08 May, 2011

Squandering The Emily's List Endorsement: If Tennant Loses It Will Be Because She Didn't Make The Right Enemies

Candidates win races the same way organizations raise money: by attracting the right enemies. if Natalie Tennant loses in a primary race where she is the only pro-choice liberal in a 5-way race against 4 DINO men, it will because because she failed to get attacked by her opponents and anti-choice activists. It will be because she squandered the Emily's List endorsement.

A HuntingtonNewsNet editorial said Natalie Tennant "sold her political career for a very cheap price" when she received funding and an endorsement from Emily's List. The editorial was wrong. Tennant may very well lose this special election primary and she may very well have squandered the best chance she'll ever have to get the democratic nomination for governor but not because she was endorsed by Emily's List. No, if Natalie Tennant loses it will be because she failed to make the right enemies and because she failed to get those enemies attacking  her loudly enough to arouse her natural constituencies, women and liberals.

As I've said in previous posts, if a pro-choice female Democrat can't win the democratic nomination this year against a field of 4 Republican-lite men, then she can't win at all. Never again will the primary math favor her the way it does this year. Never again will Tennant be lucky enough to have 4 men fighting over all the conservative votes and leaving the non-conservative vote to her.

But this favorable, split-vote primary math advantage only works if Tennant can get people talking about her as the only liberal in the race. Nothing says "liberal" like being the only pro-choice candidate in the race, the only Emily's List endorsed candidate in the race.

Instead of trying to receive the endorsement under the radar, Tennant should have made that endorsement the cornerstone of her campaign.  All the candidates claim to be for more jobs, more accountable government and lower taxes. The Tennant campaign can't excite and mobilize her natural constituencies - women and liberals - by sounding like one of the DINO boys.

But in a primary election where she's the only pro-choice candidate, Tennant can differentiate herself from her Republican lite opponents if she makes choice the cornerstone of her campaign and gets the boys to attack her for it.

And she's running out of time. I hope that even as I write this post Tennant is taping a new TV ad in which she trades the tomboy outfit for a business suit and replaces the DINO boy script for a clear declaration that she is the only liberal, pro-choice candidate in this race.

With any luck, one of the anti-choice DINO boys will take the bait and try to strengthen his conservative bona fides by attacking her as "too liberal for West Virginia" or failure to reflect West Virginia's values. The more Tennant can get her male opponents attacking her for her views on abortion, the better chance she has of taking advantage of this year's unusual split-field primary math.

As long as Tennant allows this race to be about Luntz-tested words like accountability, she can't  take advantage of the most favorable, split vote primary election math she'll ever see.

And while it would be great if one of the DINO boy candidates would attack Tennant on abortion, the next best thing would be if some fire-breathing anti-abortion organization like The Family Foundation or The Heritage Foundation would use Tennant's position on abortion to raise funds. The point is, if Tennant loses a 5-way race in which the other 4 candidates are splitting the conservaive vote 4 ways, it won't be because she got the Emily's List endorsement, it will be because she didn't get her enemies to attack her for it. What Tennant needs is the right enemy. A loud enemy. An enemy who will make the point she has failed to make: that she is the only liberal, pro-choice candidate in this race.

THIS JUST IN: Rick Thompson, who has been running a cynical, dog whistle campaign for the evangelical vote all along, is now running a TV ad aimed at people who "carry a Bible to church on Sunday". If Tenant could just get the hymn-singing Thompson to attack her it would help her more than it would help Thompson. Yes, Thompson may very well take a few evangelical votes from frontrunner, Tomblin, but more importantly an attack on Tennant's position on abortion helps differentiate Tennant as the only pro-choice liberal in the race.
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