It's been a week and a day since Creigh Deeds and the Democratic Party of Virginia suffered an epic defeat in Virginia's gubernatorial elections. I still find myself unable or unwilling to write a large omnibus "why Deeds failed" post, so I will just try and touch quickly on another subject--campaign visibility--before another headache is triggered.
How bad were Creigh Deeds' visibility and branding efforts? Well, let's put it this way: on election night the majority of news anchors and political commentators, people who are well-paid to be knowledgeable about such things, were unable to correctly pronounce Deeds' first name.
How badly have your branding efforts fail when the people who are paid to be aware of your campaign and cover it and report on it are uncertain as to whether your name is "Craig" or "Cray" or "Cree"? Should it surprise anyone then that the average Virginia voter seemed to be unable to pronounce Deeds' name? If you can't pronounce someone's name can you really identify with him?
What then was Deeds doing to try and boost his name recognition? Was he attending festivals? Was he passing out yard signs, lapel stickers, balloons, t-shirts . . . anything? Well, for a long time, in Richmond at least, it was nothing. Let's compare some pictures shall we?
One of the largest annual street festivals in Virginia is the Ukrops Carytown Watermelon Festival, which occurs in August, just before the beginning of the post-Labor Day campaign season. Here's a photo of the festival to give the flavor of the event (this one is from 2006).
This photo should give you some idea about the size of the crowd. The festival stretches several blocks along West Cary, from Nansemond nearly all the way to the Boulevard. By most estimates, it draws a crowd in excess of 100,000 over the course of a day. Think of it: 100,000 Richmonders and other Virginians packed on to a few blocks.
Now, look at the kinds of visibility that can be done at this event. These are also from 2006.
These photos show Democrats and Republicans engaged in all different kinds of retail politics using balloons, stickers, brochures, yards signs, lapel stickers . . . you name it. Both Allen and Webb supporters working on visibility.
Now let's look at a photo from this year.
This was the Republican tent on the edge of the Watermelon Festival. Nothing too elaborate, just the right amount of effort. A presence. Visibility.
Now I'd like to show you a picture of the Deeds' table at this year's Watermelon Festival, but I can't because Deeds didn't bother to show up or send any staffers or volunteers to man a table in his absence. Now consider the following.
The photos from the 2006 Watermelon Festival were taken on August 13, 2006. In these pictures we see a motivated and well organized Democratic Party (and to be fair the Republicans were well organized as well). The very next day, on August 14, 2006, the "Macaca" story broke in the Washington Post.
The picture from this year's festival was taken on August 9, 2009. It reveals a solid Republican organization and the fact that Creigh Deeds lacked any kind of organization on the ground in Richmond--paid or volunteer--capable of manning a visibility table. Twenty days later, on August 29, 2009, the Washington Post broke the story of Bob McDonnell's thesis.
In 2006 the Webb campaign was already up and running in early August and was ready to take advantage of the opportunity created when Allen stumbled. In early August 2009, the Deeds campaign was basically non-existent on the ground in Richmond for all intents and purposes. There was no Deeds campaign to take advantage of McDonnell's thesis.
How can a campaign establish visibility and a brand for its candidate when it doesn't even show up?