Why Kendrick Meek Lost

I’m guessing this will be my last post about Kendrick Meek and the Meek campaign, since I’ll say the last things I have to say about it and move forward to other topics. But I’m going to address the things that I saw that went wrong in the race and I’m going to reject some of the things that other people have commonly said about the campaign that are just plain wrong.

So, why did Meek lose?

1. Charlie Crist: If Crist isn’t in the race, Meek has a legitimate shot at winning. He still might not have won, but if even one of the other things on the list isn’t a problem, I think Meek is a senator right now. But Crist was in the race and people knew he would be early on and it greatly diminished Meek’s support in terms of votes and in terms of financial support.

2. Marco Rubio: Rubio ran a very good campaign. If his campaign had sucked, he wouldn’t be a senator now. It didn’t, though, and he was able to capitalize on the split of the electorate amongst Meek and Crist.

3. Jeff Greene: Greene not only distracted Meek & co. from Crist/Rubio, he sucked up a huge percentage of Meek’s resources.

4. Money: If Meek had more money, he certainly would’ve beaten Crist. After the primary, he gained pretty significantly in the polls by spending a lot of money on TV. Then the money ran out and he sank back down to the teens. If Meek had more money earlier, he might’ve scared Crist away from running NPA.

5. Maurice Ferre: Just kidding.

5. Consultants and advisers: I was in on enough of these conversations to tell you that Meek was given some really bad advice about the direction he should go in and the message he should put forth. Later in the campaign, Meek embraced his progressive record and his progressive nature. He should’ve done that from the beginning. It would’ve gotten supporters fired up. The way he did it, embracing it late in the campaign, it made many progressives question his sincerity. People who question your sincerity aren’t going to fight for you.

6. Messaging: Some will claim that Meek didn’t have a message. That’s nonsense. Meek clearly had a message, it was that he was the Real Democrat and that Jeff Greene, and then Charlie Crist were not. You knew that was the message, regardless of what you thought of it. Quickly, tell me the message of any other Democratic campaign in the state. I’ll wait. I can’t think of one either. The Meek campaign chose a message and did a great job of delivering it. And it was a very good message. For the primary. It clearly wasn’t the right message for the general election and it really took them a long time to get a message. If they had a strong message in 2009, it might’ve discouraged Jeff Greene or Charlie Crist from getting in the race and inspired activists and donors to support the campaign early on. That could’ve made a huge difference.

7. Kendrick Meek: By nature, Meek is a pretty cautious guy, which means he makes few mistakes. It also means that he rarely inspires people to fight hard on his behalf, particularly activists and local party members. He personally doesn’t back down from too many fights, but some of those fights that he had been in cost him an endorsement here or there. A number of his personal issue stances really hurt him amongst certain groups as well.

8. The Campaign for Accountability: I can’t find much to recommend the GOTV efforts of the FDP’s coordinated campaign. Florida Democrats lost because Democratic voters didn’t show up. That was the coordinated’s main job and it doesn’t look like they did very well at it. After the primary, the Meek campaign turned most of the GOTV efforts over to the coordinated and it looks like it hurt.

9. Activists and bloggers: Way too many activists delayed their support for Meek until late in the campaign, either because they didn’t think Meek was progressive enough, or they didn’t think he could win, or they didn’t think he had pandered to them enough, or they didn’t think whatever. Activists can’t wait until the last few months of the election to determine what they are going to do. They have to pick a side early on and fight for that side, otherwise all sides will lose. If they were going to support Crist, they should’ve done it in January, not October. If they were going to support Meek, they should’ve done it in January, not October. Bloggers have to do the same thing. They have to decide what their goals are, what their agenda is. Do they want to help the progressive Democratic candidate win or do they just want to snipe about what the candidate is doing wrong. They can’t do both because the two are mutually exclusive. Early in the campaign, constructive criticism can inspire the candidate and campaign to correct course. Later in the campaign it’s too late. Besides, campaigns and candidates will never listen to the advice of people that only insult them and criticize them without doing anything positive to help the campaign. If you want a campaign to listen to you, you have to give them a reason to listen, you just can’t expect them to recognize your extensive wisdom when they don’t already know you.

One thing I didn’t put on that list, you might note, is the campaign itself. In the entire Democratic spectrum of campaigns in Florida, there were few campaigns that in the day-to-day operations and basic and intermediate tasks of campaigning that did a better job. While the campaign finished third in the senate race in fundraising, it finished second among Florida Democrats in any race, only to Alex Sink, and it finished amongst the top Democratic campaigns in the country in terms of fundraising. All that while being in a race that nobody thought they could win and had strong alternate places for people to donate money to (such as Sink or Charlie Crist). They also had a top-notch political team that, to my knowledge compiled the biggest list of endorsements of any non-presidential campaign in Florida history. The field team, which was in place through the primary, managed to pull off the best candidate petition drive in state history, managed to do a great job of GOTV for the primary and probably accounted for most of the Meek vote in the general election, despite not existing after the primary. The press team had the most comprehensive outreach and press release of any Democratic campaign in the state and probably beyond. The overall team managed to beat Jeff Greene, who outspent them something like 8-1 during their time on the campaign, an impressive feat by any standard, much less by the 26-point margin standard they won by.

