Jim Tedisco

NY 20: A postmortem

I've been putting this off, but before I forget what happened, I thought I'd write the last word on the NY 20 special election.

I note I was not a participant in the race, but as my wife is from Rennselaer County I thought I had something useful to add to the proceedings.  And I was paying attention.

My main point is we'd better not draw the wrong lessons here or we will make the same mistakes.

There are two major misconceptions that we first ought to get out of our heads:

a. "We lost because we ran a weak candidate

Jim Tedisco was an experienced office holder, had lots of media exposure, and worked very hard. He was not an aging party warhorse who had previously lost elections or nominations; or some young rookie who didn;t seem up to the job. While I think Saratoga District Attorney Jim Murphy or State Senator Roy McDonald might have made stronger candidates, neither chose to run. We will do well to get equally qualified candidates in most of our 2010 open and challenger races

A quick note. Our candidate selection process here was the proverbial "smoke filled room". So was theirs. Our problem is the unsuccessful suitors (Fmr. Columbia County Assemblyman John Faso and North County State Senator Betty Little) thought they were equally worthy of being Gillibrand's heir apparent; while the Democrats had an unelected cast of thousands. So we had some dissention from the losing candidate's localities and they didn't. But had we picked Little or Faso, we might have run weakly in Saratoga.

b. "NY 20 is really now a Democrat district" 

Yes, NY 20 has drifted towards the Democrats in recent years; and so has most of the country.  It is still one of the five most Republican districts out of 29 in NY State and virtually every legislator in this region is a Republican. (McDonald won an open state senate seat in the heart of the district going away in 2008 against Gillibrand's top aide). Plus, demographically it is a middle class district populated by rural and suburban whites. Obama won the seat by only 3 points when McCain didn't contest NY State.

We are never getting back to 218 seats in the House unless districts like NY 20 vote reliably for Republicans again. This district is a clone of places like PA 10, MI 7, WI 8 and MN 1 we used to hold easily.

So what happened to make us lose? 

1. Fear and inertia on the GOP's part

I think had there been no early polling in this race Jim Tedisco won have won. An early public poll showed him up 50%-29%.  This indicated it was his race to lose. And he started off running that way.

Evidently private polling showed Obama and the stimulus package as very popular in this chronically economically challenged part of the country.  So the Tedisco brain trust decided that they had to avoid any confrontation to Obama at all. This proved to be a disasterous strategy.   Obviously the other side would press the case a vote for Scott Murphy was a vote for Obama.  Some rationale for not electing a rubber stamp needed to be presented. But it wasn't

2. Upstate NY did not love the smell of napalm in the morning

Instead of engaging Democrat Scott Murphy on substance, the decision was made to attack his record in private business.  Some relatively small tax liens were hammered to draw a parallel to Tim Geithner.  Some old writings at Harvard were pulled out to draw an anti-military picture.  The payment of bonuses at a money-losing firm he ran was also hammered.

While none of these were smears, the NRCC had left a bad taste in the mouth of the upstate NY media after the 2006 NY 24 fiasco, where two misdials were played into making Mike Arcuri a pornmonger. (NY 24 is an adjoining district)  The bill for that stupidity came due. The press therefore depicted Tedisco and the GOP in a bad light.   Murphy also responded that at least he was trying to create jobs in upstate NY. And that was the only issue that mattered.

I think a better line of attack would have been to have painted Murphy as a crony capitalist who profited from political connections in MO, and just interloped for poltical fortune.  But the bigger lesson here I draw---which I saw in 2006 with another Murphy in CT 5---is the traditional GOP tactic of massive negative TV ads early---just isn't working anymore.  At least not against younger candidates who act apolitical---or in white bread districts in the North. The negatives rise for the Republicans as fast as we raise them for the targeted opponent.

Late in the race the Tedisco ran death penalty and terrorism ads which failed, perhaps because we are years past 9/11 and the district isn't in metro NY. Once again, our playbook failed. 

There's something worth chewing over. Once again, our own candidate was forced to disavow what the NRCC was doing ostensibly on his behalf.  This is no longer an isolated occurrence. Maybe you'd best pay attention, ya think?

3. You can never win in the Waffle House

Tedisco and his handlers spent days not answering the question of whether he'd have voted for the Obama stimulus package. The district's leading paper. the Times Union. hammered him mercilessly on it.  In trying to avoid looking too much like a negative partisan Republican the GOP brain trust made Tedisco out as a politically manipulative cipher.

