Thursday, September 25, 2003

Troubling signs?

Kos this morning brings us his perspective on a report in The American Prospect ("Fan Friction") about grumblings within the Draft Clark movement about some apparent heavy handed treatment by the official Clark campaign organization. I am not going to say that this proves that the Clark campaign is in trouble. But it does suggest a disturbing trend within the campaign that could destroy it from within.

The Dean campaign has been run, almost of necessity, as a bottom-up campaign from the beginning. Joe Trippi simply didn't have the resources to run a national campaign by dictate out of his office in Burlington. It is to Joe's credit that he has allowed a significant measure of control to leave his hands and to let local organizations drive the Dean campaign as much as it has. It is safe to say that Dean would not be where he is today without that approach. It remains to be seen whether that approach will carry him across the finish line next Fall.

The Clark campaign started out in a similar bottom-up approach. But now it is trying to pull a trick even harder than that accomplished by the Dean campaign: meld a top-down approach with a bottom-up approach. The question is whether the more traditional campaign operatives that are signing on to the Clark team can tolerate supporters in the field actually formulating strategies for how to win and then doing it without first getting clearance from the central office.

This is not a question of whether Clark would be a good president or even a good candidate. It is a question of whether his campaign can do right by their man. I hope they can because, despite my being a Dean supporter, I want Clark to run a strong campaign. You see, I know that Clark, on paper, matches up against Bush better than Dean. But that's just the theory. If the practice lives up to the theory then Clark will be the stronger candidate to throw up against Bush next fall.

(Note: The Prospect article names several of its sources as prominent Draft Clark people and Kos has a special perspective on this since he was part of that early movement. Because of this, I don't think The Pledge prohibits me from bringing attention to this story. If there really is a growing problem within the Clark campaign it needs to be corrected now before it really gets out of control.)

Update: I started re-reading the Prospect article and I found myself quickly getting confused by the hodgepodge of names (both people and web sites). So I decided to sit down and diagram the inter-relationships of all the people and organizations listed in the article.

The diagram quickly grew out of control, but from it I think I can conclude a few things: the evidence is strong that the Draft Clark movement did not originate in the grassroots but was instead first developed by friends and associates of Clark who listened to the General's musings about being drafted "like Ike" and decided to make it a reality (whether Clark was actually encouraging them to do this from the beginning or not is unknown). However, as they started laying out the foundation for this pseudo-movement, the real grassroots (i.e., Democratic activists not already associated with Clark) began to take up the call and run with it. The result was that, by the time Clark announced, there were two competing camps: the pseudo-grassroots movement of Clark friends and the real grassroots movements of activists who were not previously connected to the general.

The campaign's growing pains appear to be the natural difficulties that come from trying to merge two groups that were never really on the same page in the first place.

A closer analysis of the article suggests that much of the grumbling might be coming from only a small group of the latter activists. However, prominent amongst them is John Hlinko, the founder of DraftWesleyClark.com and the holder of the largest list of email volunteers in the campaign. Hlinko has apparently already worked out his differences with the campaign, according to the end of the Prospect article, but it will be interesting to see if this unruly hodgepodge can jell into a focused campaign.

I suspect this article might be making a bigger deal out of these difficulties than is really there. Approach this story with caution as it might be yet another example of the press trying to blow a story out of proportion.

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