Defeated Republican Ken Buck acknowledges that Sen. Michael Bennet’s gamble on making the U.S. Senate contest in Colorado a referendum on Buck’s positions on social issues rather than a debate centered on the economy, jobs, and government spending was the right one–but that the messaging from the Democratic side enjoyed enhanced efficacy due to infrastructure:
Though Buck and Bennet had roughly equal amounts of outside TV money spent against them — Buck suffering $11.3 million in such hits, according to the Sunlight Foundation, and Bennet taking hits worth $10.7 million — Buck said Republicans need a better plan.
Democratic ads may be funded by a variety of trial lawyers, women’s groups or unions, Buck said, but they appear to coordinate on finding messages that resonate in Colorado. State Democrats also have an extensive get-out-the-vote operation and advocacy groups researching and attacking candidates, Buck added.
Democrats have a “large amount of money spent on infrastructure, and that’s where I think Republicans are really losing,” he said.
Despite accusations that he flip-flopped or periodically backed away from extreme Tea Party positions from early in the campaign, Buck said the problem wasn’t his language but Republicans’ lack of video “trackers” catching Bennet in similar situations.
The Democratic tracker(s) that followed Buck did so as early as 2009, way before Buck won the support of the grassroots movement in the state, much less the Republican primary. It is clear that trackers were also trailing the other Republican, Jane Norton. Much of the other video that was used to attack Buck came from others who posted video online from any of the hundreds of campaign events, including conservative bloggers and average folks with digital cameras. Every candidate should expect every event short of closed-door, private events to be subject to some sort of recording. Colorado law is fairly permissive when it comes to audio and video recording, even when no permission is granted by the person being recorded.
The larger point, and one that Buck alludes to but does not address specifically, is what he sees as the left’s ability to turn the acquired video or audio into a meaningful messaging attack. Hard coordination is illegal, but “soft,” thematic coordination is not, and both sides used similar messaging as ads appeared to cover the same ground in their attacks on the respective candidates. Buck’s campaign was not able to use Bennet’s words as effectively as Bennet’s campaign attacked Buck. There was plenty of material, but not as much of it made it from the online world to last-minute attack ads against the appointed Democratic Senator. The end of the infrastructure–the messaging machine–made the trackers’ video invaluable. Simply matching the Democrats tracker-for-tracker will not solve the problem.