This was disasterous for two reasons. First, Jim Tedisco's "brand" was being the guy who stood up to Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.  They failed to use their candidate's positive qualities by trying to hide in the Waffle House. The campaign's paid ads, which were vague on specifics, probably made matters worse; since again, his attributes weren't used. The failure of Tedisco, Assembly Minority Leader, to tie Murphy to the increasingly unpopular and incompetent Democrat Governor, David Paterson, was another question out of Unsolved Mysteries .

Tedisco's negatives were that he was a career politician in a dysfunctional and disliked state legislature. This tactic only made Scott Murphy's case for him: that Jim Tedisco was just another self-serving, dissembling Albany hack unworthy of promotion.  So the Tedisco camp trapped themselves and found themselves validating the Murphy negative ad wave when it arrived. Indeed, it almost seemed like Murphy implied Tedisco was tied to Paterson. 

Worst still, Tedisco then finally came out against the stimulus bill. Then he got blasted as a partisan refusenik anyway.  The trifecta achieved. Anger liberals anyway, demobilize conservatives who perceive you as a RINO invertebrate; and make swing voters think you are a ambitious politician lacking candor.

Part of the downside here is Tedisco spent valuable time late in the race motivating national conservative bloggers which might have been spent more usefully doing appearances in the local media.  Your base needs to be locked down early.

4.  Late work and a late voice can't overcome early missteps

 About 10 days out the Siena poll showed the 21 point Tedisco lead had turned into a 4 point Murphy lead, with Tedisco's negative ratings surging. Then manna from heaven occurred. The AIG bonus flap erupted and the Obama stimulus bill and corporate bonuses didn;t look so good.

Tedisco finally found his voice--blasting Geithner and making clear he was the candidate who could effectively deal with Wall Street greed and the economic mess.  He pulled out an endorsement ad from the prominent local businessman Neil Golub. And he campaigned 24/7 up to the election. 

Some libertarian minded folks think Tedisco never should have been perceived as "anti-business" and that he would have won as a free market devotee.  I can't disagree more. We may raise lots of money from the Club for Growth, but they have few members in Saratoga and Rennselaer county. The GOP is now a blue collar rural party and Tedisco finally offered a message that resonated for the voters we needed.  Remember, Gillibrand had voted against TARP and her political instincts in this district were excellent.

On election night, the vote was a dead heat.  The Albany suburbs came in big for Tedisco.  He lost Murphy's home turf in the North Country and NYC expat area Columbia County. But what proved devastating for Tedisco was his failure to achieve any margin in the counties furthest from Albany....traditionally Republican Delaware and Otsego counties. But for the want of some ads and appearances on Binghamton and Utica TV....

Tedisco won the Battle of Saratoga. I did not expect him to lose the Battle of Oneonta.      

5. Losing ugly after the whistle

The GOP expected to win the election on AB's; after all it had sent out a lot more than the Democrats. But relatively few military ballots came back; they evidently weren't sent out quickly enough. And not all the Republican AB's voted for Tedisco, while the Democrats seemed to be in lockstep. Perhaps the "Waffle House" strategy backfired since the AB's were cast before Tedisco made his late surge against the stimulus.

The GOP tried to overcome this pre-election deficiency by aggressively challenging returned AB's; including that of Senator Gillibrand. This failed to work and just made the Republicans look like they were trying to rip things off after the polls closed.  Tedisco prudently stood down before matters got worse as he was down 400 with no real hope of making up the difference.

A last word. The NY GOP has tried to win races with ballot challenges, handpicking candidates and throwing third party candidates off the ballot.  (The Libertarian candidate was thrown off the ballot at the 11th hour and endorsed Murphy; this may have net Murphy more votes than having him left on the ballot)  They have not engaged much in the realm of ideas. They used each of these tricks in this race and failed---much as they failed in recent special elections for the State Senate. Will they finally learn from this public debacle? We better.

I do not include the folks who blog here in this critique. Tedisco's fundraising and e-campaigns were very well run and neither Patrick Ruffini nor Tom Lewis ought to be part of the recriminations. The problem is without a message tools are not very useful.  

6. My take

We will only win in 2010 and 2012 if we stand for a positive set of ideas and let our candidates exploit their natural talents.  If we think we can win by incinerating our opponent and mumbling and stumbling through the campaign we will be defeated yet again. 


