Election Analysis--Results--Statewide part 3--posted by Tony Garcia on 11/17/2006
I have written extensively on my displeasure with Secretary of State Kiffmeyer, I have spent time on the air about her record and I believe that her record was the sole cause for her defeat. I decided to write my thoughts out and realized that there was more contributing to this race...specifically the campaign. It was a poor showing, from it's rhetorically poor efforts at defending Kiffmeyer from Mark Ritchie's claims to a website that was looked the same as her 1998 run (which did not provide nostalgia but 'behind the times'). I almost skipped posting this part of the analysis but decided that reflecting on why the campaigns did not win is the only way to make future campaigns better.
There is just so much to write about on this race to explain why Mary Kiffmeyer lost to Mark Ritchie. In order to keep it as analytical as possible I will simply boil it down to the following: Partisanship, Competence, Bare Minimum and Campaigning.
Partisanship was one of the loud charges against Kiffmeyer. The case was strong against her, but admittedly it was purely subjective. I happen to agree that she put her party's interests above all else in running her office. The more damaging thing for Kiffmeyer regarding this charge was a failure to actually refute it. The only response was a vacuous, "Well, to make those charges is a partisan attack." Sadly, this is faulty logic. Non-partisans easily came to the same conclusion that she was a highly partisan Secretary of State. She shot herself in the foot by failing to intellectually engage the issue.
She is so much of a partisan that I would suggest her next campaign is for MN GOP Chair. Her philosophies in office and her party-centric organizational skills would be best suited there.
Competence is a very well documented issue...or more accurately the lack of it. Kiffmeyer used her office not only for partisan advantage but for grandstanding and tantrums. Shutting down her office to protest budgetary decisions was a sign of incompetence. Wanting to post anti-terror signs in polling stations was a sign of poor judgment. The list goes on and on and was very publicly presented. Again, the real trouble for her campaign was her inability to directly refute or defend herself at all.
The biggest issue with Kiffmeyer's performance was her unwillingness to go "above & beyond". She did only the bare minimum in her office and too often performed her duties when court ordered or when strongly and publicly criticized. While people joke about "good enough for government work" it is a bit unsettling to see this attitude in the office that oversees elections.
Somewhere straddling the "partisanship" and the "competency" issues is the website and more specifically the "pilot program" for precinct by precinct internet reporting of election results. Kiffmeyer oversaw eight years of elections. There were two Presidential years, two mid-term years and four off-cycle years. For most of those the election results were part of a "pilot program" relating to precinct reporting.
How long does a pilot program for reporting results last before it is improved, implemented or abandoned? For Kiffmeyer it was nearly her entire tenure and the results are unknown. For 2006 the "pilot program" notice disappeared. However, the performance was not improved, the results were as difficult to gather, the website was still an exercise of tedium with small benefit…essentially very little had changed in 8 years. All the while Kiffmeyer claimed to be on the cutting edge of the internet reporting of results.
Difficult claim to make when CNN does a better job and faster for the entire country (and has for Kiffmeyer's entire 8 years) than the Secretary of State does for Minnesota.
Campaigning is a strange beast to address for this race. Because of the incredibly low spending limits for this and the Auditor's race the incumbents should have huge advantages. Their signs are already printed, they already have name recognition and get extra air time because of their office. This is truer for the Secretary of State because this office holder gets air time and exposure for election purposes during the campaign.
How this was squandered one has to look at the campaign. The website was nearly exactly the same as it was in 1998 and 2002 with very minor changes. It was a very low-effort and low-quality internet outreach and it gives a terrible impression. Compare that to Mark Ritchie's and it would be easy to believe Ritchie was "up to date" with the times.
The campaign failed to factually refute the charges from her opponents. "Partisanship" and "incompetence" were simply dismissed as "personal attacks" and "partisan claims". There was never an effort to explain how those claims were false. That leaves the voters to decide if they believe the charges which seem to be backed up with facts or the defense that has nothing to support it.
The campaign also did what many of the campaigns in Minnesota did: rely on half-truths or mistruths as the meat & potatoes of their message. Each race has too many examples to worry about, but one that I believe was important for this race was the presentation in Kiffmeyer's ads and interviews that voter turnout went up during her time in office. Most people realized the missing and crucial information in this claim: she had nothing to do with the turnout. Few people knew that neighboring states had bigger growth in turnout rates than Minnesota. All in all claims like these were more transparent than her party would ever realize.
Mark Ritchie is a good person as is Mary Kiffmeyer. I have met them both on several occasions and have no reason to believe otherwise. But Kiffmeyer was a bad candidate, a horrible incumbent and had a shoddy campaign...that, and that alone, is what cost her the race.
Coming next: Results--Statewide part 4