Posts containing my opinion of the race.

D&C Publisher''s Letter

Ali Zoibi, the publisher of the Democrat & Chronicle, has an item in today's edition describing the cuts and challenges facing the D&C.

It contains this ominous line:

Look to this page tomorrow for more information on the impact of these cuts on the opinion section.

Reading between the lines, the 680 headcount that is used for the D&C is apparently total Gannett headcount in Rochester. In other words, the Insider, Conxion, MetroMix, HerRochester, RocMen, RocPets and all the other ancillary publications are part of that count.

Zoibi is also proud of the 87% "reach" of Gannett publications in the area. That means that 87 of 100 Rochesterians look at some Gannett publication online or in print at least once per week. While impressive, the number is meaningless unless Gannett is making money from that reach.

Take a look at the front pages of most of Gannett's online publications, and you'll find that much of the space is occupied by cross-promotion of other Gannett publications. Also in the mix are some local ads, yet Gannett often features national ads that are completely irrelevant to the section content, and a lot of the ad load today was charitable ads. After a decade on the Internet, Gannett's online local ad inventory is still poorly stocked, and that they haven't figured out how to target advertising on different pages.

Gannett has also built uses "Pulse 360", which is an attempt to replicate Google text ads. Google allows advertisers to purchase ads that are pushed to specific types of sites or matched to different search keywords. Google makes big money when it pushes an ad relevant to what the user is searching for, because it's only then that a user will bother to look at the ads on a page. Google also has low overhead because the advertiser uses a self-service web page to enter and purchase the ad.

Judging from the Pulse360 ads pushed on the D&C today, either Gannett has few advertisers in Pulse360 or they're unable to correlate the Pulse360 ad with the content of the page. On sports, I see the usual generic Internet junk: "teeth whitening", "lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks - no diets", and "Laser back surgery alternative".

Gannett can have 100% of our eyeballs every day but, like the rest of the newspaper industry, they're just burning electrons if they don't figure out how to deliver relevant, useful ads to their readers.

Update: Pulse 360 is not a Gannett operation. They have a major deal with Gannett, but they're an independent company. Sorry for the confusion.

Final Money Tallies

The post-general finance reports are in, and Eric Massa outraised Randy Kuhl by more than $150K in the period from mid-October to late November. Massa spent almost half a million dollars in that time period. Kuhl spent close to $300K.

Massa's fundraising total for the whole period was about $2 million. Kuhl raised about $1.5 million. Both candidates spent roughly what was raised. Randy has $61K in cash remaining, and Massa has a net of about $15K if he uses his cash to pay off his campaign debts.

As usual, most of Massa's money came from individual donations, often via ActBlue, the Democratic donation bundling site. Massa also got a number of donations from fellow Democrats.

The bulk of Kuhl's donations came from corporate PACs, including a number of banks (Credit Suisse and JP Morgan Chase were two). Kuhl got little help from his Republican colleagues during the last part of the campaign, which is probably an indicator that most of them were in tough races, and those who weren't didn't have a lot of money.

Finally, Kuhl spent $12,000 on robo-calls, which I assume were GOTV-related. Massa didn't spend a cent that I could find on calls. Robo-calls are the weakest form of GOTV. Massa's 2000-person strong turnout brigade made them unnecessary: I received something like two or three human calls from Massa volunteers on election day or the night before. This makes me think Kuhl's GOTV was weak this cycle, and it might reflect a general lack of enthusiasm among Republicans in the district.


Congressional Quarterly has a rundown of this cycle's rematches. The Massa/Kuhl rematch was one of the few where the challenger beat the incumbent the second time around.

The article notes that it's very rare for a first-term incumbent to be defeated by the previous incumbent. It examines a number of cases where Republicans who lost in 2006 tried to win back their seats in 2008. None of them were successful. Of course, 2008 was even worse for Republicans than 2006, but there's probably a lesson there for Randy Kuhl.

One challenger who wasn't mentioned in the article is Darcy Burner, who garnered a lot of attention on the Internet and raised big money via ActBlue. Burner lost her rematch against Dave Reichert [R-WA-8], even though she outspent him this cycle. Burner's campaign was often mentioned in the same breath as Massa's, since she lost a tight 2006 race by 3%. Burner actually lost by a slightly larger margin in 2008.

Eric Massa: Relentless

In an election year full of surprises, Eric Massa delivered a big one: he convinced a bunch of core conservative Southern Tier voters to take a chance on him. He did it by running a dogged, enthusiastic and disciplined campaign, the likes of which are rarely seen in New York.