NY20 campaign

As Jim Tedisco’s Finance Chairman I was in close proximity to some of the decisions that were made in the NY20 campaign. I’ve known Jim for well over a decade and was very pleased when he asked me to help him raise money for his campaign. I assumed, and was correct, that it would be relatively easy to get donors to give to his campaign since everyone who knew him assumed he would win. I certainly did. We raised over $1.5 million in eight weeks (more details on that in a later post). The Republican candidate in the 2008 race had only brought in $1.1 million in 16 months.

Here was a well-liked state legislator, who became the Minority Leader of the New York State Assembly. He earned some national attention in successfully challenging Governor Spitzer when he tried to float giving drivers licenses to illegal aliens, which had garnered him support as a strong leader. We all thought: how could he possibly lose to someone who hadn’t done a thing in the district and who had zero name recognition?

Because I consider him a friend, and have been friends with some members of his campaign staff, I don’t want to delve into who did what and point fingers. What I do want to write about, briefly, is my opinion of the two main reasons why he was defeated.

1) He should have come out against the Stimulus bill on day one. I had a few discussions with the campaign “leaders” to find out why he didn’t do this. The answer seemed to revolve around the polling that showed a 48-48 split. As the 20th CD has been trending more and more Democrat every year since Bush won in 2004, I understood their thinking. But personally, as a conservative, I wanted him to come out against it, and plainly say that the $787 billion wasn’t really a Stimulus bill, it was a big spending bill. WHICH IS WHAT IT IS.

2) He should have had his TV ads peppered with at least 50% positive ads. Jim had a great story to tell, as was shown by the overwhelming victory he had in Saratoga County (almost 1/3 of the district) where everyone knew him.   

Had he come out strongly against the Stimulus he would have been carrying the torch for most republicans and every conservative thinker in the country. It would have been the same message that propelled thousands of people to the Tea Parties. It would have defined him as the fighter that I have known him to be.

Once he took that middle road, taking no position, his opponent was able to define him as a “typical politician.”  Lesson learned: Sometimes you have to ignore the campaign professionals and act on principle.

It’s sad for many of us in the 20th district and sad for Jim who put his life into the race 100%.

I still believe that conservative ideas will win out in America, over time, because they are the best ideas to elevate the whole country.

(This item has been cross posted on RedState)

Inside Scoop on NY 20

I am beat.

I walked precincts all day for Jim Tedisco and when the polls closed I thought I could head to the party…but then things went awry. In the next 13 days political communications will play as important a role as the legal fight and I want you to know the facts.

  • The election is NOT over. There are still over 4,000 absentee ballots that have not been returned which totaled with the 6,000 already received would be almost 10,000 absentee ballots that have NOT been counted. These ballots will continue to be accepted until April. 13th. ANY premature counting of votes will, basically, be counting BEFORE the voting is over…and that is just wrong.
  • Jim Tedisco is currently trailing Scott Murphy by 59 votes according to machine tallies. NOTICE I did not say ballots. NY 20 uses old school level machines to vote so there is NO "ballot" to count. Votes are tabulated on the machine as people pull levers. Most of these machines are probably older than me.
  • The results you saw tonight were nothing more than the UNofficial notes of whichever random poll worker transcribed results from the machine to the form that they report to the Board of Elections. It is fair to say that these numbers are often riddled with mistakes as people mix up numbers and read the wrong tallies.

With memories of Washington State 2004 and Minnesota 2008 looming in my mind here are some things to consider.

  • Jim Tedisco will win the absentee vote.
  • The only way Scott Murphy can win is too challenge and disqualify absentee and military ballots that will, most likely, be votes for Jim Tedisco.
  • Scott Murphy is so anti-military he tried to stop Harvard from having a ROTC program on campus while he was a student there and prevent military personnel from teaching classes. Knowing that, it is hard to imagine military members voting for him.

It's 3:23 AM so forgive the horrible grammar and even worse sentence structure.

Chris Faulkner

P.S. Somehow I knew wearing my "Coleman Recount Team" polar fleece today was a bad idea…

Tedisco On The Way To Defeat? His Lead Has Disappeared

A while back I argued that it was a mistake for conservatives to make Jim Tedisco their standard bearer in the campaign against Obama and the Democrats. Tedisco is a a McCain-lite Republican who has done everything he can to not offend Obama. He even refused to state opposition to the massive Federal bailouts. Now a new Sienna College Poll shows that Tedisco has blown a substantial lead and is trailing his Democrat opponent. Tedisco's Obama friendly campaign has erased his 12 point lead and turned it into a four point deficit. Once again conservatives will stay home and Tedisco will probably end up a loser.

