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Sean’s take: Personality counts

What stands out about the Republican primary between Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt is just how much the conventional wisdom was wrong.

While Moran consistently led in the polls heading up to Tuesday’s election, on the subject of message, at least, Tiahrt should have come out ahead.

Politically, a message consists of the following elements: It should be a story (facts tell, but stories sell), it needs to be relevant, it is usually brief, it’s repeatable and it’s unique. It’s less than a platform, but more than a slogan.

Tiahrt had most, if not all, of these things. He might not of had his own story, but he had several to use, such as Gracia Burnham and Greg and Missy Smith. Given the mood of the country, Tiahrt’s railings against the federal government and Obama were absolutely relevant. Tiahrt’s message was appropriately brief – fight, fight and more fight. Was Tiahrt’s message repeatable? I heard the phrases “real deal” and “real conservative” so much, I thought my ears would start bleeding. He tried very hard to be unique, but when you have an almost identical voting record as your opponent, you want to find any distinction you can and exploit it.

Tiahrt had a message, though, as well as the discipline to stick to it.

Moran, on the other hand, did not really have any message. The slogan, “Jerry is Kansas” found zero traction. His staff, at least in the communications department, had truly epic turnover. Throughout the entire campaign, however, Moran’s message (or lack thereof) never really solidified. You knew that Moran was a Republican and a conservative. You knew he was running for Senate. You knew he was a congressman. That was really about it, though.

Moran had an unspoken message, however, and that was “I’m a nice guy and a good congressman.” The sauce was weak, but it worked. Why?

For starters, a cook is only as good as their ingredients. That’s not saying Tiahrt was bad, as much as saying Moran was more palatable to those not on the hard right wing – and that’s the wing Tiahrt was banking on. An old saying is that one campaigns in poetry but governs in prose. The right wing seemed more interested in poetry – the art of the standoff – drawing a line in the sand and refusing to compromise on principal. Tiahrt gave them what they wanted. He brought in other right wing “poets” like Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Sean Hannity and the Tea Party. However, the result of all this “poetry” was nothing more than the construction of an echo chamber. Tiahrt’s base liked the rhetoric, and they considered themselves to be “real conservatives”, so other conservatives should eat it up.

Moran, on the other hand, campaigned in prose – quite boring prose, in fact. He stayed on the defensive most of the time. He refused debates. He avoided the “real conservative” rhetoric. He was Jerry, and he was a nice guy. Take it or leave it.

He also knew he sat on the single biggest, and loyal, block of Republican voters in the state. Were they conservative? Yes. Were they hard right wingers? Possibly. Tim Huelskamp ran to the hard right and won the 1st District with room to spare in a very crowded field.

Tiahrt was angry, and Jerry was Jerry. The lesson to be learned from this is exactly that. Being mad, and even having all the right campaign ingredients, just isn’t enough anymore. More than money, endorsements, advertising or anything else, personality seemed to matter most to Kansans on Tuesday night.


8 thoughts on “Sean’s take: Personality counts

  1. Very good—but I’d change—or re-arrange just a few things….how about that the Tiahrt started telling too many stories—maybe a tad too many where “nice guy Jerry” is dressed up to be the Joker or the Penquin( ala the Batman series) to be believed?? And Tiahrt was looking too much as the great Batman fighter for a position that didn’t call for that kind of fight?

    I made volunteer calls for votes for Moran and had a couple tell me, of their own volition, that they did not like the Gracia Burnham “story.” Maybe they considered her being used like advertisers use children or that tying Moran in with terrorists was just over the top—but then following that “Batman cutting thru the jungle to rescue her” story, Tiahrt had to add not just one, but two or three Moran “threatening” or “wincing” type stories–all the while, as Sean has said here, Moran is effectively advertising his nice guy image.

    Sean’s commment that Moran “stayed on the defensive” is interesting inasmuch as there’s been much comment that both of them were “mudslingers.” That’s not the way I saw it—Moran’s advertising started first with not even dust, let alone dirt or mud against Tiahrt. Then the Tiahrt war game started with their trebuchets slinging in all directions. So, yes, defensive measures were needed—but even they remained tepid in comparison—strategy (and known credibility) won out over misfiring missiles.

    Not sure I wanted a “mad man”—meant mostly in the context Sean using in his last paragraph–as my next senator. I wanted someone who could think and think for himself, who I could have mostly trust in (back to someone telling wild, over-the-top premise stories), and who had kept the Midwest values and principles of discipline and merit.

    We’re the ones who are “angry”—best to have someone—like an adult—who can find the solutions to solve the anger, not add to it.

    Posted by beckbeliefs | August 4, 2010, 7:08 pm
  2. Or how about Moran had 3 times more money to spend than Tiahrt. 3 times more and Tiahrt only lost by 4 points. I guess you can buy an election. Congratulations KS, you officially sent a RINO to the Senate.

