Introducing Campaign XP: The Beta Version

Every now and then I hear someone proclaimed a “campaign expert” and I want to laugh. The one thing about presidential election campaigns is that every four years, we practically re-invent the whole process. Some things remain consistent, but it seems that every time we choose who’s going to be president, there’s some new wrinkle, some new factor, some new element that proves to be highly important — if not essential — to winning.

For this one and the last, if I were to have to point to one single aspect that was key, I’d have to say the internet. In 2004, it was for fund-raising and rallying activists. In 2008, it could be the grass-roots aspect — the power of independent individuals, completely separated from any official campaigns, shaping voters’ opinions through such tools as blogs, YouTube videos, and the like — that might be the one part that decides who will take the Oval Office in January, 2009.

Or not. It’s still too soon to say.

But one new aspect of this presidential campaign is the ready access to the kinds of information that used to take journalists serious effort to uncover, and then the resources of a major media outlet to distribute. Case in point: this site.

Now, I haven’t looked at any of the documents myself, and probably won’t. I’ll leave that up to others to poke through them and see if there’s anything exceptionally revealing. That’s the beauty of the internet; no matter how smart or how educated or how insightful you are, you can’t be an expert on everything — and true experts will cheerfully wade in to stuff that falls under their area of expertise and do the dirty work. I find such “document dumps” boring beyond belief, and I don’t think anyone could pay me enough to go poring over that stuff.

One thing I do know a little about, and find interesting, is the political context of Romney’s governorship of Massachusetts — enough to find a great deal of amusement from the “About Us” section.

The truth about Massachusetts Mitt and Red State Romney

Having endured four years of Governor Romney’s failed leadership, the Massachusetts Democratic Party is uniquely aware of the real Mitt Romney. Time and time again, Romney has demonstrated a willingness to say anything and everything to get elected, and this site seeks to highlight and expose each and every one of those instances, as well as provide other useful tools and resources about our former governor.

The full story of the Romney adminstration starts in 1988. For years and years, the Massachusetts Democrats had ridden high, holding pretty much every single office of power. That came to a crashing halt when the highly-popular governor, Michael Dukakis, set his sights on the Oval Office — and his defeat at the hands of George H. W. Bush was so crushing, he left a blight on the Democrats that gave the Republicans real hope.

In 1990, when Dukakis was leaving office, two populist, boisterous candidates faced off: federal prosecutor Bill Weld, the redheaded Brahmin-bred (but with a common touch) was the Republican candidate, while tempestuous John Silber, the one-armed and outspoken president of Boston University, fought back and forth until Silber lost his temper with a very popular Boston TV anchor. The sight of him shouting down Natalie Jacobson pretty much sunk his campaign, and Weld coasted to victory.

Weld was very popular, and reversed a long trend towards higher taxes and tighter government control. He was re-elected in 1994, but then grew bored with the job. When Bill Clinton offered to make him Ambassador to Mexico, he jumped at it. The fight was quite contentious, and he even resigned the governorship to focus his energies on that fight — but to no avail. He ended up moving to New York and going into private enterprise.

Weld was succeeded by his Lieutenant Governor, Paul Cellucci. The Democrats liked Cellucci; he’d been a legislator, and was ready and willing to do business with them. He was elected on his own in 1998. But he, too, fell sway to the idea of becoming and ambassador, and ended resigning as well. He was more successful, winning confirmation as Ambassador to Canada, leaving his Lieutenant Governor, Jane Swift, to take the Corner Office.

Swift, to be blunt, was a disaster. An inept administrator, she was continually bullied, outmaneuvered, and outwitted by the Democrats who controlled every other aspect of the state government. So in 2002, the Democrats were ready to re-claim the governorship, seeing Swift as a weak candidate. And they looked to be right.

And then Mitt Romney showed up. He also saw Swift’s weakness as an opportunity. He quietly set up his political apparatus, tested the waters, and found them inviting. He announced his candidacy for governor — and Swift, seeing the writing on the wall, announced that she would not seek a second, full term (she had never been elected on her own).

(Historical Note: The one accomplishment of Swift’s administration is how she was the first sitting governor to take maternity leave, when she gave birth to twin girls in May of 2001.)

It is also worth noting that at no point did Romney have much of a foothold in the legislature. When he first took office, the Democrats held the majority of both houses. Romney’s one strength was that the Republicans held enough seats in the Senate to sustain any vetoes he cast. He lost even that in the 2004 elections, when the Democrats picked up seats in both houses, pushing their lock on power to and astonishing 85% in each House. That meant that any time they wanted to override Romney’s veto, one in five Democratic lawmakers could stay home and they’d STILL have the votes to do so.

So when 2006 rolled around, Romney saw that he’d probably achieved all he was going to as governor. If he ran again, he’d have to pledge to not seek any higher office (which three of the last four governors had done), and he’d have to sit out the 2008 presidential campaign. And if a Republican won it, he’d most likely be shut out until 2016.

Now, this election is very unusual. It’s the first time since 1952 that a president or vice-president (either sitting or former) hasn’t been on the ticket. It’s wide open. It’s likely the best chance Romney has to achieve what his father, George Romney, never could achieve, and be elected president.

With all that in mind, Romney made his choice. He decided to not run for a second term — and the rest is pretty much common knowledge.

So, when I read things like “(h)aving endured four years of Governor Romney’s failed leadership, the Massachusetts Democratic Party is uniquely aware of the real Mitt Romney,” I have to laugh. The truth of the matter is that Romney beat the crap out of them in 2002 when he “stole” the governorship from them, got a few successes, and most notably kept them from running roughshod over the people of Massachusetts — much like they are doing now.

Just keep that in mind when you go poking through the documents they’ve assembled.

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