New York's 20 is a center right district that a conservative should win but Tedisco has run away from the conservative label and because some high profile conservatives have backed him his defeat will be seen as an endorsement of Oabma's agenda. Another setback for our comeback.

What Will the Future of Mobile Messaging Mean for the Future of Get-Out-the-Vote Operations?

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: Let's take time to think about how we can get ahead of the strategic curve in the long term while coming up with tactics to win in the short term.

Hat tip to Katie Harbath for tweeting this news item: "Three-Quarters of the World's Messages Sent By Mobile"

"According to TNS Global, 74% of the world’s digital messages were sent through a mobile device in January 2009, a 15% increase over the previous year.

"As for developed countries, the PC e-mail remains the most popular message method, but its use is waning.

"In Japan, 40 out of 100 e-mails sent are from a mobile device. In North America, 69% of those using e-mail on their mobile phone use it daily, high compared with 43% worldwide."

I've written previously about the Pew Internet & American Life Project's "Future of the Internet Report," which has two interesting observations: (1) the mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the internet for most people in the world in 2020, and (2) the divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased for everyone who is connected, and the results will be mixed in their impact on basic social relations. The National Taxpayers Union put things to practice recently, launching a text messaging advocacy service, a creative tool to enhance that organization's grassroots operations.

Rebuilding our party doesn't only mean taking an inventory of every tool that's available and seeing how those tools fit campaigns and party organizations today; it also means seeing what the trends might be 5, 10 or 20 years from now and creating tools that can put us ahead of the curve. I do not have the proper fusing of sufficient technical skills with amazing creativity that many programmers and coders do ... which is why Code Red has been launched.

So despite my relative technical ignorance, I think a few observations need to be made about how campaigns might be affected, and where can campaigns might go, with increased use of mobile messaging. Yes, all parts of the campaign will be affected from communications on down. But increased use of mobile devices by voters to get most of their information will have a special impact on GOTV operations:

  • Voter identification, persuasion and GOTV efforts will have to be more integrated. With personal and work time being merged as well as physical and virtual reality, campaigns and party organizations will have to embark on a long term, on-going voter identification efforts to see when and how often they receive messages and Internet content.
  • With social networking sites and programs going mobile, GOTV messages will have to balance simplicity with engaging material. GOTV messages won't only come in the form of SMS and MMS. These alerts will come via Facebook and Twitter as well, where more and more this social networking activity takes place on iPhones and BlackBerries. Sending simple information on polling locations as well as early and mail-in ballot voting will have to become more easily searchable on any mobile device. Voters will also want a quick and easy way to engage with the campaign or party organization if they want to: a mobile version of an "action center" will have to be developed.
  • As more and more messages are sent via mobile devices, the tools developed by campaigns and party organizations might need to expand horizontally to include different versions for different devices. The Obama app for the iPhone has somewhat started this thought. As the web will play a greater role in helping campaigns organically enhance their grassroots activism, those with different devices will need different versions of tools to suit their personal needs when receiving GOTV messages and spreading those messages to their neighbors, co-workers and family members.

Those are just some of my thoughts. I may be right. I may be way off base. How do you think campaigns will change with increased use of mobile devices?

In the meantime, RebuildTheParty.com reminds us all about the basics of GOTV ... Go Tedisco! 

Fred Thompson Unleashes PAC 2.0 to Send 20K to Tedisco

On Friday morning, Fred Thompson sent out an e-mail to his 2008 presidential list through his PAC telling people to go directly to donate to Jim Tedisco.

Our fundraising total for the now 80K for NY-20 campaign stood at around $28,000 when the e-mail went out. Since then, over $23,000 has come in, bringing the public total to over $51,000 at this writing. It's prudent to assume that about $20,000 of this came in through Fred's e-mail list.

This is a very smart use of a PAC's list that too few Republicans leadership PAC take up. Effectively, Thompson has maxed out x4 to Tedisco's campaign, not by circumventing the legal $5,000 limit on PAC contributions, but by directing his donors to give directly to Tedisco.

