2012: The Mountain Campaign

at 07:21 AM ET, 04/20/2012

In the 2012 campaign, there are no molehills, only mountains.


This photograph taken on January 14, 2011, shows an aerial view of the Mount Everest range some 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Kathmandu. PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
Every utterance — whether by the candidates, their surrogates or even people with the loosest possible affiliations to their campaigns — is treated like a major moment. Cable television dedicates hours to sifting through what it might mean, and blogs — including, sometimes, this one — write about the ins and outs of what was said and why it was said.

Think of the stories that have whipped through the news cycle in the last few weeks. Etch A Sketch, stay-at-home moms, caterpillars, dog-eating, silver spoons and cookie-gate. And that’s just to name a few.

Every one of those stories was pushed by one party as a major mountain in the campaign even as the other side dismissed it as a molehill. The mountain then is in the eye of the beholder — and, in the age of Twitter, someone always sees a mountain.

“To get a sense of how many places there are to move stuff — you have war rooms with 12 to 20 kids sending out hundreds even thousands of little cliplets to staff every day from scores and scores of places,” said Mark Salter, a senior adviser to Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign. “You can always get something placed somewhere, and then it might proliferate.”

To be fair, campaigns have always had their fair share of misstatements, bungles and botches. Remember that in 2008 we had to endure things like “lipstick on a pig” among other things.

But even as recently as the ‘08 campaign, Twitter was non-existent (or close to it) in the political world — making it more difficult for all the daily jockeying from the campaign trail to gain enough elevation to become actual news.

Now, a single comment made with even one reporter around — or even a non-reporter who has access to Twitter, Facebook or some other social media platform — can become national news within hours (if not faster).

The broader question is whether that fact is a good or a bad thing for the way we elect politicians.

Many argue that the lack of context — if everything is a big deal then it’s hard to distinguish what really matters from what, well, doesn’t — can make it more difficult for the average voter to get at the sort of information about the two candidates that they need to make a decision.

On the other hand, we are big believers in the idea that little things can become big things if they provide some sort of glimpse into the true nature of a candidate or a campaign.

Democrats argue that the Etch A Sketch comment made by Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom was more than just an inartful choice of words, making the case that it revealed the lack of a political core in the former Massachusetts governor.

Ditto Republicans’ view of Hilary Rosen’s comments regarding Ann Romney as a stay-at-home mom.

“The intelligentsia discount stories like the Rosen tempest, but the reason it trended on Twitter is that her comments feed into what people think the Democrats think about stay-at-home moms,” said Republican operative Terry Nelson. “It would not have shown up on front pages eight years ago.”

The question of whether the pace at which news is created nowadays is giving voters more information to make good decisions or turning them off to the perceived triviality of political campaigns can — and will — be argued for the next six-plus months (and beyond).

What’s clear is that 2012 is a mountain campaign. Molehills are a thing of the past.

Mourdock won’t face pre-primary sanctions: Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s campaign likely violated state party rules with its use of party voter information, a state party spokeswoman said Thursday, but it won’t face sanctions before his primary with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

The state party executive committee voted unanimously not to act on an investigation into the use of the voter list until after the May 8 primary, for fear of prejudicing the election.

At issue is an e-mail sent by Mourdock campaign manager Jim Holden, which he encouraged campaign consultants to start “pillaging” the list when the campaign got access to it.

“We have a Salesforce login again. Can one of you guys login immediately and start pillaging email addresses like a Viking raider attacking a monastery full of unarmed monks?” Holden wrote.

Meanwhile, Lugar’s campaign is up with two web ads hitting Mourdock for “trust” issues.

Huntsman PAC’s payments questioned: The political action committee that laid the groundwork for Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign is caught in a developing campaign finance mixup.

BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith. reported Thursday afternoon that Horizon PAC made $200,000 in payments to a company that didn’t appear to exist.

Disclosure forms filed in Utah showed $205,000 paid to a “For Bahm Marketing LLC” and $20,000 paid to “Bahm Marketing LLC.” The owner of the latter company says he hasn’t seen any of the $205,000 and didn’t expect such payments.

Huntsman adviser John Weaver initially said the owner of Bahm Marketing LLC is mistaken and that he should have received the payments.

The PAC’s treasurer later told BuzzFeed, though, that the payments actually went to Weaver’s consulting firm, Network Companies LLC.

“I am satisfied that those funds were dispersed to the Network Companies, LLC,” PAC treasurer Tim Riester said. He said that funds were “not missing from Horizon PAC.”

The Utah election board is reportedly looking into the matter.

Fixbits:

Speaking of campaign finance mixups, a Federal Election Commission audit finds Obama’s campaign failed to disclose $2 million in contributions in 2008.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) says Romney’s family “came from a polygamy commune in Mexico.”

Mitt Romney stood in front of an Ohio gypsum plant that closed during George W. Bush’s administration while talking about Obama’s economic failures. Whoops.

Newt Gingrich’s still-technically-alive campaign is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per day for Secret Service protection.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) will soon have his own video game.

Romney will raise money for Chris Christie ally and New Jersey Senate candidate Joe Kyrillos.

Democratic super PAC American Bridge hits Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) for praising Fenway’s 100th anniversary after previously suggesting the park be moved.

The White House responds to criticism that it is mixing campaigning with official business trips.

Gloria Steinem scoffs at the Hillary Rosen controversy.

North Carolina congressional candidate Richard Hudson (R) goes all birther on us.

Texas governor Rick Perry endorses his lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, for Senate.

Must-reads:

Democrats expressing buyers’ remorse on Obama’s health law” — Julian Pecquet and Sam Baker, The Hill

Democrats Joining G.O.P. on Pipeline” — Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times

Sometimes It’s Safer Not to Be a Superstar” — Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune

 
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