    Posted by rex1980 | August 4, 2010, 8:33 pm
  3. Three times more money? How could that be with the long, long list of “everyone” supporting Tiahrt—what about all those numerous rich celebrities—didn’t they want to also give him money to win this thing? You Tiahrt supporters are something else—something similar to sour grapes liberals. All along, all of you were touting all those fabulous endorsements that Tiahrt had—with some “making surly comparisons about Moran’s—whose was mostly from Kansas and KNEW the man they were supporting). Surely all those would be worth millions in themselves, wouldn’t cha think? How’d that go so wrong? Migawd, Sarah Palin no less.

    Tiahrt had more than adequate radio, television, and print–it was coming on hot and heavy for sometime—right in line with Moran’s if not moreso. Also lots of media and Tiahrt newsletter talk about his having “the momentum”—which he did—which also fits when you’re the one coming from 20 or more points behind. HOWEVER—to make that great of a leap, with your reasoning and premise, it had to take lots of money to get from 20 points to “only” 4 points behind. Hmmm.

    And stop with the RINO label. Didn’t you read Sean’s article—“almost identical voting record” and “you knew Moran was a Republican and a conservative”? Political website, On the Issues, have both of them listed as “Hard Conservatives.” Just for the record, Tiahrt is #31 of the 435 representatives in EARMARK SPENDING compared to Moran’s being #196. Is there a criteria for conservatism in spending habits? You know, living beyond your means—especially when it’s so liberally fun to spend other people’s money…….

    Posted by beckbeliefs | August 5, 2010, 12:05 am
  4. Moran represented one of the most Conservative districts in the U.S. Do you really think he has the backbone to stand up to the libs in JOCO when they want something done. ANSWER:NO.
    Jerry is a Mod who has fooled 49 percent of the voting public.

    And on the $ part…it’s public record, look it up. Jerry also outspent Todd 5-1 in mailings.

    Posted by rex1980 | August 5, 2010, 8:23 am
  5. Well, if Moran outspent Tiahrt—it’s because people donated to him—and wanted him to win. So, now I’ll probably hear from you that all that money to Moran was “evil”—but—darn, Tiahrt needed more of it. ??? I believe in capitalism—and in the First Amendment—“allowing” us to spend our money on Valentine and Halloween candy (which is probably more than equal to campaign expenditures) and/or on our choices of representation.

    Look at my above argument—it said nothing that I didn’t believe Moran had more money—you missed my point—where was all the money from all the devoted celebrities and big shots that Tiahrt continually trotted out? And if he is such a “fighter”—-why didn’t he “fight” for more money to WIN? Hmmmm?

    You also can’t have it both ways—first you tell us that Moran is not a conservative, then you tell us he represented—for 14 years—“one of the most Conservative districts in the U.S.”—and those are the voters who pushed him to that 49% win that you’re crying about? Huh?

    This is typical liberalism one more time from you—don’t answer any of what I said—just bring up something new—like your “backbone” opinion, which has no basis of fact—just a wild arrow from your quiver.

    Okay—but I’ll put a dab of “poison” (fact or logic) on my arrow answer—It looks obvious that Tiahrt IS the one who has no backbone……seems he couldn’t stand up to his liberals in the Wichita area (and his district IS liberal compared to Moran’s—your words—“conservative” district) because Tiahrt’s EARMARK SPENDING shows just that! “I want this….”—“we must have that…..”—-“gimme, gimme…..”—-“everyone needs….” Uh huh. #31 Backboneless?

    And—-remember now, Tiahrt WON Johnson County—District #3—-where there are more moderates and liberals, right? Heard a lot of bragging about that, too…..just can’t have it both ways altho you supporters keep trying.

    Posted by beckbeliefs | August 5, 2010, 6:31 pm
  6. rex1980,
    I do believe beckbeliefs just ripped your argument apart.

    Posted by backroadsnewsroom | August 5, 2010, 8:18 pm
  7. Several weeks ago I finished Karl Roves book, “Courage and Consequence.” In the Epilogue Rove describes the noble end of our political system. It also reminded me of Ron Chernow’s best selling biography “Alexander Hamilton”, in which he describes the slugfest between Hamilton and Jefferson and the fight for the soul of our fledgdling nation.

    To quote Rove…”politics is the great, moving expression of our democracy. There are knaves and fools in politics, but the arena is also filled with people motivated by high ideals and great causes who work with skill, integrity, and honor.

    The American political system is the envy of the world, the greatest governing achievement in human history. But it did not appear easily or overnight. It came with fractious debates and fallible men. The Founders expected politics to be unruly–after all that was the politics of their time. So despite missteps and tense moments, large egos and short tempers, they labored to create our founding documents, which are the greatest ever struck…

    At its best, politics is about advancing human dignity and prosperity. And so I say with the author John Buchan that “Politics is still the greatest and most honorable adventure.” Unquote.