Every cycle, the Congressional committees lean on their members to write checks to the committees and targeted races. And PACs are pressed to write $5,000 checks. That's the Old Way. The New Way is to aggregate contributions over and above the $5,000 from your supporters, $25 or $50 at a time, thus amplifying your influence. To anyone whose responsible for generating more money from PAC and campaign committees, have you considered allowing these PACs to count indirect contributions from grassroots donors toward their goals -- a far more leveragable source of resources for battleground Republican campaigns?

If you ran in 2008, don't just send Tedisco a $5,000 check. Help him find 500 -- or 5,000 -- new donors from your campaign e-mail list. Fred has shown the way here. Who will follow?

Disclosure: My company designed the Tedisco fundraising widget and is helping the campaign with online fundraising.

Join the 20K for NY-20 Drive

On March 31st, there will be a special election in New York's 20th Congressional District replacing Sen. Kristen Gillibrand. Recent polling has shown Republican Jim Tedisco with a great shot to take back the seat, building on our surprise win in LA-2 and recent momentum in Virginia.

There is no more important test of this new momentum than victory in NY-20 in less than 20 days. This is why I'm proud to have helped set up 20K for NY-20 -- a fundraising campaign to raise $20,000 to fuel GOTV efforts in the final days.

Hundreds of people have already banded together online, giving $20 or more towards the fight in NY-20. Now we need to kick it up a notch.

If you give $20, $40, $200 or whatever you can afford -- you'll see the bottle fill up in real time. If you give $10 or more, you'll also see your name recognized on the scroll -- if you choose to share it.

This is the best chance we've had to take back a seat in a blue state in a long, long time. Jim's opponent is millionaire investor Scott Murphy, who can self-fund and doesn't need the support of the online community like Jim does.

Help Jim Tedisco today. Let's win NY-20 and kickstart the comeback.

Disclaimer: My company built the fundraising widget you see above. Embed code for your sites and blogs below the fold. Please contact me if you have a good online following and would like a personalized URL to track your fundraising efforts.

NY 20: Game officially on

The Albany Times Union reports Governor Paterson is expected to set March 31 as the special election date for NY 20.

Let's hope the joke isn;t on us the next day in the national press.

Our First Win: Jim Tedisco

Jim Tedisco in NY-20 is poised to win. He currently leads in polling and has a record of representing views contrary to that of big government.

I’m confident that our heavy hitters that have lined up in support of Tedisco, which include RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Guilliani, and Mitt Romney, will beat our opponent who happens to be a tax-cheating Venture Capitalist. His lineup includes the DCCC (1) (2), the Huffington Post, and Governor Paterson.

Like most Republicans, I want to hear about a candidate’s values, but I’m equally concerned with their ability to win. It is because of Tedisco’s ability as a candidate and the demographics of the 20th District that I have donated some of my time each week to assist the direction of New Media strategy for the campaign.

I know… they need improvements.

Today, in the spirit of the Party of Lincoln and just two days before his bicentennial, we launch an effort called: $20 for NY-20.

Equipping the grassroots with our case that will lead to victory and an energized rightroots, I believe we can surpass the 352 small donors who have contributed to our opponent through ActBlue. (accessed 2/10/09 12:06am)

Furthermore, this is the first win we’ll be able to take credit for in the 2010 cycle, sorry Saxby. This effort includes every aspect of the grassroots. Chairman Steele has officially brought in the RNC and asked State Parties to contribute $5,000 to this battle. College Republicans and online efforts like Rebuild the Party will organize, in an effort to turn online grunts into offline volunteers inside of the District. Bloggers will turn into activists and ask their readers to participate in a push to crowdsource this campaign.

This will be a New Media victory and one that can be taken to our Republican candidates across the country as a case study. We all have a stake in this.

Join in my friends and invest in this win.


Tedisco $20 for NY-20


Battle of Saratoga: Democrats fire peashooter at GOP candidate

The Democrats have lanuched their first attack at the Republican candidate in NY 20. Evidently Assemblyman Jim Tedisco charged the state for fueling his official state car.

The total of this extravagance: $21,000 over eight years. About $50/week.  

Now, I might think this was a somewhat relevant issue, except that the House Speaker  sought the use of an airplane for official transportation which costs each hour as much as Tedisco billed the state over eight years

Maybe the Democrats ought to drop this line of attack while they're behind.

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