Massa began the 2008 race shortly after losing in 2006. He predicted that he had to raise $3 million to win. It looks like he raised $2 million, an impressive sum. Add the DCCC's almost $1 million spent, and Massa's $3 million prediction looks like the right number.

Fundraising is vital to a campaign, but money alone buys little in politics -- just ask Tom Golisano, who poured millions into state races with little result. Massa coupled his fundraising with press outreach and old-fashioned one-to-one campaigning.

Massa's press effort was a critical component of his victory strategy. It was remarkable for both its early start and dogged consistency. The Massa campaign started sending out press releases in May of 2007, and it was a rare week when they didn't crank out a handful of items addressing the "issues of the day". Massa's weekly press conferences were often lightly attended, but they yielded numerous stories in the Southern Tier media.

Massa's press operation established him as the voice of the loyal opposition in the Southern Tier. In years past, Randy Kuhl could expect local media to treat him as the undisputed authority on what happened in Washington, DC. When Massa arrived on the scene, Kuhl's free media ride stopped. Massa was often better-informed on issues than Kuhl, and it was easy work for reporters to lift his quotes from his press releases and conferences.

In addition to taking full advantage of free media to acquaint the district with his views, Massa also introduced himself personally to his future constituents. Besides the usual parades, community celebrations and the like, Massa held hundreds of house parties across the district. This kind of retail politicking was key to building enthusiasm among party faithful, who aren't going to work hard for a candidate unless they believe he will work hard for them.

Massa's candidacy teaches a number of lessons to those who might be interested in unseating an incumbent. Perhaps the most important lesson is that winning requires a combination of good circumstances and incredibly hard work. Campaigns against entrenched incumbents can't start a few weeks or months before an election. Just as an incumbent's reputation wasn't formed in a few months, a challenger must also introduce himself repeatedly to those he wishes to represent.

Eric Massa's relentless, four-year effort showed a level of grit and perseverance that's uncommon in New York politics. Candidates like Tom Golisano, Jack Davis and David Nachbar should take note, because they aren't likely to succeed without an effort on par with Massa's.

The Untold Money Story

According to ActBlue, the Democratic fundraising site, Eric Massa raised an astonishing $724K from over 12,000 donors online. That's an average of about 50 bucks per donor.

In contrast, the Obama campaign raised half a billion dollars from 3 million donors. That's about $167 per donor on average. About 2 1/2% of those voting in the presidential race donated to Obama.

Though Obama's totals are getting all the press, Massa's are equally breathtaking. For very little effort compared to traditional fundraising, Massa was able to raise about 1/3 of his total bankroll.

Last cycle, Massa raised $415K from around 7,200 ActBlue supporters. Even though a huge amount of cash was funneled to the Obama campaign, Massa was able to tap another $300K from an additional 5,000 ActBlue donors. This indicates that we're just scratching the surface of the number of people willing to send a few bucks to some Congressional candidates who share their political views.

Some might object to ActBlue on the grounds that it allows influence from outside the district. But that's true of most of the money in contested Congressional campaigns. Union and corporate PACs contributions, party money and donations from sitting Members of Congress poured into this race. The difference between that money and ActBlue contributions is that the former comes with strings attached.

ActBlue, like Obama's millions of small donors, is a better way to finance campaigns, and we'll be seeing more of this kind of financing in future races.

Bath Protesters' Convictions Overturned

Reader Elmer sends today's Corning Leader story documenting yesterday's reversal of the convictions of five protesters who occupied Randy Kuhl's Bath office in August, 2007. Money quote:

[Judge Marianne] Furfure ruled Kuhl’s office was the public office of an elected official with no signs or public access restrictions. In addition, the trespass did not meet the standard for the misdemeanor charges because it did not occur in an area “fenced or otherwise enclosed ... to exclude intruders,” she said.

Attorney Ray Schlather, the legal advisor for the protesters, said the push by the county District Attorney’s office to make the offense “a fingerprintable crime” showed a lack of judgment and allowed the protesters to turn the charges into political theater.

“This should never gone before a jury,” Schlather said. “That lack of good judgment effectively played into the protesters’ hands.”

Readers might recall that a similar protest at Kuhl's Fairport office was defused when a clever policeman invited the protesters outside and locked the door behind them. If the Bath PD and Steuben County prosecutor had exercised the same good judgment, Steuben County taxpayers would have been spared the tens of thousands of dollars it cost to litigate this innocuous little sit-in.

