Saturday, December 20, 2014

Grimes's deceptions became strong secondary factor in her loss, McConnell's campaign manager says

By Tyler Spanyer
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The deceptions of the Alison Lundergan Grimes campaign compounded Sen. Mitch McConnell’s attacks on President Barack Obama, and those were the two key factors in the U.S. Senate race, McConnell campaign manager Josh Holmes said in an interview.

Holmes said the outcome of the race was determined when Grimes refused to say if she voted for Obama. He said the McConnell campaign encouraged journalists to ask the question, and her response “ kind of felt like she wasn’t giving you the whole truth.”

The vote gaffe was in the news for more than a week, and “sealed it” for McConnell, Holmes said.

He said it validated the idea, advanced by the McConnell campaign and journalistic fact-checkers, that Grimes wasn’t being straight with the voters.

The key to this race, according to Holmes, was the inability for Grimes to define herself in the public eye. “We were trying to tell our story, because that’s what a campaign is all about,” said Holmes. “Meanwhile she was just throwing stones, instead of attempting to define herself to the voters.”

 For example, in the first round of Grimes ads that questioned McConnell’s voting record, “The advertisements were well designed,” Holmes said. “They were creative and interesting, but the facts were just wrong. Everything about that was perfect, but the research.”

The first of these ads was highly ridiculed by fact-checkers because it incorrectly said McConnell had voted to increase Medicare beneficiaries’ costs. McConnell just played it cool saying, “That’s the oldest, most cynical attack in the Obama playbook.”

Even though the ad was ridiculed for being false, Grimes released more questionable commercials. Glenn Kessler, “The Fact Checker” of The Washington Post, named one as one of the “biggest Pinocchios of 2014.” Kessler noted that an earlier, similar ad had already hit the top of his falsehood scale.

“The Democratic candidate who unsuccessfully challenged McConnell stood in front of the camera and made statements that she must have known are false,” Kessler wrote after the election. “Her central claim — that McConnell had pocketed $600,000 from anti-coal groups — had already earned four Pinocchios. The statement was based on money earned by McConnell’s wife, much of which came from being on a board of bank that finances coal companies. So the ‘anti-coal’ moniker was bogus.”

Holmes, 35, had been McConnell’s chief of staff for more than three years when McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton was forced to resign in the wake of allegations involving misconduct by Ron Paul’s last presidential campaign in Iowa. This left Holmes with running a “presidential level campaign,” as McConnell had described it, for the home stretch.

“The McConnell chief of staff typically has a very heavy hand in the campaign,” said Holmes. “So I was prepared to take that next step. We wanted to run an aggressive campaign and that’s what we did.”

Holmes said of McConnell, “He said to me the most important word in the English language is focus, you just can’t lose sight in what your ultimate goal is.”

The McConnell campaign was record-breaking. According to Holmes, the campaign knocked on over a million doors, a number “no one has come close to.” Add that into the 70 total TV advertisements that it ran and it was a campaign that could rival even some of the most successful presidential campaigns.

“At one time in September, we ran 17 different advertisements in one week,” said Holmes. “Compare that to the 2012 Obama campaign, which ran 24 advertisements in one week.”

The obvious difference here is that the McConnell campaign was a statewide campaign, while the Obama campaign was nationwide. Holmes said most of the advertisements were regional, “so that when you looked out your car window you saw what the ad was talking about.”

So what’s next for Holmes, the campaign managing superstar? He said he doesn’t know, but what he does know is what his wife would think about him running a presidential campaign: “My wife would kill me.”

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