Blackwell campaign hurt by negative ads, lack of contributions

COLUMBUS – Those involved with the campaign to elect Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell governor argued among themselves and made a lot of mistakes in the months leading up to his defeat on Nov. 7.

On the other hand, those who ran Democrat Ted Strickland?s campaign stayed on message and made the right moves. ?You see the result,? said Norman Cummings, Blackwell?s campaign manager.

Cummings and Republican political consultant Paul Wilson appeared last week with Strickland campaign manager Aaron Pickrell and Democratic consultant Will Robinson at a campaign review sponsored by the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron.

The two campaigns took different approaches to the campaign. ?We saw issues as important,? Wilson said. ?Ken was highly issue-driven. He?s a policy wonk.?

The Strickland camp, on the other hand, focused on its candidate?s image. ?We first had to establish trust with the voters,? Pickrell said. ?People wanted hope.?

Pickrell said the best way to deal with voter cynicism about politicians, Republican and Democratic, was to define their candidate and connect him to voters.

?We looked at who Ted Strickland is and was,? Robinson said.

Then the campaign tackled issues associated with Strickland?s Turn Around Ohio theme. Robinson said Strickland?s positive ads were ?30-second oases? in a sea of negativity and people noticed.

Cummings said the Blackwell camp faced major obstacles, including a lack of money caused in part by a brutal primary battle with Attorney General Jim Petro.

Because they were unable to make a dent in the double-digit lead Strickland had in multiple polls throughout the campaign, they found donors unwilling to provide money.

?We came out of the primary with no money,? Cummings said. ?The biggest fear I had was the Strickland campaign would jump on us early. I was never comfortable that we could match them in a head-to-head shootout. We had very long and loud discussions about when we should start (advertising) and what the message would be.?

The campaign had ?soft? biographical TV ads prepared but ran them at the end of the campaign instead of the beginning. They went with attack ads instead. Cummings called that a mistake.

The ads had little impact on Strickland. ?By mid-July, we were losing ground for no apparent reason,? Cummings said. And from July through mid-September, ?nothing happened? to whittle Strickland?s lead. ?It was our worst fear.?

Without money, the campaign went silent on TV for six weeks. And even when positive ads started airing about Blackwell?s background and plans to create jobs, his negative numbers went up.

?It was disheartening,? Wilson said.

And while Blackwell linked unpopular Gov. Bob Taft to Petro during the primary, he couldn?t attack Taft in the general election for fear of alienating Republicans he needed to win.

The Blackwell camp had a hard time distancing its candidate from Ohio?s corruption scandals. ?This corruption issue was a very big albatross,? Wilson said.

Reach Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail: