Dual missions

KARE 11 has an interview with Mary Matalin and this seems to be the quote du jour.

“It’s not about where you are in the polls. It’s what happens at the polls on election day, and it’s not just a platitude.”

Well, actually, Mary, it is, and you know it.

It’s true — unquestionably so — that in the end, what matters is what happens on Election Day. That’s hardly great political insight and if Matalin is saying the polls don’t matter, she’s wrong. And she knows that too, because she makes her money advising campaigns before election day.

Polls may not be the determining factor of an election, but to suggest they don’t matter at all is flat out wrong.Lord knows I’ve wasted a lot of brain cells noting that polls are not a predictor. But polls can tell you something — they can tell you what the people think about your candidate or the other candidate and you can bet that every ad, every word, every speech you hear is vetted through the one process: how you’re going to receive it.

You’re not seeing a lot of the same ads you saw in 2004, you know, the ones with battle scenes from Iraq and grainy pictures of bin Laden. Why? Check the polls. It’s no accident.

If you’ve been in Washington for six years, had amassed a pretty good warchest, started your campaign almost two years ago, have — or should have — tremendous name recognition and still are not moving in the polls, that’s telling you something and woe unto the candidate who doesn’t listen and adjust the campaign appropriately in the final weeks. But they know that. Every candidate knows that. That’s why they’re all doing internal polling.

Campaign managers often respond to polls by noting that they expect them to change once the candidate “gets his/her message out.” And that may be true although it’s the smart campaign that asks itself, “are the polls reflecting the fact the message isn’t out? Or is it reflecting the fact it is?

There’s no single answer to that for the half-dozen or so polled campaigns in Minnesota right now. Each one is different.

And each campaign will treat each differently. For example, let’s take the Senate campaign. I don’t know who’s going to win the thing, for the most part I don’t care. I will admit, however, than when Dayton announced he was resigning, I thought the seat was Mark Kennedy’s for the asking. The race has become the pefect lab rat for political junkies to study the to and fro of campaigns.

For the most part, the Klobuchar campaign isn’t going to be sending out releases touting how far “ahead” some polls say she is. Why? Because at this time of the year, polls can become the enemy for the frontrunner. They make supporters ease up on the gas. They make people stop throwing in money because they think it’s not needed.

Conversely, polls that show a candidate trailing can be the best friend a trailing candidate has because they can energize a faithful core to work a little harder, and they can pry open a checkbook.

But it’s a delicate balance for that candidate. You have to remind folks what the polls say, without injecting a sense of resignation into the discussion.

That’s where Matalin is good. Really good.

There’s political analysis. And there’s rallying the troops. Be careful when the same person tries to do both at the same time.

  • Bill

    Maybe she’s referring to the benefits of a Diebold voting machine?