Speaking on his loss last night, former State Representative Stace Nelson seemed to be crediting his loss with not entering the race sooner. From the Associated Press:
Nelson says he’s proud that he ran on his conservative record, and his only regret is that he should have entered the race sooner.
He says he now plans to spend more time with his grandchildren.
If Nelson is blaming his loss on the date at which he entered the contest, that would be a grave miscalculation on his part. Just ask Congresswoman Kristi Noem. She didn’t get into her race for Congress until February 16, 2010.
Comparatively, that’s about a month after Jason Ravnsborg got in.
No, if we’re being honest, the postmortem of the Nelson campaign shows flaws much deeper and fatal than his date of entry.
Of all the challenger campaigns, on a conceptual basis, the Nelson campaign arguably had the most potential to be competitive. It had a natural constituency in the libertarian wing of the GOP. It had a very energized base of conservative voters. It was being led by a media friendly, high profile Stace Nelson who was known for waging war against the party as an outsider.
The problem was that the campaign started out as a disorganized mess that quickly devolved into one that solely wallowed in negativity.
The first cracks in the campaign came as Nelson, whose sole political experience was running as State Representative noted that his campaign was not going to have a manager. He had a scheduler, a communications director, a director of field activities, a director of visual communications, etcetera and so on.
But there was no manager. No one to keep things on task. No one to herd the cats. In fact, at one point Nelson had made note that from his experience running for State House, that he knew how to run a political campaign.
And it showed. Because if there was a model of what the Nelson campaign looked like, arguably it was one of a middling state legislative race, one focusing on sign placement, going door to door, and raising the amounts of money one would expect in a state legislative race. Not a US Senate contest.
There was no appreciable advertising. There was no statewide newspaper advertisement. No direct mail presence. Cable TV buys in the hundreds of dollars, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands. Just lots of signs.
And as quickly as it started out with promise, the Nelson campaign took a sharp turn into negativity. First using twitter as a platform, Nelson aligned himself with internet trolls to the point that they were indistinguishable from each other, with Nelson feeding them, and they in turn feeding Nelson, like an on-line version of the Human Centipede.
Ironically, the major source for Nelson’s negativity was seemingly outed by David Montgomery as a Weiland operative. A Democrat operative. Someone who was invested in the loss of all Republicans.
And once the Nelson campaign started going down this trail, it never looked back. What started as on-line jabs quickly overtook all of his campaign’s messaging like an invasive virus. The Nelson team ratcheted up the negative rhetoric to the point that something in the race was lost.
What was that thing lost among the negativity? A reason to vote for Nelson in the first place.
Without a coherent reason to vote for Nelson, as opposed to the chapter & verse spewed forth daily to vote against his opponent, Nelson never was able to gain any footing. And towards the end, as the constant negative message droned on like a loudspeaker in a concentration camp as it devolved into self-parody, the voters simply tuned it out.
If negative campaigning has any effect, it’s been shown to drive down turnout, which given yesterday’s results, it was successfully able to do.
However, those that were left avoided Nelson like the plague, only giving him only that dead cat bounce of 13-14k votes.