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CRANSTON FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN - 1984
Part 5: SUMMARY LETTER

Parts 1 2 3 4 5





1738 Riggs Pl. NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
May 5, 1984

Harris Wofford
Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis
Suite 3600
1600 Market St.
Philadelphia, Pa. 19103

 
Dear Harris:
Since I have lots of time on my hands these days I will take advantage of the opportunity to respond to your letter of April 19. I'm sure others will do the same and hope you will share everyone's comments with all of us. We all went through a very meaningful experience without much time to think about it while it was happening and a collective post mortem would be of some value.
Thanks for the draft platform on nuclear arms control. I had heard a great deal about it from Sally Lou Todd, our organizer in Minnesota, who is working to get it incorporated into the DFL Platform and has succeeded in getting herself elected to the State convention as it's prime spokesperson. Sally, like several other people I know, attempted to join with the Hart forces, but became disillusioned and is now running uncommitted. If she gets to the Democratic Convention, you can count on her to support any Cranston platform efforts. I too expect to be at the Convention, as I made arrangements to get press credentials in January. So if anything is planned, please let me know how I can help.
There are two questions that must be addressed by a post mortem. One is why Cranston didn't do better in Iowa, and the other is why Hart emerged as the alternative to Mondale. I will give you my thoughts on these in reverse order.
The lesson I learned from this campaign is one which, after 20 years of political organizing, I do not like to learn. It is that at least in contests in which voters are well saturated with information and appeals, organization is not all it's cracked up to be, and image is. I have been participating in, watching and/or studying campaigns for thirty years. They are unique entities, unlike any other kind of organization or activity. A good campaign combines the best elements of a social movement with those of a well oiled machine (spontaneity and efficiency). A lousy campaign combines the worst of these (disorganization and bureaucracy) or leans too much toward one or the other. That does not mean that a good campaign is always a successful one. Success, alas, is dependent on many other things, not the least of which is luck. In the modern, media-saturated era, it also seems that success is very dependent on image.
While there are always things that could have been done differently, based on my experience this was a well organized campaign run by competent professionals who dealt magnificently with the inevitable crises that beset any campaign and utilized well the limited resources that were available. I don't think a little more money or a few more ads or a bit tighter organization would have made any difference. We had the second best organization and the third most successful fundraising effort. We didn't come in second or third, and Glenn, who had more money, didn't do that well. The winner of the second tier was a person with little money or organization. Those weren't the key variables.
 

Neither was strategy. The basic campaign strategy was a good one. The campaign correctly observed that there was an enormous amount of non-Mondale sentiment out there resulting in part from Mondale's personal lack of appeal and partly from traditional American animosity to being dictated to by elites. The voters were looking for someone else, and focused on the leader of the second tier in Iowa as that alternative. The campaign correctly concentrated its resources in Iowa (and to a lesser extent in New Hampshire) rather than making Glenn's mistake of spreading himself too thin. But it also held a little in reserve to create a bare bones structure in other states so that effective mobilization could have been accomplished had Alan emerged as the one to beat. Hart did not do this, and I think he's suffering from that error now.
The main problem was image. To those who look beneath the surface, Cranston is an appealing candidate. He's idealistic enough to stand for something besides his own election, and practical enough to utilize what opportunities present themselves to achieve his goals. He is the candidate of the thinking person and the practical idealist. Unfortunately the voters in this election thought less than they reacted to their own gut feelings--and to what the press told them.
Hart was the prime beneficiary of free press publicity. He emerged as a main contender after the first New Hampshire debate where, apart from Jackson, he was the only second tier candidate who received extensive and positive press commentary. I think this coverage directed the voter's attention to Hart and gave him the momentum he needed to make up for the resources he lacked. I have been much amused to listen to reporters' comment after the New Hampshire primary that they didn't see him coming. If you read the press coverage after that first debate I think you will see that they created his coming. How much of a role Pat Caddell had in this I don't know. Mark Cohen gave Caddell a lot of credit for creating something out of nothing with "smoke and mirrors". I think Mark's an astute political observer but people I've talked to in the Hart campaign discredit Caddell's influence, and Hart has said publicly that he did nothing he did not intend to do before Caddell's entry as an unpaid advisor. If Caddell was influential, I don't know what it was he did. I didn't see any great change in Hart's campaign, merely in the press coverage, but then again I wasn't watching.
Although I have been a reporter off and on for fifteen years, I can only speculate on why the press picked up on Hart. I'd like to think that the press do the thinking and indepth analysis of the candidates that the voters don't have time to do, but I doubt it. I think they respond to the crowd as much as the crowd responds to them. And the crowd responded to Hart in the flesh more than it responded to Cranston. The one time that I had a chance to observe this was at the Forum for Women State Legislators in San Diego last December that I covered for In These Times. Hart and Cranston were the only speakers. Their speeches had the same content; same issues, same themes. Hart was interrupted with applause six times, Cranston only once. As a reporter I heard that difference and had I been uncommitted I would have thought that it meant that Hart was the more appealing candidate. Afterwards I suggested to Ambrosino that I could rewrite that speech to get Cranston more applause lines. I've given enough speeches to know that it's style more than substance that evokes applause. Ambrosino told me not to bother; Cranston's style was his style, and was not changeable.
A process of elimination would also account in part for the press attention to Hart. Askew and Hollings were southerners. Few reporters or major papers are southern and after Carter the press won't pay attention to anyone who is. Jackson is Jackson. His attraction had nothing to do with electing the next President. McGovern did a good job of changing the press' original ridicule to respect, but he was never perceived as a serious candidate. Glenn suffered from his press attention which widely advertised his lack of organization. That leaves Hart and Cranston.
The question I can't answer is why the press didn't have the sense to look below the surface of both candidates prior to New Hampshire. Since then the press has looked at Hart more piercingly, and found him wanting. Cranston would have withstood the same scrutiny, but he didn't get it. The press' ignorance about Cranston was brought home to me by an ABC commentator the day after Iowa who said that to be a successful candidate you had to have either style or substance and Cranston had neither. He was right about lack of style, but no reasonable observer could say Cranston lacked substance. Nonetheless, one must confront the fact that if his substance was not seen it does not matter if it was there. This is part of what leads me to my reluctant conclusion that image is more important than organization.