In Other Blogs

13-WHAM's Sean Carroll posts his reflection on covering the 29th for the last four years. Sean notes that the combined difference between the 2006 and 2008 races was less than 2,000 votes.

Sean wonders if there will be a Massa/Kuhl III. I never got the impression that Randy Kuhl enjoyed fundraising or campaigning. A rematch by Kuhl would require a much bigger fundraising effort, since he wouldn't be able to count on as many "automatic" PAC donations running as a challenger. I just don't see a Kuhl challenge in 2010.

David Kubissa at the Star-Gazette sees hostility in Massa's recent fundraising letter.

Massa Fundraising Letter

The Massa campaign's latest fundraising letter makes the following claim:

Teams of lawyers representing Kuhl have already descended upon our district, and you can bet your last dollar that they will challenge every vote they can that was cast for Eric. With Kuhl's corporate backers, he has all the funds he needs to challenge the votes of thousands of our friends and neighbors. We need to fight to make sure that EVERY vote gets counted accurately and fairly, but to do that, we need your help.

(Emphasis in original.)

It might be worth comparing Massa's situation to that of a much closer race, the Minnesota Senate race. In that race, unlike this one, there's going to be a recount. Because Minnesota uses optical scan ballots, every original ballot will be re-scanned, and any rejected ballots will be hand-examined. That race has thousands of "undervotes", where the voter marked the ballot for President but not for Senator. That means that thousands of ballots may be disputed, and both sides will be able to argue about marks made in the wrong place on each of those ballots.

In this race, for better or worse, any voter mistakes by voters who used the lever voting machines can't be recovered. The only mistakes with regular (non-absentee) votes that could sink Massa's boat are multiple major errors by election workers who transcribed the tallies from the election machines, which is extremely unlikely.

The other possible route to a Kuhl victory is an unprecedented swing in absentee votes. It's hard to see how Kuhl can swing 4,400 votes out of the 20,000 absentee ballots cast. And I definitely don't see how Kuhl's team of lawyers will sway the tally appreciably. Accepted wisdom on voting errors is that the error rate is 1% or less. This means that something under 200 absentee ballots will be disputed. Even if Kuhl's crack attorneys push all of those votes into his total, he still isn't going to win the election.

Massa supporters may well believe that it's critical that Massa have the best possible legal representation, and Massa might be able to raise money based on that belief. But even if Kuhl has resurrected Clarence Darrow, I doubt that he'll be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.


Today's news that Chris Van Hollen [MD-8] has agreed to continue at the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee makes this as good a time as any to evaluate the presence of the DCCC in the 29th race.

Unlike last cycle, the DCCC poured real money into the 29th this year, spending almost $1 million on ads and mailers. This money was spent entirely on one message: Randy Kuhl voted for free trade legislation that hurt the district.

Whether that message resonated in the 29th is anyone's guess. Even though the TV ad contained one misleading claim (it tried to tie jobs lost because of NAFTA to Kuhl, who wasn't in Congress when NAFTA passed), that distortion didn't become a campaign issue. I assume part of the reason was that the NRCC released a distorted ad around the same time.

In that respect, Eric Massa was lucky. In neighboring NY-26, Howard Owens at the Batavian thinks the DCCC caused real damage:

Whatever chance Kryzan had, the DCCC killed it. First, the negative ads were over the top and in no way truthful. Second, they also crowded out Kryzan's message and didn't allow Alice to be Alice. In the end, they played right into the Lee/GOP strategy of muting Kryzan's plans and policy voice.

The DCCC spent almost $2 million on that race.

I used to think Massa was unlucky because the DCCC wouldn't recognize that the 29th was winnable and only committed money at the last minute. Now I think he's lucky that the DCCC didn't spend more in the 29th. Their cookie-cutter, misleading ads and one-size-fits-all message are often a hindrance, not a help, to the candidates they are trying to support.

It's a Shame About Randy

2008 was a brutal year for Republican incumbents. The economic crisis, a war that most Americans believe was unnecessary, and the most unpopular President in modern history were major obstacles. These factors alone could cause a loss for an average Member of Congress.

Randy Kuhl was in some ways above-average, because he had a 20+ year relationship with constituents in the Southern Tier. Randy is a household name there, yet his loss in some Southern Tier counties lost him the election. My view is that Randy lost because he lost that connection.

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