There’s nothing more fun or more political bloggish than playing Monday morning quarterback to campaign attacks. For your reading pleasure, we are launching a new segment: Score The Attack.
In this new periodic segment, we’ll be scoring campaign attacks and related attack ads based on the following proprietary scale. (patent pending)
Knockout: An attack that succeeded in completely defining the target, consumes their campaign, or destroys the opposing side’s ability to win the race.
Landed Punch: An attack that succeeds in achieving the attacker’s goals and that sticks to the target. Sometimes a landed punch can be a true body blow to a campaign while other time they are more of an annoying jab, but either way they have an effect.
Example: Mark Begich and allies dub Dan Sullivan “Ohio Dan” in U.S. Senate race
Swing and a Miss: An attack that fails to have a substantial impact on the target. These attacks often go largely or completely unnoticed by the media and general public. Other times they do get noticed but don’t stick to the target or damage them in any way.
Example: Eric Croft asserts Dan Sullivan would implement a 14% sales tax if elected Mayor.
Self-Inflicted Wound: A hit that does more damage to the attacker than the target.
Example: Prevo and Demboski try to paint Berkowitz as supportive of incetuous relationships.
According to The Midnight Sun in-house developed scoring system, how did congressional candidate Steve Lindbeck’s attack on Congressman Don Young score this week? Here’s the play-by-play:
The Attack: On Tuesday morning, the two maritime unions in Anchorage held a press conference announcing they would begin running a campaign ad (Posted below) to draw attention to their fight to get Alyeska Pipeline Services Co. to reconsider awarding a contract for tanker escorts and spill response in Prince William Sound to Edison Chouest Offshore, a non-union Louisiana based firm, in favor of the current, unionized, Florida-based contractor Crowley Maritime.
The press conference was attended by representatives of Steve Lindbeck’s campaign who passed out press releases attacking Don Young, a pro-labor Republican congressman, for not doing anything to help the workers in the fight.
Wednesday, Lindbeck’s campaign themselves held a press conference, attended by the same unions from the day before, attacking Young for his inaction on the issue and linking it to almost $300,000 in campaign donations Young had received over the years from Edison. Lindbeck went so far a to call the donations “legalized bribery”.
Many have criticized this attack as being unfair to levy against any single politician. Why go after Don Young and Don Young alone? Why Does Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Gov. Bill Walker get passes if Young is to come under attack? Those criticisms are fair.
Also, it’s quite reasonable to ask what if any influence elected officials should have in such private contracting decisions.
None of that matters here. Remember, this isn’t a college debate society or the paper of record. Who wins the argument and what the ultimate outcome is of the Crowley vs Edison fight isn’t our concern.
We are judging only the political impact of the attack
Did the Attack Land?: When judging campaign attacks we need to judge them against the intended effect. It would be a mistake to judge a minor jab intended to play to the attackers base as a failure because it didn’t completely melt down the opponent’s campaign.
As near as I can tell Lindbeck’s attack had three goals:
- Resurrect the perception of Don Young as an old-time, bought and paid for corrupt politician.
- Begin the process of peeling Young’s strong organized labor support away from him.
- Show the Democratic base Lindbeck is ready, willing, and able to take the fight to Young
I’m not a union insider or part of the Democratic Party’s base, so I’m going to have to speculate on those impacts. But I think it’s pretty informed speculation.
I think this attack played well to the base. Alaska Democrats have long viewed Don Young along the lines Lindbeck painted him. More importantly, Lindbeck has never run for office so the base has no way of knowing what tone or abilities he is capable of demonstrating. Pushing an attack against Don Young in such aggressive terms is exactly what they want to see.
The episode won’t completely rob Young of union support, but I think it went a long way to begin that process. The state no longer has enough money to give unions, oil companies, and citizens everything they want. That has put a premium this legislative session on the question of “at the end of the day who do you stand with?”
With that battle not fully put to bed yet, labor leaders are keenly tuned into that question. An attack of this sort that portrays Young as favoring Alyeska, and by extension oil companies, over workers. That is a meaningful and timely attack for labor leaders to hear.
Finally, the single most successful element of this attack is the resurrection of Don Young’s corruption profile.
Don Young spent much of the 2000s under a cloud of various ethical and legal investigations. If you weren’t in Alaska or lived under a rock during that time you can read more about them here.
In the past three years, these troubles have disappeared, both in substance and in terms of media mentions. Bringing them back into the campaign as a way to show Young as a corrupt insider in the year of the outsider is clearly a key strategy for Lindbeck.
This attack didn’t completely achieve that goal, but it was a very good start. If you don’t think that is true read this headline from the state’s largest newspaper the Alaska Dispatch News:
Also, take note of this commentary from KFQD talk show host Mark Colavecchio:
Audio courtesy FM 103.7 KFQD
And that is a commentary from a host on a “conservative talk radio” branded station.
Conclusion: I rate this attack as a “Landed Punch.”