“What was your name again?” the woman on the other end of the phone asked me.
“My name is Tom Thurlow. I am a columnist writing about the Iowa Senate race, and I would like to talk with Ms. Ernst or someone involved in her campaign.”
“And you said your prior work can be found … where?”
“At my website, Napa Whine Country, dot com. ‘Whine’ with an ‘h’.”
“OK, thanks, Napa Whine Country, with an ‘h.’ I will pass along your message.”
This is the routine I went through with the Joni Ernst For Senate Campaign several times during the months and weeks that preceded the 2014 midterm elections. I never got a return phone call.
And I was already sold on Joni Ernst!
I was trying to write a column on the Iowa Senate race, with some comments from Ms. Ernst or her campaign staff, and my column had just about already written itself. For a writer like me, who tries to include as much humor as possible, this Senate race was a gold-mine of humor, starting with the introduction of the two candidates. In the Republican primary for Senate, Joni Ernst introduced herself as someone who had experience in castrating pigs, so therefore she would be quite comfortable in “trimming the pork in Washington.”
“Let’s make them squeal” became her campaign slogan. Her TV commercials usually ended with a close-up of a pig, looking surprised, or the audio of a squealing sound. The viewer knew the pig was about to be castrated. There were no actual pig castrations, but the point was made.
What a great metaphor for today’s Washington! Families are working so hard, barely making ends meet, paying their taxes, only to have the money blown in any number of ways. Just one example, off the top of my head: over the last few years the State Department managed to lose $6 billion! Just … lost! How exactly do you lose $6 billion? And yet, the Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Clinton, is a front-runner for president in 2016!
Yes, castration of the pigs in Washington struck a chord with the voters. It was a great and funny introduction of Ms. Ernst to the race.
Meanwhile, Ernst’s opponent, Democrat Congressman Bruce Braley, introduced himself to the voters by a grainy, cell-phone video taken of him at a fund-raiser at a group of lawyers outside Iowa, where he talked ominously about the danger of a “farmer from Iowa who had never gone to law school” becoming the next Senate Judiciary Committee chairman if the Republicans took over the Senate. Think of it: a mere farmer from Iowa, who never even went to law school, chairman of the Judiciary Committee! Horrors! If the audio of that speech was any better, you could have heard a shudder go through the room.
One minor problem: Braley was an Iowan, hoping to be elected to the Senate by, uh, farmers from Iowa. Not a good start to his campaign. But funny.
As the weeks progressed there were a number of other humorous twists to the Iowa U.S. Senate campaign. At one point Braley had neighbors whose chickens got loose and trespassed onto Braley’s property. As would any self-respecting lawyer, Braley mailed his neighbors a sternly-worded letter in which he threatened to sue. Definitely not behavior one would expect from an Iowan.
CNN described the incident as “crying foul,” and an outside conservative group accused Braley as being part of the “War On Chicks,” which is a pretty humorous departure from the usual “War On Women” accusation of Republican candidates. The controversy also enabled some Ernst supporters to follow Braley around at the Iowa State Fair in a chicken costume, which was a great way to highlight some definite un-Iowan behavior from a candidate running for office in Iowa.
At one point in the campaign there were some newsworthy comments made, and Ernst simply was not available, as she – get this — was serving her required 2-week stint in the Iowa Army National Guard Reserves. Even better than a quote!
As the campaign came to a close, the Braley campaign recruited big-hitters in the Democrat party to come to Iowa and campaign. The problem was that these campaigners, like Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, could not even remember Braley’s real name!
There might have been other humor missteps by the Braley campaign, but by the end of the campaign, even liberal news outlets started to call the Braley campaign a disaster. It was almost funny to watch. People began to pay attention to the Braley campaign just to watch for its next misstep. Kind of like watching a Joe Biden speech.
I was probably not the only blogger watching this campaign, itching to write a humor-filled piece on it. But there was zero coordination between bloggers and the Ernst campaign, at least from my corner of the blogosphere.
Contrast this with the 2012 Ted Cruz U.S. Senate campaign. Now that was a great campaign! Cruz fed us conservatives in the base so much red meat that I am surprised none of us came down with gout! Not only in the positions Cruz took on the campaign issues, but also in the Cruz campaign’s cultivation of the blogger community.
Cruz’ campaign set up a group of bloggers that was constantly communicated with and cultivated. “Bloggers For Cruz” badges were disseminated for bloggers to post on their websites, and I proudly posted one at Napa Whine Country.
Barely three days after I signed up as blogger/supporter at the Cruz campaign, I was invited to participate in a telephone press conference with the campaign manager. I remember barely having educated myself on the issues in the Cruz campaign when I was called upon to ask a question.
Which was nice. But it also served a great campaign function. Sometimes a blogger will write a full-size column on a candidate that will be published by pretty important online publication. In my case, a column I wrote praising Cruz was published by American Thinker. And I claim full credit in getting Ted Cruz elected to the Senate with my article praising him.
But more importantly, my column showed the importance of coordination with bloggers. In my column I explored the details of the campaign contributions of Ted Cruz and his opponent. Despite the claims of each candidate to support a repeal of Obamacare, the campaign contributions of each candidate, posted on the FEC website, showed nearly opposite funding situations. Cruz’ opponent was getting money from hospitals and medical companies, while almost all the money that went to the Cruz campaign was from individuals, in small amounts.
I exposed all this in my American Thinker column. None of the other columns I had read on Ted Cruz had this information. Sure, it took some extra time and work going through the FEC filings of both candidates, but I felt so included by the Cruz campaign and was happy to do the extra research. My e-mail exchange with Ted Cruz himself highlighted the column.
Fortunately, both Ted Cruz and Joni Ernst won their campaigns for Senate, despite their opposite approaches to the blogger community. But lessons can still be learned from the mistakes of a winning campaign, like the Ernst campaign. Republican campaigns need to embrace bloggers and include them in as much of their campaigns as possible. Bloggers should not be relegated to leaving phone messages that never get returned.
My mostly-written column on the Iowa Senate race sat in my computer hard drive, collecting virtual dust, and was never submitted anywhere. But I guess the Ernst campaign was not a total loss for me. I still have my Ernst “Let’s Make Them Squeal” t-shirt, which I wear with pride. My friends here in Napa don’t understand the shirt and its reference to “squealing.” They think squealing might be a new way to ferment wine or something.