I joined Hill+Knowlton Strategies

POLITICO Influence reports on my new job:

ALSO FIRST IN PI… Hill+Knowlton Strategies added Soren Dayton, an experienced digital communications and public affairs strategist, as a senior vice president. Dayton comes from Prism Public Affairs (which subsequently merged with Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications) and before that New Media Strategies, Rep. Nick Smith‘s (R-Mich.) office and John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign

Also covered by O’Dwyer, the Holmes Report, and Bulldog Reporter.

On net neutrality

The net neutrality debate has picked up in India based on “zero-rating” or the idea that a service could be provided where the user didn’t pay for the data. I have long wondered how organizations like Facebook, Google, Wikimedia, and others could support net neutrality aggressively in the US and provide “zero-rated” services.

As someone who has worked on the issue on and off since 2008, I have been struck by how the terms of the debate shift. So I wrote a piece for the Takshashila Institution that tries to give the debate more an analytic framework that explains why it is happening now, what the challenges that its trying to address, and what the uncertainties are.

Ultimately, while I have some sympathies for the values of net neutrality but worry about a lot of the details. That’s why I tend to like the ideas that Google and Verizon negotiated in 2010. However, I recognize that in many ways, they don’t apply to the Indian context.

On Stopping Absentee Ballot Fraud, Democratic Machine 1, Jon Corzine 0

One of the central issues of the New Jersey Governor’s race is ethics. One question that arises from that is, “who is in charge, Jon Corzine or the Democratic Machine?” The case of Jamel Holley is a case in which the machine won.
Holley is an up-and-coming star of the New Jersey Democratic Party. See this profile of him in a “Under 40″ list. He was chief-of-staff to Neil Cohen, the previous Deputy Majority Leader in the Assembly. (Cohen eventually resigned due to allegations, and now indictments, of child porn) In 2004, he represented the New Jersey Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention Committee on Affirmative Action and Outreach. He was the Executive Director of the Roselle Democratic Committee, and is now the Roselle Council President.
He was also indicted by the Democratic Attorney General for tampering with absentee ballots, “completing portions of the ballots of at least 20 voters,” in a 2006 Democratic Primary for a Roselle City Council seat. Once those voters testified to his behavior, the ballots, which happened to be for Holley’s candidate.

Holley was ordered by a judge to pay a $125 fine and enter “pre-trial intervention”, at the end of which the case will be dismissed. (it is somewhat unlikely that, as the judge noted, Holley was “not familiar with the absentee voting system” or “not educated in this”. I mean, ED of the local party, representative to the convention, Council President, former Chief of Staff to the Deputy leader…) That sure sounds like an admission to the facts to me.

In any case, as soon as the indictment came down, Corzine’s office called for Holley’s resignation. But then, another one of Holley’s former bosses objected, after the judge acted. Assemblyman Cryan (who happens to be the Corzine-appointed State Democratic Party Chairman) wrote a letter attacking the Attorney General’s action.

Corzine’s response? He backtracks on the initial demand to have Holley resign:

At a Willingboro rally on Saturday, Corzine told PolitickerNJ.com that he had not seen Lesniak’s letter, nor did he remember his request for Holley to step down from office while fighting his case against the Attorney General’s Office.


Corzine’s AG is under the bus. His principal of elected officials under scrutiny? Under the bus.
Sounds like Machine 1, Corzine 0.

Or, as one paper put it, “Christie has often accused Corzine of being more lenient with prominent Democrats while throwing lesser figures under the bus”. Perhaps Corzine just didn’t understand what category Holley was in.

Soren citing: What blog outreach is for

Steve Dinan at the Washington Times writes about John McCain’s campaign’s blog outreach strategy. My take on the whole thing is summed up in my quote:

“I don’t think the people at DailyKos are going to treat John McCain mercifully, but I think the fact that people get their question heard makes them dial it back a bit,” said Soren Dayton, a blogger who worked briefly for the McCain campaign and now works at a public affairs company, New Media Strategies.

