Three Strikes and You're Out

Cross-posted on Politico's The Arena

The Democrats’ loss in Tuesday’s special election for U.S. senator in the dark blue state of Massachusetts, after losses in Virginia and New Jersey last year, should finally make it clear to all but the party’s most out-of-touch campaign strategists that the only route to victory is to follow the path President Barack Obama took to win in 2008 and quit trying to recreate the politics of the Clinton era. All four Ms — messenger, message, media and money — of the party’s campaign plans must change if it is to win in 2010.

Martha Coakley was the kind of messenger that Democrats used to look for in the 1990s — tough on crime, connected to the party establishment, and with elective experience to command respect. But that formula didn’t work for Hillary Clinton in 2008 and it didn’t work so well this time either. Her background prevented her from running as an anti-establishment candidate and her disconnect from the average voter in Massachusetts can be summed up in one name — Curt Schilling. Future Democratic messengers, like Obama in 2008, will have to have demonstrated their ability to lead change in their community and not take any vote for granted.

That is the only way they will be able to deliver Obama’s message of change and transformation with any credibility. Instead of defending programs or arguing policy, Democrats will need a message that captures the anger and frustration of the electorate and channels that passion into job creation and reform of the existing economic power structure.

Coakley, just like the Democratic gubernatorial candidates who lost last year, also let the technological superiority of Obama’s 2008 campaign flip over to the Republican side. Unlike Democratic campaign strategists still wrapped up in old media tactics and television, the Republicans studied what Obama did to bring the power of online campaigning into the center of a campaign’s strategy, and won the “Internet/Twitter” wars hands down. The TV ads that Coakley did run were off-target, featuring older white voters rather than the young Millennials, African-Americans, and Latinos who were so crucial to Barack Obama’s winning coalition in 2008. Meanwhile Brown put his Millennial daughters front and center in his media.

All of these advantages led to Brown’s ability to raise money at a million dollars a day pace in the final days of the campaign. Obama, indeed Howard Dean before him, showed how to use the Net to raise lots of money from lots of people but only Republicans seem to have learned the lesson.

Perhaps the Democrats should bring David Plouffe back and have him conduct some “re-education camps” for Democratic strategists where they can learn the new four Ms of politics and erase their old ways of doing business from their minds for good.