Rank-and-file Republicans from all over the country wanted to get rid of Debbie Wasserman Schultz so badly, they were ripe for manipulation. And manipulated they were.
The Karen Harrington campaign released the results of an Oct. 1-2 poll that reportedly showed Harrington only 4.5 percentage points behind Wasserman Schultz. It was breathlessly headlined, “Karen Harrington Releases Poll Results, Wasserman Schultz In Jeopardy of Losing.”
Thirty-three days after the poll’s release, Harrington received just 36 percent of the vote, getting crushed by Wasserman Schultz’s 63 percent total. That’s a 27-point loss. A laugher for the Democrats. Custer at Little Big Horn. A massacre.
It’s not like there was some cataclysmic event between Oct. 2 and Nov. 6 that caused Harrington’s support to collapse. Harrington – who did not return my calls for comment – was not caught on video kicking a puppy or burning the American flag. The ensuing campaign was largely uneventful and predictable. Harrington ran as a conservative, and Wasserman Schultz ran as herself. The incumbent probably spent more time working for other candidates and performing her duties as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee than she did running against Harrington.
So what happened?
Basic math, that’s what.
This isn’t a case of a slightly inaccurate turnout model ala Rasmussen or Gallup, where a miscalculation of a few points meant an inaccurate overall prediction.
Only 25 percent of the voters in U.S. House District 23 are Republicans. Democrats account for 47 percent and independents 28 percent.
Harrington and her supporters often said that Republicans and independents together outnumbered Democrats, as if that was some sort of profound insight outlining a clear path to victory. But to anyone with experience in politics, it was a meaningless and deceptive observation.
Most independents are not truly independent voters. They strongly lean either Democratic or Republican and tend to reflect the partisan makeup of the district in which they live. Persuadable independents actually account for a small but important percentage of the vote.
This is not some secret gleaned from illegally wiretapping the backrooms of Chicago or by stealing Karl Rove’s cellphone. It’s Politics 101.
Lady Gaga had a better chance of becoming pope than Harrington had of beating Wasserman Schultz. That didn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile to try to tie down the DNC chair by making her defend her turf, because it was. Harrington mounted as vigorous a challenge as any Republican could have, given the overwhelming partisan advantage enjoyed by the Democrats in that district.
But the end does not always justify the means.
The poll released by Harrington was not credible to major Republican donors or experienced politicos.
As one local blogger with close ties to the Republican challenger wrote at the time, “Harrington is turning these results into a money bomb of sorts, so supporters are encourage [sic] to visit the campaign website and contribute.”
Money bombs from both parties go out by email to large lists of true believers all over the country. They’re designed for the small donor, often from a different state – the working-class donor who wants to do his or her part to help the cause and who can only afford to donate 25 or 50 bucks.
Maybe the working people who donated to Harrington knew the race was unwinnable and gave money to her anyway just to annoy Wasserman Schultz. I’ve done that myself in plenty of races.
But I’m guessing most of Harrington’s small donors, being unfamiliar with the district’s partisan makeup, actually believed there was a chance to win when there wasn’t.
All political campaigns try to spin the truth, but spinning the truth is a lot different than making up a falsehood to raise money.
Had a financial firm used numbers like that to sell securities, there would have been an uproar – and a few indictments.
But because this is politics, and Harrington ran against Wasserman Schultz, we’re all supposed to be loyal, little Republican robots and close our eyes to this sham of a campaign.
Not me. I don’t play the robot game.
Treating our working-class base like a bunch of chumps, like sheep, to be sheared of their hard-earned money by any means necessary, may not be illegal, but it is a crime.
It’s a crime against the conservative cause, a crime against our own people, and a crime against future conservative candidates whose job in convincing donors they have a chance to win has been made all the harder by the unscrupulous tactics of those who came before them.