A lot of pundits were all but writing obituaries for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as polls in his home state of Nevada consistently showed him trailing badly behind nearly any Republican opponent, but things started to turn around a couple months ago, with the embattled Senator slowly clawing his way back into a dead heat.
What changed? Well of course, Republican frontrunner Sue “Chickengate” Lowden very publicly self-destructed in a series of ethical and intellectual fiascos. But one’s opponent’s mistakes aren’t on their own enough to assure an advantage.
No, one has to be in a position to aggressively capitalize on such mistakes… frame them effectively, disseminate the message broadly and draw a contrast that resonates with voters. And it is at least interesting to note that Sen. Reid’s rebound in the polls coincides almost exactly with his campaign bringing on the pugnacious Kelly Steele as communications director.
I got to know Steele in 2006 when he led the charge against Mike McGavick on behalf of the Washington State Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign, and later when he served as spokesman for the state Dems during Gov. Chris Gregoire’s bitter rematch with real estate speculator Dino Rossi. I know some journalists and editorialists scoffed at his relentless attacks and sometimes borderline over-the-top rhetoric, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Electoral politics is a brutal, adversarial process, and Steele approaches his task brutally.
And often, with a pretty damn fine sense of humor.
I don’t know how much of the message in Nevada’s Senate race these past few months is due to Steele, but it sure is suggestive of his handiwork, and if Reid completes his political resurrection, it wouldn’t be unfair to canonize Steele in the process. Back here in the Pacific Northwest (Steele had already made a name for himself in OR before coming to WA), a lot of folks already considered Steele a rising star, but if Sen. Reid wins reelection I’d expect his career to go supernova.
I just hope he remembers us little people.
I forwarded the post to Steele, and… well… he wasn’t pleased. “We have a huge and talented team of professionals,” he replied, “and it’s unfair to call out any one member.”
And I don’t think Steele was just being modest. He actually asked me to pull the post, which as a matter of principle, I just can’t do… and which in itself I guess, somewhat refutes my portrayal of him as a master of the message. (I mean, if he can’t even get a lowly local blogger to pull a post, how good can he be?)