I’m going to give a shout out to some people on the staff who were below the senior staff level that really did great work that otherwise would be unlikely to get much press for the endless amount of hard work they did for the campaign. The upper level staff got paid well, they don’t need the recognition as much and they’ll all easily find jobs elsewhere, but the following people really were the backbone of the campaign, in my opinion:

-Joy Haslacker: One of the original campaign team members and one of the best political operatives I’ve ever met. Also a good personal friend.
-Conor Hurley: He came on the campaign right after I did and quickly became one of the most valuable, if underappreciated, members of the team. He mastered the field program, did much of the early graphic and web design for the campaign and then did an even better job as part of the political team.
-Chris Harris & Alicia Pardo: Two of the key members of the fundraising team who were on staff long before me and long after me and were directly responsible not only for raising the money to pay my paycheck, but also to keep the whole campaign going. On top of that, they were two of the nicest people on the campaign.
-Paul Bell: He came on late in my time on the campaign, but he quickly was thrust into taking on multiple important roles in the campaign, including taking over my new media duties after I left the campaign. He did them all well and performed very well despite being the person stuck with doing every job that nobody else could/would do.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t other people who did hard work on the campaign, but these are the people that stood out the most to me. Some other people may have contributed just as much, I just didn’t see it as much because of not interacting with them as much or the fact that I was in a different office. I will say that, as a team, the whole group was the best campaign in the state when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts running of a campaign and they certainly didn’t contribute to the candidate’s loss, in fact, they made sure that the loss wasn’t bigger.

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8 thoughts on “Why Kendrick Meek Lost

  1. I haven’t really been involved this election cycle since I’ve gone back to school, but I felt Trish was right on point and wanted to comment.

    Maybe I’m just not seeing it, but there has to be a point where we realize that the strategy in Florida is not working and we should try to come up with something different.

    Now, I know this was a rough election for democrats everywhere, but even when things were in our favor I don’t believe we made significant gains in the state house and state senate.

  2. until the democratic party (DEC’s) focuses on and grows precinct officers which will result in a base of workers available to get out an effective message. Stated crudely the candidates bring in the “brain’s”, the DEC’s provide the worker ants and their coordination.

    until that happens democrats will be be consistently struggling and losing – regardless of the number of exceptional and disaparate grouping that occur across this state.

  3. Your point on the dearth of a message among Dems extends from DC to the local level. “I’m not them,” has never worked for Dems. Yet anyone who voted can rattle off the key agenda of the Tea Party, like it or not. Repubs always have an easier time with message – it’s always simplistic and thin. When faced with a strong message from the other side, Dems put their tails between their legs and try to be appealing on the same message line. It spells doom every time. But crafting a cogent message that taps the same emotions (anger, fear, weakness, vulnerability, alienation) with a competing vision is an art that Dems must perfect. “Change We Can Believe In” worked in 2008. In 2012, it can’t be, “We Really Like Tea, Too!”

  4. Trish,

    I completely understand why you weren’t inspired by the message and I know he didn’t have a message at all before Jeff Greene got in the race, but I know you know that his message after that was that he was “The Real Dem.” It wasn’t vague and they hammered it home so well that I’ll wager it’s the only Democratic slogan that anyone in Florida remembers from 2010 and I’ll wager you’ll remember it for many years to come. The delivery of that message was done well, but it wasn’t a message aimed at activists/bloggers, it was a message aimed at rank-and-file Democrats. Like I said, it worked in the primary, failed in the general.

    He raised about one-third of the money he raised before Bill Clinton lifted a single finger for him. Besides, the huge bulk of Meek’s donations were small donations, not Clinton-inspired, that were raised by the finance team through constant work and the online fundraising team. Not even $1 million of the campaigns funds are even attributable to Clinton in any way. Meek raised the least money in the last quarter, after Clinton really turned it on for Meek.

    I understand why people delayed in choosing Meek or Crist, my point was that, as logical as that delay was, it doomed both candidates to having no chance at winning.

    Meek shouldn’t have dropped out, he was put on the ballot by the voters, once with petitions and a second time via primary. Nobody put Crist on the ballot except Crist’s checkbook. If anyone should’ve dropped out, it should’ve been Crist. If he wanted to be the Democratic nominee, he should’ve switched parties and run against Meek. If he had, he probably would be Senator Crist right now.

    I don’t believe there will ever be a President Rubio, but if there is, you have to lay that blame at Crist, not Meek. If Crist didn’t jump to NPA, things would’ve been drastically different in this election.

    I’ll be writing a lot more about what we should be doing moving forward, so keep your eyes out for that.

  5. Mark, I agree, the current strategy is not working and I think most activists are realizing that and are looking to do something about it.

    James, the DECs are a huge part of the problem.

    Ray, we, as Democrats, almost never even try to craft a message, not as campaigns, nor as a party. That has to change.

  6. We actually aren’t disagreeing. I didn’t say that the Real Dem message was a rallying cry, just that it was Meek’s message. I didn’t say that it was a good message. From my original post:

    “It clearly wasn’t the right message for the general election and it really took them a long time to get a message. If they had a strong message in 2009, it might’ve discouraged Jeff Greene or Charlie Crist from getting in the race and inspired activists and donors to support the campaign early on. That could’ve made a huge difference.”

  7. It is interesting that you talk about the GOTV effort during the primary, and then the lack of one during the general. I think there are two major problems.

    First, with Crist in there, I think voter identification might have been tougher than usually. I honestly wonder how many people we called on Election Day to vote who ended up voting for Crist. That is just a big unknown.

    Second, it seems like whenever a candidate wins a primary, they expect the Party to pick it up from there and work on GOTV and other campaign stuff. When they learn, to their surprise, that the FDP is either not going to or is very bad at doing it, then they are left holding the bag.

    But overall, I just think Meek was a bad candidate and relied on a very poor effort by the local and state parties. Unfortunately, we are starting to have slim pickings for statewide candidates.