 

Not that I've totally given up on organization, merely relegated it to a less important place than previously. If we had won in Iowa and New Hampshire but failed to prepare the ground in the other states we would be in the same situation that Hart now finds himself in--slowly sinking from sight. I've talked to enough people on the Hart national staff and in New York, and heard enough from Sally in Minnesota to know that the Hart campaign can't organize it's way out of a paper bag. I once wrote an article on the women's movement called "The Tyranny of Structurelessness." I could do a new version on the Hart campaign. The campaign has no lines of communication between the workers and the decision-makers, or the states and the headquarters. It can't organize events or make policy. There's too much bureaucracy and too little organization; too much aimless activity and too little authority. Influence, such as it is, derives from whom you know and how long you've known them rather than what you know. There's a small group of people who run things (insofar as things are run) and they only talk to themselves or their friends, who aren't necessarily the actual campaign workers. The consequence is that for all practical purposes the campaign is closed to new people or new ideas (how ironic!). It appears to operate on the philosophy that image has got them this far, it will get them the rest of the way.
Initially I shrugged this off as due to the overwhelming onslaught of supporters that followed New Hampshire. We would have choked on it too--for a while. My guess is that it would have taken the Cranston campaign about three weeks to absorb all the new resources and the new demands that would have arisen had we been the ones to win. The Hart campaign hasn't absorbed them yet, and my guess is they won't. In retrospect this was predictable, as even before Iowa the Hart campaign did not effectively organize what resources they had. Georgia was one of my states. Hart had a campaign there for a year prior to the slating deadline, yet filed only 41 delegate candidates. We had a campaign there for three weeks and filed 53. More importantly, our filers were evenly distributed among the CDs to maximize our potential delegates. The Hart people were erratically distributed, indicating that there was no central decision making authority telling people which districts to file for or making sure that as many bases as possible were covered.
Although this lack of organization may not bother average voter, I find it scary. One thing I've learned from campaigns is that they tend to mirror the candidate's strengths and weaknesses. I don't know why they do this, as in theory it's the campaign manager not the candidate who runs things. Perhaps the candidate picks as the manager someone like him/herself. Or perhaps the manager and other top personnel pick up from the candidate cues on what is important and how to act and pass them on to those below (that was the case in my study of Bella Abzug's 1976 Senate campaign for the Eagleton Institute). Whatever the reason, I've seen this phenomena so often that I think one learns a great deal about a candidate by looking at his/her campaign. Having watched the Hart campaign, albeit indirectly, I am not reassured at the thought of a Hart Presidency. Image isn't everything. Some things have to be organized.
So much for Hart. My thoughts on Iowa are much sparser and much more speculative. Unfortunately, I was never in Iowa so what I have to say about it is based on very limited facts and a lot of rumor. Obviously our "ones" were not as solid as we thought they were (or as the campaign staff were told they were). Nor were there as many of them. Perhaps we didn't have as good an organization as we were supposed to have but we still had a better one than anyone else (except Mondale). I will take it as a given that about half our supporters deserted us for McGovern. Certainly, if we had retained that support, we would have tied Hart for second and created an entirely different dynamic in New Hampshire. We might still have lost to style. On the other hand, we might have prompted the press scrutiny of substance that we so sorely lacked, and I assume, have come out the better for it.

