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Off–year election prospects grim for conservatives

By Michael R Shannon
web posted September 23, 2013

In 2009 gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia provided a morale boost for conservatives still smarting from the Obama victory. Chris Christie won in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell won in Virginia.

The chance for morale boosting repeat this year is very small.

In New Jersey we've discovered Christie is now Obama's newest BFF and is showing all the symptoms of an advanced case of RINO's disease with egomaniacal complications.

Here in Virginia, there is little optimism regarding Ken Cuccinelli's campaign for governor. It's looking more and more like he should have kept his original promise to run for re–election as attorney general. Then there truly would have been a balm in Gilead.

Retiring Lt. Governor Bill Bolling could have run unopposed on the GOP side — while he continued to keep his inner RINO in the closet — Cuccinelli would be AG and E. W. Jackson could have become Lt. Governor. Two conservatives out of three isn't bad and former GOP consultant — and Bolling inner circle member — Boyd Marcus would not have had to defect to the Democrats in a fit of pique.

It pains me to say this, but ‘moderate' Bolling actually would have been a stronger candidate than Cuccinelli, because he has no ties whatsoever to FBI investigation target Jonnie Williams — the VA GOP answer to Santa Claus — and his Star Scientific patent medicine company. A Bolling candidacy would have been immune to the fallout from Big Watch Bob McDonnell's gifts–that–keep–on–giving scandal. Simply because Bolling didn't run up a tab with Williams. Bolling doesn't wear a $7,500 gift watch, didn't take free vacations, his children didn't receive $25,000 in wedding gifts, his wife didn't receive a $15,000 shopping spree and the family business didn't get a $75,000 loan.

(Rumor has it that once Bolling learned Williams' product wasn't a weight loss aid, he had no more interest in Star Scientific.)

Instead we have an incumbent governor passing the hat to raise money to pay lawyers working to prevent an indictment. Williams is singing like a canary. And both are damaging Cuccinelli who took what amounted to tip money from Jonnie — particularly when compared to the jackpot McDonnell hit when Williams became a "family friend."

No wonder Ken is currently polling seven points behind the Democrat nominee Terry ‘Flim Flam Man' McAuliffe. I suppose we're lucky the deficit isn't larger. McDonnell could have helped the situation if he had resigned during the summer, but even Star Scientific doesn't manufacture an anti–inflammatory powerful enough to lubricate McDonnell's passage out of the mansion.

So McAuliffe's refusal to release his tax returns — for a brief moment an important issue — becomes a non–issue in the environment generated by the Williams/McDonnell gifts scandal. Looking at it from a voter's perspective it's a wash, McAuliffe is just better about hiding his financial peccadilloes.

In this political climate it's crucial for the Cuccinelli campaign to avoid any mistakes that call the nominee's character into question. So what do they do? The campaign airs a negative commercial that calls the campaign's character into question.

The spot contains testimonials from people who were ruined by the bankruptcy of a company from which McAuliffe made millions. Any effectiveness the commercial had ended when the people giving the testimonials told the Washington Post that no one told them the footage would be in a campaign commercial. On the contrary, they say they were told the interviews were for a documentary. And they say the Cuccinelli campaign lied to them.

I've been making campaign commercials for 33 years and I can tell you that any competent media firm has a simple way to settle controversies like this. All the campaign has to do is show the reporter the talent releases signed during the taping.

That way if the interviewees change their mind later or the McAuliffe people pressure them, you have proof the interview subjects knew what they were getting into before the spot aired.

Only the Cuccinelli campaign didn't show Washington Post reporters any signed releases. During their WaPost interview they did not address "whether the employees in the ad were told how the footage would be used."

I don't want to pile on here, but I have some advice for the campaign. If the media consultant and the production company didn't get signed permission releases from non–professional talent the company is sloppy, incompetent and deserves to be fired.

If the media consultant and the production company have releases but the releases say the footage is to be used in a documentary and not a campaign commercial, they are sleazy, incompetent and deserve to be fired.

Voters are accustomed to a certain amount of hyperbole in positive campaign spots, that's why no one chokes when Lindsey Graham and the word "fighting" appear in the same spot. But negative commercials must be accurate and the allegations based on verifiable fact. Ken's campaign has done it's best to undermine his positive and negative message.

We have a Cuccinelli campaign that says McAuliffe can't be trusted, plays fast and loose with the truth and won't release his taxes. Then the same campaign releases a commercial that plays fast and loose with the truth to people already reeling from losing their livelihood. And just to make sure the news stays bad Cuccinelli — after foot dragging for months — decides to donate $18,000 to charity to offset the same amount he received in gifts from Jonnie Williams.

In one fell swoop the campaign helps McAuliffe by generating another week or two of negative coverage regarding the gifts. Waiting this late in the campaign to donate money from gifts Cuccinelli never should have taken is stupidity compounded.

I'm told that the reason Cuccinelli decided to break his promise and not run for re–election as AG is his big money backers told him they would not donate unless he ran for governor. I'm wondering how the plutocrats feel about their investment now? ESR

Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at mandate.mmpr (at) gmail.com. He is also the author of the forthcoming book: "Funny Conservative" Is Not an Oxymoron. (Or any other type of moron

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