an oversight is a red flag.”
The GA Voice points out that although Nunn has publicly said she supports same-sex marriage personally but wants it left up to the states as a matter of policy, the memo hints at a stronger stance when it anticipates raising $300,000 from the LGBT community:
“Michelle’s positions on gay marriage and the [Human Rights Campaign] endorsement provide a huge opportunity for mobilizing this community and their substantial resources.
“Message: I believe everyone has the right to enjoy the commitments and benefit of marriage to the person they love. This is not a position shared by my opponents, so I hope you’ll join me on this journey and lend me your full support so we can win this race.”
When it comes to garnering an expected $250,000 in fundraising from the Jewish community, the memo states: “Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here.”
Another note the memo makes when breaking down racial groups is this comparison between Asian Americans and Latinos:
“While this [Asian] community isn’t as large as Latino/as, it is very tight, works to become citizens quickly and has higher voter participation than many other ethnic constituencies. This is a community more likely to be a fundraising base than some of the others.”
Some other memo tidbits we found interesting:
- This section came back to bite the campaign with the Virtual Murrell imbroglio:
“The Research Department will also vet individuals with whom the campaign associates — most frequently for events and site visits. This vet includes a check for criminal records, ‘bad news’ stories, and inflammatory statements that could reflect poorly on the campaign. Currently, there are no plans to vet donors to the campaign.”
- There was no formal plan laid out in the documents to meddle in the Republican primary, beyond having the Democrat-funded tracker following the GOP candidates to come up with a list of key events: “This will allow us to proactively reach out to event organizers to determine if any of the candidates plan to attend and to plant questions when appropriate.”
- The memo reveals that Nunn’s debate prep will be led by Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Al Gore and Joe Biden, who has advised Democratic presidential debaters for years.
- In order to hit its national fundraising goals, the memo predicts “we will need at least one ‘signature’ fundraising event in Atlanta and one in New York and/or Washington that brings out celebrity and party hosts (Clintons) to raise $250,000 each in Q3.” We have heard no word of a Clinton/Nunn fundraiser, as of yet.
- The memo indicates the Nunn camp might not have the “stomach” for direct mail fundraising. “The strategies at question here are the proven techniques of direct mail, giving the reader ‘red meat’ and providing enough ‘contrast’ to generate an emotional response that results in mailing a check.”
- The full document, if you have the time, is a great lesson for any junkie who wants a peek into the inner workings of a big-time Senate campaign, from budgets to schedules to media management.
Meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaign is trying to jump on this bandwagon. Absent a damaging leak from Democrat Jason Carter’s campaign, Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber offers this:
“It looks like someone erased Carter’s name off the memo. He and Michelle Nunn are working from the same playbook when it comes to talking about serious issues—dodge, duck or redirect.”
This morning, we heard from state Rep. B.J. Pak, a Gwinnett Republican who is among the most prominent Asian-Americans in elected office. He took issue with the memo’s description of Asians as “validators” and potential donors who work to “become citizens quickly.”
Pak said Asian Americans are far from monolithic, noting that some 31,000 Asian Pacific Americans in Georgia live below the poverty line. Said Pak:
“Her campaign messages of “just give us your money,” and “call me when you become a citizen” show how out of touch she is. Instead of addressing the struggles of Asian American working families, it appears Michelle Nunn sees our community only as a means to leverage money and influence. Georgia deserves better — and I am sure that once the members of the Asian American community “become citizens quickly,” they will “validate” my views at the ballot box.”
Remember that Republican runoff election? Seems like ages ago now. But FiveThirtyEight has a breakdown of the electorate showing:
“On Tuesday, the drop-off in turnout was pretty uniform across counties. That is, it’s unlikely that pollsters overestimated turnout in strong Kingston areas and underestimated turnout in Perdue areas. …
“In fact, had turnout been the same as in May, Perdue still would have won. His margin of victory in this hypothetical, 0.8 percentage points, is slightly less than his actual margin, 1.8 points — so maybe turnout played a small role. But that is not a major difference, and certainly not enough to explain Tuesday night’s pollster error.”
In the premium version of today’s story on Nunn’s memo, we quote Sam Zamarripa, the former state senator and a leader of Latino advocacy group Uno Georgia.
Zamarripa shared with us some of the findings of his group’s June conference, attended by dozens of Latino leaders, aimed at increasing the Hispanic community’s voter participation in Georgia in November.
Of the conferences attendees, some 85 percent rated economic development the top priority, then education opportunities followed by immigration reform.
He sees that as an inkling of evidence that the economy, and not immigration, is top of mind to Georgia’s growing immigration population – and reason for both parties to tailor their message to this burgeoning community.
“A majority of campaigns always assume that a few Spanish words at the end of a speech is sufficient,” said Zamarripa, who added:
“They assume that Latinos line up for Democrats. And there’s some truth to that. But the universe of Latinos is far from homogenous. It still trends blue, but they have principals that are aligned with the right. And for most of us who have watched this closely, Latinos don’t know exactly what they are – and they’re looking for someone to talk to them.”
Who are you calling a fiscal conservative? Gov. Nathan Deal’s camp takes issue with former President Jimmy Carter using that phrase to describe his grandson, the gubernatorial contender.
In a note to supporters, the campaign cited state Sen. Jason Carter’s vote against Deal’s budget, his embrace of Medicaid expansion and a call to increase education spending without specifying where the funds are coming from.
Says spokeswoman Jen Talaber: “Senator Jason Carter may claim he’s a fiscal conservative, but his record proves otherwise.”
The two-day EPA hearing on new clean air regulations, which starts today in Atlanta, should be quite the circus. Kristina Torres set up the scene in Monday’s paper.
Today at noon, Americans for Prosperity will hold a big rally at the Sam Nunn federal building protesting that the new regulations will kill jobs. But from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the same spot, the Climate Reality Project — which takes the opposing view — will be handing out free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to hammer home the point that it’s too hot.
And yet, they are both scheduled to be in the wrong place. Your irony alert, also from Torres:
A hearing this week on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “clean power” plan to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions nationwide has been moved because of ongoing electrical problems at the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center on Forsyth Street downtown.
The hearing will now be held at the Omni Hotel, at 100 CNN Center across the street from Centennial Olympic Park.
About the Authors
Daniel Malloy is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington Correspondent, covering the Georgia Congressional delegation and other D.C. goings-on that affect the state since 2011. He's a zealous fan and proud graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.