 

Who were these deserters? I haven't seen any polls taken during or after the caucuses so must rely on what others have said. Cranston campaign people have told me they were lefties. Sally Lou told me many were farmers. She said a lot of farmers in Minnesota began to switch from Cranston to McGovern after the farm debate when Cranston unfortunately said that parity was an anachronistic concept. As a Senator McGovern was the one midwest farmers went to for help even when not from South Dakota. During the campaign he was preaching 90 percent parity which is what those farmers, one-fourth of whom are going bankrupt, want to hear. The agriculture in Iowa is the same as in Minnesota, so if they were switching in one state, they probably switched in the other. Sally said that Cranston's farm statement, once it was finally available, was a good one. But it was too long and too late and I don't think too many farmers read it. A lot more probably heard the comment about parity. Too, when you are in an economic crisis, you are more likely to respond to the candidate who says what you want said to the world about your condition and needs than to the candidate who realistically might be elected. McGovern was to farmers what Jackson is to blacks.
The desertion of the lefties establishes once again how unreliable the left is as a practical political base. There are many lefties who are also practical politicians. Most aren't. Most are concerned with issues. The typical lefty (who still works within the system) is highly educated, intelligent, politically concerned and used to losing. They do not view electoral politics as a mechanism for selecting public officials so much as a forum for expressing views about issues. The candidate who most effectively says what they think should be said gets their support, not the candidate who might make the best official or the one who might win.
McGovern had two advantages over Cranston in appealing to this group. The first is his sentimental appeal. McGovern has been identified for years as the candidate of the left and reinforced this identification with his appeal to conscience. Cranston has not been so identified, and the length of the campaign was insufficient to create any personal loyalty. McGovern's second advantage was that he's not currently holding office. If Cranston had come out for cutting the defense budget by 25 percent his feet would have been held to the fire during the next vote on appropriations. McGovern is safely insulated from having to make good on his word. And it was words that determined how the left voted.
Perhaps if Cranston had been more critical of the military he might have retained the lefty deserters but I'm not sure that would have been wise. The issue oriented leftists are a potentially fickle group on which to base a candidacy. They aren't tolerant of imperfections and are quite vocal in their critiques. The B-1 bomber was an albatross because of this intolerance. Had Cranston done what was necessary to consolidate this base he would have had a difficult time making the necessary appeal to the center to win the nomination, and the Presidency. Even if he had gone all the way, he would have eventually encountered the same problem Reagan has with his right wing base. People who participate in politics solely because of their concern with issues are very different than people who participate in politics because they want to win.
The practical leftists condition their support on other factors as well as issues. They are exacting but not intolerant. However, most of them were supporting Mondale, whose positions were not unacceptable to them, who was perceived as more electable and whose anointment by labor commanded their deference. (Some of the practical leftists supported Jackson in order to establish coalitions with blacks locally. Other left Jackson supporters did so because they felt whites should always support blacks). My guess is that many of them would have switched to Cranston had he emerged as the alternative candidate (and after their support was no longer all that valuable). But they didn't have a chance.
This election illustrated the difficulties of running in a crowded field without a clear identification or a solid base. The candidates were bunched on the left. The left may not be a large segment of the total voting population, but the Iowa caucuses only attract about 100,000 people and they are not representative of the total voting population. Leftists by definition are political activists and thus likely caucus attenders. Since they are also good campaign workers, their support can make a difference in a small political arena. However the differences between the candidates were too small for any to command the automatic allegiance of the left. Thus they could not run against each other effectively on the issues. McGovern had the sympathy and loyalty of the purists. Hart had the appeal of style and was amorphous enough to pick up the Glenn defectors. Mondale had organization, endorsements and money.
Cranston's only hope was to do exactly what he tried to do--identify himself strongly with a single salient issue with potential mass appeal. He did this successfully enough to have his issue co-opted by the other candidates but not successfully enough to make those voters most committed to disarmament perceive him as their spokesperson. If the freeze activists of the practical left had been astute enough to recognize how valuable it would have been to them to have as a major candidate someone whose primary imperative was nuclear disarmament Cranston would have had their support instead of Mondale (or uncommitted). Or if the peace activists of the purist left had been willing to temper their purity with a little pragmatism, 1984 might have been remembered as much more than the title of a book.

Sincerely,

Jo Freeman
P.S. If you know of anyone looking for a lawyer, I'm still looking for a job.

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