Friday, February 17, 2006

Unsolicited advice: MO-9

Missouri's 9th US House district is a tough nut to crack -- something I should know, as I managed Libertarian Party candidate Tamara Millay's 2004 campaign for that seat. Kenny Hulshof is an entrenched -- and more importantly, well-liked -- incumbent in a mostly rural, mostly conservative district (with the exception of Columbia, a university town). Campaigns & Elections magazine's Political Oddsmaker rates Hulshof as 88% likely to be re-elected (7-to-1 odds).

Nonetheless, 2006 is a year in which big things can to happen. The Republican Party's foreign policy and national security credentials are shot to hell. Any notion of fiscal conservatism flew out the GOP's window and fell under its rear wheels a long time ago. And while corruption is permanent and pandemic inside the Beltway, it's most visibly symptomatic -- for the moment, anyway -- on the Republican side of the aisle.

Hulshof is as vulnerable as he's ever going to be: He's had the bad luck to serve in the House through the entirety of the Bush administration's misrule and to have helped hatch many of the chickens which are now coming home to roost. He's accepted (and in October, quietly gave to Katrina relief charities) money from Tom DeLay's Abramoff-tainted PAC, and one of his campaign's other contributors, former Bush administration GSA chief of staff David Safavian, is fighting charges of lying and obstruction of justice over his connections to Abramoff.

Hulshof's Democratic opponent (Politics1 lists no Libertarian contender yet), Duane Burghard, looks like he's well-qualified to take on, and perhaps even take out, Hulshof. He's a veteran -- part of the Band of Brothers slate -- and a savvy, experienced businessman in the tech industry.

Unfortunately, even at this early date, Burghard's campaign already looks like it's in big trouble. This is 2006 -- and his web site looks soooo 1996.

OK. Stop and hold. I know what some of you are thinking. Yes, the power of campaign web sites is over-hyped. Every campaign is not going to be Dean for America. It's not all going to be untelevised revolutions and Kossacks charging across the virtual steppe to victory.

But, in this day and age, a campaign web site is certainly an indicator of a campaign's status. So let's look at Burghard's:

- The only item in the "news" section is Burghard's campaign kickoff -- from two months ago.

- Likewise, the only thing in the "upcoming events" section is 60-days-stale kickoff.

- The "press releases" section is "under construction."

- The "contact" and "volunteer" pages list a phone number. No form. No email link.

- The "issues" section includes a few well-worn, safe bromides. Nothing out of the Democratic mainstream ... and nothing that's likely to excite potential volunteers, activists or voters.

Q What is the key issue in this year's congressional elections?

A National security, and specifically the war on Iraq

Q What is Duane Burghard's postion on national security, and specifically the war on Iraq?

A Hell if I know. There's nothing about it on his web site.

Correction: I do know something about Burghard's position, thanks to Google's cache of his old non-campaign site (if you try to reach the page live, a 404 comes back). He opposed the war. I assume he still does. He was willing to say so when he wasn't running for Congress. Why hasn't he been saying so since he became a candidate?

Perhaps because he hasn't been saying, um, anything. I'm not just making assumptions based on the sorry state of his web site. Type "Duane Burghard" into Google News and there's not a single article mentioning him (Google returns 90 recent articles mentioning Hulshof). This means either that he hasn't been making public appearances, or that he doesn't have a media component to his campaign yet.

Yes, it's early -- but make no mistake about it, early is when long shot campaigns have to develop momentum.

A serious candidate should be stumping in front of every group that will listen (especially groups of the younger voters -- students at the University of Missouri, for example -- who are going to be the backbone of his volunteer effort if he can get one going.

A serious candidate should be putting out a minimum of one press release per week -- which means putting on at least one real campaign activity per week.

A serious candidate should be getting on record with real positions on relevant issues -- if for no other reason, so that when and if he gets to butt heads with his opponent, he's already handled the big questions, honed his debate skills and staked out his territory. A candidate who isn't willing to forcefully address the key issues of the day from the git-go might as well just pack it in.

If it looks like I'm going a little rough on Duane Burghard, I am -- because he needs it. I've been back in the Democratic Party for a little over a year. I want to see Democrats pick up a couple of House seats in Missouri in 2006, and my "other party" doesn't have a horse in the race (yet). Based on his resume, Burghard would make a competent congresscritter; I can't speak to his positions because he hasn't really shared any yet, which is part of the problem.

I hope Duane Burghard will get serious about winning this House seat. Democrats can't afford to run half-hearted campaigns this year. Even losing campaigns need to operate aggressively, so that there aren't any "safe" GOP districts from which money and effort can be shifted to "key" races. At this point in the race, a couple of volunteers and a few hours of hard work a week would be sufficient to put Burghard in the running -- and that's exactly where he needs to be.

Any Democrats in the Columbia area? Have a talk with him. Don't make me come down there.

Addendum -- Update on Duane Burghard's campaign and the amazing progress it's made here

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