The Hotline and the Rapid City Journal have hinted around in recent days about the release of a new poll on the Senate race which is bound to shock even the most ardent supporter of Senator Daschle. More on the poll soon. The big question is why is Daschle doing so poorly. He had a bad April, as I’ve noted. But the bigger issue may be his media strategy, which appears to have flopped. After spending close to $8 million on TV, radio, and newspaper ads and having supporters mail personal letters to all the residents of key counties in recent months, he’s stagnant or slipping in the polls and John Thune is gaining. And Thune hasn’t run an ad! Even with no push-back, Daschle’s ads aren’t working.
Has Karl Struble, Daschle’s long-time media guru, lost his magic touch? Perhaps. Struble was the media advisor to Senator Graham’s Presidential campaign this cycle and, well, let’s just say that didn’t really pan out. Graham’s collapse is really quite surprising—on paper, at least it seems to me, Graham was the strongest candidate in the field—a two-term Governor of a swing-state and a three-term Senator with the critically-important post-9/11 experience as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Graham should have been the one to reap the benefit of Howard Dean’s implosion, but he didn’t even make it to the implosion. Struble also lost the Cleland re-elect effort in Georgia in 2002, which some observers believe should have been a cinch. He also worked on Ron Kirk's losing bid in Texas in 2002.
Struble certainly knows how to win in South Dakota, having advised Daschle since 1984. He also worked for Senator Tim Johnson’s campaigns in 1996 and 2002 and has worked extensively in neighboring Nebraska. And, it should be said, South Dakota is an easy state in which to shape a candidate’s image, which is Struble’s specialty. First, ads here are very cheap in relative terms. Second, the state’s reporters are very few and far between and also stretched very thin. Many press “reports” are essentially reprinted press releases. And, of course, Struble has the Argus Leader on his side, which he’s expounded upon in the past. Which again raises the question why is Daschle’s campaign struggling so much this go-around.
Given his past success, Struble is still considered by Campaigns and Elections Magazine as one the “hottest” media consultants in the country. But his model for winning South Dakota elections in may have exhausted itself. As I’ve noted before, there’s a world of difference between Daschle’s mid-1980s campaigns, when he last had serious competition, and the dynamics of 2004. More on Struble soon.