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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nelson Letting Fiscal Conservatism Crimp Campaign?

Chris Nelson said something the other day that ought to make me like him. He played to my inner cheapskate:

"Understand, I'm a fiscal conservative. That's not just a word for me. It's how I operate. That's how we're operating the campaign," Nelson said. "We're going to spend less money than the other two campaigns, no question about it" [Chet Brokaw, "Chris Nelson Aims to Win GOP House Race on the Cheap," AP via Rapid City Journal, 2010.05.17].

In a political jungle dominated by corporate gorillas, the candidate who gets less cash from the big money interests gets extra points on my scorecard. Nelson also scores points for practicing what he preaches about fiscal conservatism.

But there's a time and place for everything... including principles.

Peacocks waste an absurd amount of resources growing their outlandish tail feathers. A "feather conservative" could cut down its chickpea intake and fly more efficiently. But during mating season, the big spenders get the chicks.

Like it or not, fundraising is a proxy (an imperfect proxy, a distasteful proxy) for electability. It is a market measure of the intensity with which certain people want a candidate to win and think the candidate can win. Dr. Ken Blanchard says so, so it must be true! (That's the good professor, filling my day with unpleasant truths.) Even if Nelson's relatively thin wallet results not from donors balking but from Nelson's not asking, it still sends the signal that he's not the alpha bird. The absence of that signal makes it easier for Republicans like Michael Sanborn to buy into what the other GOP candidates are offering.

Nelson sounds absolutely sincere when he says he won't spend lots of money in Congress. But setting that example in his campaign fundraising may mean he won't get a chance to prove it.

p.s.: Note that that Sioux Falls paper chose to headline the story about Nelson's low fundraising with the faintly negative "Running on Reputation". Are they hoping they'll sell more papers with Noem's bodacious hair on the cover... or maybe Curd's gleaming noggin?

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