Lost: The Democratic Party's Campaign Strategy Raises Doubts
By Jared Crum '11
The new season of “Lost” premiered last week, and lost is exactly how Barack Obama and the Democrats must be feeling right now. Forget smoke monsters, polar bears and secret hatches — if the Dems don’t right their ship now, this November could send the whole party to a desert island. A short survey is in order:

In Illinois, the story is so good you couldn’t make it up. The Democrats nominated a self-inflicted wound for lieutenant governor in the form of pawnbroker/wife-beater/steroid-user Scott Lee Cohen. Cohen was adamant that his past, which includes domestic battery charges for holding a knife to his ex-girlfriend’s throat (she was a prostitute, FYI), shouldn’t matter to Illinois voters. On Sunday, however, Cohen announced at a bar that he would be withdrawing from the race, stemming the blood loss from the Illinois Democratic Party.

As if that were not enough, the Democrats’ Illinois senate candidate, Alexi Giannoulias, has bank trouble. The 33-year-old counts President Obama as a mentor and spent a few years running Broadway Bank before becoming Illinois’ State Treasurer. Unfortunately for Giannoulias, Broadway Bank collapsed spectacularly after making bad loans and Giannoulias could have been intimately involved in the decisions that led to the collapse.

The Republicans have easily made a heyday over the bank mess. As details from Broadway’s collapse have flown out, a National Republican Senatorial Committee’s press release has posed legitimate questions:

— Did you authorize $15.4 million in loans to Michael “Jaws” Giorango — a crime boss who ran prostitution rings and engaged in illegal gambling?

— Did your decision to remove millions of dollars from Broadway Bank lead to the bank’s now-brink of collapse? Will you help to recapitalize the bank?

— Did your father contribute $10,000 to disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich’s campaign in exchange for your brother’s state board appointment — and did Tony Rezko push for his appointment?

Ah yes, Tony Rezko. Like a zombie, the Chicago slumlord whose connections continually dogged Barack Obama on the campaign trail is back. The Republicans are likely to make insinuations about Giannoulias’ underworld connections as part of a bare-knuckle brawl for the U.S. Senate.

Another site in the battle for the Senate is New York, where Democrats are forming a circular firing squad over Kirsten Gillibrand. Gillibrand was a centrist upstate Congresswoman appointed to the Senate by Gov. David Paterson. Gillibrand attempted to shift politically leftward but still faces skepticism from the Manhattan crowd.

Attempting to capitalize on this skepticism is an unlikely candidate — Harold Ford, Jr. of Tennessee. Ford was a Memphis congressman who made a losing bid for the Senate in ’06. He relocated to New York City, got a gig at Merrill Lynch and married Emily Threlkeld, a fashion industry/PR practitioner working for designer Carolina Herrera. While not dining at the Regency, Ford has been touring the City by limousine and helicopter, even landing on Staten Island once.

If New York Democrats are unsatisfied with the centrist Gillibrand, they won’t like Harold Ford either. Ford built his Tennessee persona on being a man conservatives could be comfortable with. He was socially moderate — even conservative — and has liberalized his views on abortion and gay marriage for downstate voters.

It’s hard to see what ideological space Ford could occupy in the race and what good it could do for the Democrats’ chances in November. Ford could very well topple Gillibrand by simply not being Gillibrand. But after the City’s elite anoint Ford over lunch in Midtown, Democratic voters will take a closer look and see a man who reminds them of the woman they just got rid of. It’s not a recipe for high turnout or a victory, especially in a tough year like 2010.

If Gillibrand and Ford bleed each other dry and one limps into November, “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi’s father, Joseph, could well go to the U.S. Senate. The Republicans lack a big name challenger to the Democrats, but Joseph DioGuardi is a potential candidate. Not having a prominent challenger is no obstacle to success, as Senator Harry Reid’s opponents have happily discovered in Nevada.

One might be forgiven for excoriating the Democrats’ lack of caution, discipline and plain-old résumé vetting. Scott Lee Cohen was a needless mistake. Gov. Paterson might have better appointed a less divisive figure for New York. Giannoulias might have had more foresight and restraint regarding his business dealings. But sometimes personalities matter less than macro-trends.

Historically, midterms like these are painful. There are large forces at work — the economy, the wars and skepticism about institutions in general. These are too enormous and multifaceted to be manipulated day to day in a news cycle. They have more power to affect November’s outcome than personality machinations. They are so complex that human beings can’t possibly fathom their myriad dimensions and outcomes. It’s a phenomenon Carl von Clausewitz called, in reference to battle, the “fog of war.”

Democrats would do well to remember this and take solace in the difficult, unpleasant fact that sometimes events are out of your control. Rough times will turn good again, and if not, at least our next president will shoot moose from Air Force One.

Issue 14, Submitted 2010-02-10 01:47:18