I’ve had a ringside seat for the toxic unraveling of relations between the Murphy campaign and my colleague John Dankosky. Obviously, I’m a little biased, but — even factoring for that — it’s quite something to watch a candidate who desperately needs every break he can get talk his way out of an hour of free airtime. In the process, the Murphy campaign has managed to convince Dankosky, who oversees the whole radio station, that they cannot be trusted to keep a match.com date, much less a media appointment. I mean, they didn’t just poison the Where We Live well. They poisoned their whole relationship with WNPR in a campaign they appear to be losing with 30 days left on the clock. They pay people in campaigns to make media relations go smoothly.
I think it’s time to start talking about what an ineptly run campaign this appears to be.
Let me just ask you this. Set aside the question of whether you like him or plan to vote for him. Do you think Chris Murphy has been successfully introduced to the voters of Connecticut?
Do you associate him with one or two marquee issues?
Do you have a strong mental picture of him that is not based on Linda McMahon ads about him?
Can you think of a moment, any moment, in this campaign in which Murphy appeared to score a decisive point?
Did he respond effectively to the attacks on him?
Was he prepared for the specific challenges of this campaign? (One point I’ll be making in a column this weekend is the way Murphy and the Democrats seem not to have their own plan for hosting damning video evidence about the WWE. Instead, they have been like persecuted gypsies, fleeing from platform to platform, hoping one of them will have the courage to host unpalatable WWE content in the teeth of threats from WWE lawyers. Murphy and the Democrats needed to fight and win a court case — a year ago — about whether pieces of those videos are now essentially news content subject to the basic principles of fair use.)
I could go on. Some of the problems were impossible to avoid. Connecticut has never seen a candidate like McMahon — one who could keep spending without surcease through two election cycles and one who did not have to make the usual hard choices about how best to direct her finite resources. McMahon can literally afford to spend money on stuff that might not work, because she’ll still have an Aladdin’s cave to use for stuff that will.
But some of Murphy’s problems seem to arise from bad campaigning. He always seemed like a fairly adroit and appealing politician (although perhaps we overestimate him because of 2006, when Nancy Johnson was more of a sitting duck than most people realized). The problems he’s having look a lot like the problems of a candidate who is not being handled well. His campaign manager is Kenneth Curran, whose prior credits include Murphy’s 2010 House race and the 2007 campaign of Eddie Perez. It is too late to fire Curran; and, anyway, competent campaign managers are not sitting around with nothing to do right now, unless they are also facing indictment. Given where things stand right now, even Bobby Valentine would be a jump start.
Campaigns are, among other things, meme wars. One of the reasons Wednesday night was a disaster for President Obama was that an anti-Romney meme — “Mitt can’t do anything right.” — had acquired a life of its own and then abruptly blew up. Similarly, one of Murphy’s very few advantages was the meme that goes (or went): “Linda is afraid to answer questions, but Chris isn’t.” I myself have trafficked in this very meme. I don’t really feel like I have a firm basis for saying that right now.
Sunday’s debate will give Murphy a chance to turn things around a little, but Linda McMahon will not, I predict, accommodate him by pooping her pants on camera. She didn’t completely stink against Blumenthal. She’s had time to improve.
Murphy can still win. I think. The last Republican senator from Connecticut was Weicker, and he got in the first time in 1970 because of Tom Dodd’s censure. That’s how big the Democratic advantage is here. Before that it was Prescott Bush in 1952, who may have benefited from the fact that a Democrat (named McMahon!) died in office.
Murphy and his staff may be sailing into history right now, in all the wrong senses.