Yesterday, you see, a couple of liberal bloggers were invited to McCain’s regular blog conference calls in which he fields questions from bloggers for about an hour. One blogger, one of the Momocrats, a blog that lives at the intersection of two lively blogospheres, mommy blogs and the lefty nutroots, made the point most effectively:

“The fact that I could ask my question and have it smacked down is farther than a lot of people could get,” she said.

In the case of both Barack Obama and McCain, there is a kind of “medium is the message” thing going on. By inviting lefties, especially lefties who are read by the entire mainstream media like Talking Points Memo, it drills home the message that John McCain is for openness. At the same time, Obama is dodging questions and calling reporters sweetie. Just looking through comments on these blogs, and chatting with some media types, reporters and bloggers are hearing that message. Why won’t Obama answer questions from reporters? Why won’t Obama answer questions from bloggers? Why did Obama’s new media person resign because he couldn’t get access? Etc., etc., etc.

The media is still in love with Obama. But we have 6 months for them to not get to ask questions and write unfair stories. I suspect that somewhere around the convention, they are going to have to start writing serious stories about Obama, just like they did about John Kerry. Then it will be a whole new ballgame.

Barack Obama’s ideology problem

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Doug Schoen, (admittedly a Clinton operative) points to Barack Obama’s values problem:

Most importantly, he must answer this question once and for all: What are his values? … Exit polls in Indiana and North Carolina show clearly that fewer than 60% of white voters believe Mr. Obama shares their values. In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 45% of the American electorate said they can identify with Mr. Obama’s values, compared to 54% who say they can identify with John McCain’s values.

For Obama, this is the danger of the Jeremiah Wright issue, his association with people like Bill Ayers, the self-inflicted lapel-pin discussion, his statement about “clinging to religion and guns”, and so many other things. His race becomes the exclamation point on a long sentence, not the problem itself.

This is a symptom of a problem discussed previously by Mark McKinnon from the McCain campaign. Basically, Barack Obama is perceived as a liberal.

McKinnon had data he attributed to pollster Bill McInturff showing the extent to which the public perceives various past and present Democratic candidates for president as “liberal.” He said 39 percent of the public viewed Jimmy Carter as liberal, while 38 percent viewed Bill Clinton as liberal. Both, obviously, won. Al Gore was at 49 percent and John Kerry was at 56 percent. Hillary Clinton, McKinnon said, is at 52 percent, and Barack Obama is at 49 percent. He sees this as extremely problematic for them — it puts them in league with the losers.

Cons. Mod. Lib.
John McCain 41% 41% 9%
Barack Obama 8% 28% 54%

These questions have started to get asked in public polling. Rasmussen asked the question 3/31-4/2, before Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana, “clinging to guns and religion”, or the most recent iteration of Rev. Wright. Results:

Fifty-four percent (54%) of Likely Voters nationwide believe Barack Obama is politically liberal. … Twenty-eight percent (28%) see Obama as moderate …

Forty-one percent (41%) believe that John McCain is politically moderate while an equal number believe the presumptive Republican nominee is politically conservative.

So let’s be clear what the numbers demonstrably show. A majority of the American people believe that Barack Obama does not share their values. A majority of the American people think that he is liberal. I don’t think that I have seen a survey in recent years that puts % liberal even over 30%. In other words, it could be possible to paint Obama as ideologically out of touch.

Now, I am not sure that that’s a winner. Narrative is narrative, and will likely be dominant. But narratives are set by events and facts. And the facts demonstrate that there is fertile ground for creating cultural distance between Barack Obama and the American people. And Obama will give us more, whether more about Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ, more about arugula, more offensive nonsense from Michelle Obama, more “bitter” and “clinging to religion and guns”, and more bowling scores of 37.

And then there are issues. The American people also trust McCain more than Obama on the economy (here and here), not to mention security, etc.

