CHARLIE MITCHELL: ‘Electioneering’ has become an industry all unto itself

CHARLIE MITCHELL

CHARLIE MITCHELL

“For some, politics is a racket that’s too good to pass up.”

So wrote Christopher Hooks of Politico in a story summarizing the defeat of former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, who sought to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, also a Republican, earlier this year.

It’s an observation worth pondering, specifically because electioneering has, in fact, evolved into a freestanding industry and career field.

There is some relation between this development and the seamy side of campaigning as witnessed by Mississippians this year. No less than the Rev. Al Sharpton tabbed the Chris McDaniel-Thad Cochran primary as “downright dirty and bizarre.” But all this in-your-face campaigning – the visible portion – is merely a sideshow, tip of the iceberg kind of thing.

One has to look past the TV ads, robocalls and media histrionics to get the picture.

As for the primary in Texas, Cornyn, like Cochran, was a conservative “insider.” Stockman, like McDaniel, played the role of the much more conservative “outsider.”

Unlike McDaniel, Stockman didn’t do much “retail” campaigning. He made few appearances, spent little money. His forte was casting “tweets” and “posts” into “social media” that were somewhat outrageous.

Ken Cope, another Republican seeking to oust Cornyn, actually called on Stockman to drop out.

It’s not mere name-calling or jockeying for position. More and more these days it’s all scripted. It’s not about feeding media all-too-hungry for shock and outrage stories so that issues questions are never asked and answered. (Actually, a McDaniel-Cochran debate would have been pretty boring since they agree on pretty much every point of conservatism.) It’s about the business aspect; marketing.

As Hooks pointed out in his article, Stockman may have had debts from his House campaigns and was running to raise new money to pay old bills.

He wouldn’t have been the first to do this.

Nobody talks about it much, but fund-raising is a highly profitable enterprise for individual firms who solicit campaign cash on a bounty system – the more they raise, the more they make.

Some may think of this as insidious and others may call it the work of genius, but the level of sophistication in developing lists of donors and voters, their pet topics and pet peeves, is unprecedented.

These days, pleas for cash can be tailored with precision. For instance, a robocall against gun control can be made to a person whose name and information were harvested from a pro-Second Amendment database.

Further, said “good mailing lists” and layered data are commodities. Campaigns negotiate for the purchase and transfer of digital information.

Back to Mississippi: Statewide, all voters except those who cast ballots as Democrats in the June 3 primary, are invited back to the polls next week to decide whether Cochran or McDaniel will face former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, nominated by Democrats, in the general election on Nov. 4.

“Commentators” and “observers” are pulling out their stock phrases: “Too close to call,” “dependent on turnout,” “polling within the margin of error.” All are accurate, as is the statement that there’s more going on than we see.

Electioneering was always an art. These days it’s also a science and a profitable venture for thousands of careerists. It has become a specialized industry with its own language and legions of data-driven professionals.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email cmitchell43@yahoo.com. He is assistant dean of the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media, P.O. Box 1848, 112 Farley Hall, University, MS 38677-1848.