A few years ago, when Republicans mentioned the name of Dick Wadhams, a Coloradan protege of Karl Rove, they did so with hushed, awe-struck tones. It was Wadhams, after all, who guided South Dakota Sen. John Thune to his stinging defeat of Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. He was considered to be Rove's heir-apparent, and thus, in 2006, positioned himself as the top strategist for what was presumed to be an easy re-election race for the GOP's likely 2008 presidential candidate, Virginia Sen. George Allen. Unlike the tough battle to unseat an incumbent in South Dakota, the Virginia race was supposed to be a cakewalk. We all know how that turned out– Allen's campaign completely imploded in the wake of his careless use of the word “macaca,” leading to a victory for our candidate, now-Sen. Jim Webb.
A better strategist might have been able to pick up the pieces after “macaca-gate” and get the Allen campaign back on track. Rove himself was able to do as much with the 2000 Bush campaign, pushing it upright every time its feckless candidate capsized (the incident in which Bush referred to New York Times reporter Adam Clymer as a “major-league asshole” while a microphone was still on, jumps to mind). Nevertheless, even with this defeat on his resume, Dick Wadhams returned to his native Colorado, to become the state GOP chairman, and to run the campaign for 2008 senate candidate Bob Schaffer, a former congressman.
Because of Wadhams' Colorado roots, the establishment expected him to do much better there than in Virginia. So far, it's not exactly working; fresh off a scandal involving a Jack Abramoff-funded junket to the Mariana Islands, things were looking bad enough for the Republican candidate. Now, Team Schaffer has unleashed a new blunder, one that points to ineptitude in the strategy department.
Unlike Wadhams, Bob Schaffer was not born and raised in Colorado; he came to the mountanous state as a young adult, after growing up in Ohio. As such, Wadhams advised Schaffer to run an ad emphasizing the latter's connetion to the state. So, the candidate unveiled an ad set against the breathtaking backdrop of a snow-capped mountain, and, in the text of the ad, refers to having proposed to his wife on Pike's Peak, implying that that, the most well-known mountain in Colorado, is the mountain in the background.
The trouble is, it's not Pike's Peak. The stock photo used in the ad turned out to be a picture of Mt. McKinley in Alaska. While not in the same league as “macaca-gate,” it is certainly a blunder– one that I'm sure is giving Wadhams a headache, as he heads for what may be another major loss on his resume as a strategist.
Frankly, the whole thing comes as a pleasant surprise to me; the conventional wisdom holds that the GOP is the party of message discipline, whose marketing strategies come straight from the world of big business and are, consequently, successful, while the Democrats fumble around and make gaffes all over the place. The other side has always had its ruthless, amoral Lee Atwaters and Karl Roves, slyly slithering their way to electoral victory while our inept, mealy-mouthed, overly-apologetic strategists like Bob Shrum kept getting re-hired to run the same losing campaign many times over. I'm sure I'm not the only Democrat who gets a satisfying sense of schadenfreude as the GOP runs itself into the ground.