ANALYSIS: Campaign PR - Bill Bradley finds the high road to be lonely. Senator Bill Bradley vowed to wage a different kind of presidential campaign, but his attempt to rise above politics as usual didn’t resonate with the Democratic electorate. St

When voters turn on their TV sets come primary time, here’s one political ad they won’t see:

When voters turn on their TV sets come primary time, here’s one political ad they won’t see:

When voters turn on their TV sets come primary time, here’s one

political ad they won’t see:



’I’m Bill Bradley, running for president. I started here in a small

Missouri town, was a Rhodes Scholar at Princeton and won an NBA

championship for the New York Knicks. In the Senate I fought for, wrote

and passed tax reform and cuts targeted for middle class, working

families. I fought for healthcare and education. I fought to protect

Social Security. Now, I’m waging war against special interests and their

big money campaign contributions. They’ve blocked HMO reform and stopped

the Patient’s Bill of Rights from becoming law. That’s just plain wrong.

One more thing: you elect me president, there’ll never be a special

prosecutor in the White House. Count on it.’





A different kind of campaign



Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf rattles off that idea in

a recent interview with PRWeek. ’Campaigns,’ insists Sheinkopf, ’are not

about educating the public, but reaching for their souls.’



Bill Bradley appeared to touch a responsive chord with the electorate

last summer when he was conducting his listening tours. But losses in

Iowa and New Hampshire indicate that the bright promise of Bradley’s

candidacy has faded while Vice President Al Gore, once written off by

many politicians supposedly in the know, has resurrected himself. Even a

Bradley victory in New York or, less likely, California this week would

make it unlikely that the VP loses the nomination.





Why?



Well, the VP all along had substantial advantages that, properly

applied, would make him the favorite in good economic times. After all,

no sitting VP since the aged Alben Barkley in 1952 has been denied the

nomination of his party in the post-World War II era. And the two

candidates are more alike than different on most issues. As Economic

Policy Institute visiting fellow David Kusnet notes, Gore and Bradley

offer ’virtually philosophical mirror images’ making it harder to

develop deep, meaningful distinctions between one another.



Yet, even before Bradley has officially withdrawn from the race, PR and

political pundits delivered diagnoses (obituaries perhaps) on a campaign

gone wrong.



Democratic pollster Brad Bannon notes that besides the two major party

primaries, another one was being held between reformers Bradley and

McCain. ’There was quite an appetite for change, but room for only one

change candidate. McCain won because he was a lot more accessible to

voters.’



That goes right to Kusnet’s belief that there was a telling difference

in the styles of Bradley and Gore. There has been a meritocratic element

to Bradley’s life: best student, best basketball player and considered

to be among the brightest senators. Gore may also have an Ivy League

education and come from an even more prominent family, but his father,

Senator Albert Lee Gore, was considered to have a populist streak.



When Gallup asked in mid-February which candidate voters would most like

to have dinner with, Gore, Bush and McCain each were picked by over 20%

of voters. Bradley drew just 12%. But the difference in style has not

just been about how the understated, professorial Bradley projects in

presentations but how he failed to respond to the changing political

environment and a retooled Gore campaign.



The summer and early fall saw Gore’s campaign drawing more coverage from

the opinion-making news media for its internal management problems and

the VP’s own inconsistent style, which at worst was overly formal and

stiff. But Des Moines Register chief political correspondent Dave Yepsen

notes that the VP became much ’more focused and punchier’ in talks, and

no longer ignored Bradley.



Credit goes to Gore himself and the campaign’s new team led by former

BSMG exec and trusted Gore associate Carter Eskew. Kusnet thinks Gore’s

reliance on experienced political consultants ’who know how to deal with

give and take’ has been telling. Bradley has some experienced political

hands, including the estimable Anita Dunn, but he reportedly shrugged

off some of their most important advice.



How Bradley responded to Gore’s revved-up effort speaks volumes.



Gore had said in the fall that he was the candidate willing to ’stay and

fight,’ citing Bradley’s decision not to seek reelection to the Senate.

Bradley partisans may view that charge to be unfair, but their candidate

needed to show more fire in response.



Porter Novelli SVP and former Gore aide Lorraine Voles recalls the

moment in an Iowa debate when the VP challenged Bradley’s Senate record

on flood relief, an important issue in Iowa. The former senator’s

response: ’You can talk about the past, but I want to talk about the

future.’ According to Voles, ’It made Bradley seem dismissive of

agriculture in a state where it is very important.’



When Gore challenged the plan in their first joint appearance, the

challenger’s response essentially came down to: ’We each have our own

experts. I dispute the cost figure that Al has used.’



Democratic pollster Bannon and political consultant Steve Murphy both

noted Bradley’s lack of fire in responding directly to Gore’s criticism

of his health insurance program. ’Bradley put an enormous emphasis on

that plan to provide health insurance for working families. If that plan

is important, then you’ve got to be prepared to fight aggressively when

it’s being challenged,’ says Murphy.



Days later, Bradley made a vigorous defense of the plan, charging that

Gore had abandoned the fight for healthcare the administration waged in

the mid-1990s. Sheinkopf argues that even when Bradley became more

aggressive on that issue, his responses failed to be couched in ways

that would shift the fundamental terms of the debate, a skill that the

best politicians know how to employ. The Bradley campaign’s timing may

have been off too.





Bradley’s ideas turn stale



The Project for Excellence in Journalism, in its study of coverage by

the opinion-making news media before the New Hampshire primary, found

that Bradley failed to obtain strong coverage for his policy ideas. The

’big ideas’ that he hoped would add juice to his campaign failed to draw

strong attention as Iowa and New Hampshire approached, perhaps, as the

Project suggested, because he first introduced them in the fall. The

study suggests ’how hard it can be to sustain press coverage of one’s

ideas for very long.’



Sheinkopf’s ad suggests different issues and themes that Bradley might

have emphasized more, possibly with greater success. Bradley’s campaign

got off to a fast start, and his 46% showing in New Hampshire may have

been treated with greater enthusiasm by the news media had not original

expectations been built so high.



The senator’s desire had been to wage a ’different’ campaign that

consisted of ’just going out and saying who you are and what you

believe.’ But voters wanted to see that he would fight for those beliefs

heart and soul. Minimalism when it comes to character and motivation may

work in literature, but not, as Gore knows, when it comes to winning

votes for president.



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