    Read Chernow’s book about the savage infighting between the most brilliant of our Founding Fathers who tragically never became President and his able, venal, nastily, equally brilliant opponent Thomas Jefferson, puts American politics in perspective. Slam bam, rock ’em sock ’em, take no prisoners, politics that forged a nation. Both men won and lost…bloodied but not bowed.

    On April 3, 2010, we got to participate and witness two successful politicans go at it. The Senatorial contest between Mr. Tiahrt and Mr. Moran was long, bruising and punishing. It came down to the soothing image of Jerry Moran or the pugnacious fighter Todd Tiahrt. While neither man is or claims to be of the intellectual timber of Hamilton or Jefferson, the citizens of Kansas were lucky to have to make the hard choice of choosing between two able candidates.

    Keeping things in historical perspective, what irritated me in this campaign was the whinning and crying by the press and supposedly by people in the know, about how nasty and misleading Jerry was or how Todd lied about Jerry’s record. Get over it folks. Politics American style is a gentleman’s game of punch and counter-punch. It is in this crucible of fire that steel is made, character revealed, ideas crystalized or burned to ash.

    Politics, American style, today, is not about compromising one’s values or beliefs. Is there any compromise and “get along” in the Obama agenda? I refuse to wake up in the morning sleeping with a liberal. 2010, is the clarion call, a call to arms. 2010, is Paul Revere and William Prescott riding through the towns of Kansas calling out, “Wake up Kansas, come to the fight!

    God speed to you Mr. Moran. Take the fight to them. Kansans have got your back.

    Mr. Tiahrt, I paraphrase Winston Churchill who spoke at a boys commencment ceremony after World War II. His entire speech was…”Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never!”

    God bless both you men…thank-you for the fight.

    Posted by jdn1947 | August 7, 2010, 7:47 am
  8. Enjoyed reading your comments, jdn—especially because Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” is one of my favorites–read it in 2005. What an absolute waste for him to take on Aaron Burr to lose his life in his prime. Intelligence can not always compete with emotionalism.

    You mentioned the savage infighting between these two brilliant men, but theirs was not about winning an election–theirs was only on vision for the future—with completely different goals. Surprised that you didn’t elaborate on the other “savage infighting”—between Jefferson (again) and John Adams—this one also about vision and goals, but much moreso—it WAS about an election—the first real campaign and real election for the Presidency of the United States.

    To me, this much more relates to the Kansas U.S. Senate race because the ambition changes the man. Recommend “Adams vs. Jefferson” by John Ferling (also 2005). This was THE fight that absolutely did forge the nation because they had very different visions—Adams was more in agreement with Hamilton, which explains both antagonistic fights.

    This brings me to where I would possibly disagree with you to some extent. Yes, both politics in general and political races are a “rough ‘n tumble blood sport” which we need to keep in perspective. However, the “long, bruising, and punishing” you mention, I think, are better served in the general elections–as Jefferson and Adams—when the fight is really related to the two clashing beliefs of which is better for the people–such as the Republican and Democrat ideologies are today (and not primarily for the ambition of the candidate).

    This recent Kansas primary and all of its ramifications of division, diversion–and emotional and financial cost, my opinion, was not in Kansas’ best interests. What great idea was actually crystalized? They were “almost identical” remember? Yes, differences, minor in the great over-all of politics and representing us—and that’s where the true character was revealed that you mentioned and why, as this article, and another of your comments, opined, why Moran won—“the soothing image of a truly nice guy” compared to a pugnacious fighter.

    But, bottom line, on why I have an edgy disagreement on your final conclusion of “thank you for the fight”—I don’t think we should have ever had this particular fight at all. I am for political fighting and for “playing hardball” to win for principle and vision—but this primary was unnecessary—both good voting records, both conservative, both reasonable histories, both basically scandal free, both over-all “good guys”—now add that we are in recession, tough economical times and a great concern over many of the Democrat agendas. Why put Kansas through this long, expensive, bruising, and punishing campaign—who is it exactly that really suffered the punishment? I’d say us, the Kansans—and only to receive basically the same “crystallized ideas” or the conservatism crucible of fire?

    Moran filed for this Senate seat first. That was the very first indication for me to consider once I made the determination that they were 92% alike in their voting records. Yes, there were several other things I determined I liked better about Moran–including fewer earmarks and not involved in union favors, just to mention two. However, the real point is that I saw this race as more about the ambition of Tiahrt than about what was actually the good of Kansas and us as its residents.

    Yes, Jefferson was also the same “pugnacious fighter”—and used many of the same tactics that Tiahrt used this race, in fact—like having others speak for him more than he spoke for himself. But, Jefferson and Adams were very different and fighting for different visions and ideologies. Our Kansas Senate race did not revolve around that at all—and I still deem it as being unnecessary, expensive, and divisive at a bad time for our state and nation.

    Posted by beckbeliefs | August 10, 2010, 12:05 am

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