The best campaign of 2013

December 9, 2013

At the end of every  year, we like to look back at the best (and worst) of politics and deliver a few awards. We'll roll out one award each day this week starting today with the best campaign of 2013.


This is not the trophy our winners get. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

NOMINEES FOR BEST CAMPAIGN

*Chris Christie

* Bill de Blasio

* Mark Herring

* Terry McAuliffe

* Marty Walsh

And the winner is.....Terry McAuliffe. 

When we heard a few years back that McAuliffe was planning to run for governor in Virginia again in 2013, we were decidedly skeptical.

McAuliffe's 2009 campaign, after all, was pure Terry -- and not in a good way. McAuliffe had become legend in D.C. political circles over the past few decades for his remarkably outsized personality and his ties to the Clinton clan.  The '09 campaign was all about Terry. There was no real message beyond his personality. And Democratic primary voters didn't buy it.  He finished a distant second behind state Sen. Creigh Deeds.

In the run-up to McAuliffe's 2013 campaign, his advisers insisted that he had learned the lessons of his failed campaign and would be a far more disciplined candidate this time around.  Zebras don't change their stripes, we thought.

Then McAuliffe proved us wrong.

He did three things very  well.

1. He raised money. Lots of it. As a former national Democratic party chairman and chief cash collector for the Clintons, McAuliffe has always been good at bringing in cash. But, rather than rely on his reputation in fundraising circles, McAuliffe went out and did the hard work to give himself a major edge over state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. McAuliffe wound up raising in excess of $35 million for the race, almost double what Cuccinelli collected. And McAuliffe smartly used that cash edge to overwhelm Cuccinelli on TV in the final weeks of the race. Check out this chart from Kantar Media/CMAG detailing how many ads each of the candidates ran each week of the race.


In the crucial last three weeks of the race, McAuliffe was running twice as many ads as Cuccinelli.  It's tough to win when you are on the business end of that equation.

2. He stayed on message. The all-over-the-place McAuliffe of 2009 was nowhere to be found in 2013. McAuliffe's positive message was simple: I can create jobs. So was his negative message: Cuccinelli is an ideological warrior who cares more about winning fights than getting things done for the people of the Commonwealth. McAuliffe said those two things -- in speeches, in debates, in interviews and in ads -- and almost nothing else. On the positive message side, McAuliffe successfully co-opted the "Bob's for Jobs" sentiment used so successfully by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell four years earlier. On the negative side, McAuliffe got lots of help from Cuccinelli -- why appear with Ted Cruz in the final month of a campaign in a swing state? -- and benefited from the fact that the federal government shutdown blotted out all other issues for a critical two-week period in October. McAuliffe  also avoided the potential of returning to the "old Terry" by dodging the national media -- the Fix included -- for much of the race. While that's no  fun for political reporters, winning is the ultimate objective and McAuliffe's message discipline -- perhaps more than any other factor -- is why he will be the next governor of the Commonwealth.

3. He used technology to re-create the Obama coalition among minorities and young people. As GovBeat's Reid Wilson has documented, the McAuliffe campaign invested heavily (and early) in efforts to turn out drop-off female voters as well as those in the black community and those aged 18-29."Our drop-off universe was disproportionately young, disproportionately minority, very heavily disproportionately female. But particularly young people, and particularly younger women, the way you get them is over the Internet," McAuliffe campaign manager Robby Mook told Reid. That heavy digital investment paid off. Female voters comprised more than half the electorate and McAuliffe won them by nine points.  Young people went from 10 percent of the electorate in 2009 to 13 percent in 2013 and they swung 15 points in Democrats' favor. African Americans made up one in every five voters in 2013 (they comprised 16 percent of the electorate in 2009) and McAuliffe won them with 90 percent of the vote. Learning the right technological lessons from Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaign in Virginia and then investing heavily to make them work for McAuliffe was a major gamble that paid off.

There is more to Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial candidate than just politics—here are five little known facts about Terry McAuliffe. Reporting contributed by The Washington Post's Paul Schwartzman. (The Washington Post)

TOMORROW: The worst campaign of 2013

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · December 9, 2013