Still an uphill swim. But we have to remember the tools that we have to fight.

The Next Right: New Political Technologies

At the end of any of the week-long courses at the Leadership Institute, Morton Blackwell passes out a framed document, The Laws of the Public Policy Process. Number 9 is: “Political Technology Determines Political Success.” It is clear that at various points, the Republican Party has dominated certain areas of political technology. In the 70s and 80s, it was direct mail. In the 90s, it was talk radio. In the 2004 election, it was probably micro-targetting and the depth of information about voters in Voter Vault. At other times, the Democrats were similarly able to use new ideas to out organize us. The construction of the FDR coalition depended on a robust ward and precinct system in urban areas coupled with intense local corruption. Earlier Democratic majorities depended on strong organizations in immigrant communities. The movie Gangs of New York has a scene in which a Democratic Party official is standing at the docks in New York passing out food and Democratic Party literature to people as they get off the boat. And today the GOTV operation run out of the black churches is astonishing in its effectiveness and is an important factor in the inability of the GOP to make any significant inroads into the African American community.

In each case, some method of political organizing corresponded to some sociological phenomenon that increased the ability to organize that group. One of the keys to build the next Republican coalition will be to connect demographic subgroups, issues that motivate them, and political technologies that mobilize them. These may end up being unique to each demographic.

By way of clarifying, let me pose a question. Reihan Salam suggested that working class whites and latinos may be joining as a political force:

Suppose the white working class, which is to say the Anglo white working class, is actually expanding to include Latinos of a similar cultural disposition and economic status. Look beyond the color-coded demographic projections and it’s at least plausible that a working-class coalition built around an Anglo-Latino bloc will more than hold its own in raw numbers against the emerging Obama coalition of social liberals of all classes, black voters, and reform-minded members of the mass upper middle class.

About this, Michael Barone noted:

For nearly four decades, enlightened opinion has seen Latinos as “people of color,” who will respond to American politics much as blacks have done. All recent experience (and my own The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again) suggest this is not so.

If the white working class follows the pattern since the 80s and trends Republican and Hispanics continue the trend of the last several President elections and become increasingly Republican, we could have part of the basis of a new coalition. But how do we organize them?

I don’t have the answer to this question. I have no experience organizing Latinos and hope that people who run campaigns in Latino districts participate in our discussion. One of the functions of The Next Right will be to provide a forum for sharing best practices. For example, Gen-Next is organizing and recruiting new donors in Orange County, the University of Oregon Students for McCain is creating a huge presence on an incredibly liberal campus, Stephen Taylor and the Conservative Party of Canada are dominating the left online even more than the left dominates in the United States, and the Florida GOP has done categorically better than almost any state party in the country in organizing Hispanics, even discounting Cubans.

I suspect that the successful experiments that are taking place out there in the real world can be shared. Pat Hynes has written on the power of small groups in evangelical churches to connect and inform people. My experience at John McCain’s campaign suggests that a more full-scale political organizing method may be possible that borrows from these ideas. McCain enthusiasts all over the country were reaching out, holding conference calls, recruiting people when the campaign was incapable of overseeing them, or, in some cases, even communicating with them. With some tools, a campaign or the Republican National Committee might be able to harness energy that links online activity and offline activity. The College Republican National Committee is beta-testing one such tool right now from We the Citizens, which also used successfully in the re-elect of Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.

Stay tuned. This will be one part of The Next Right.

The next project: The Next Right

Well, a lot has happened since the last time I posted here. I joined John McCain’s campaign. I left John McCain’s campaign. I joined my friend Jon Henke at New Media Strategies, a great New Media PR firm.

Jon and I will be joining Patrick Ruffini on a new project, The Next Right. I think that all of us have slightly different views of the project. But here’s where I am coming from.

My sense is that our politics, the conservative movement, and the Republican Party is at a transitional point. Mike Huckabee’s campaign was basically correct that the Reagan coalition was over. Patrick had noticed that Bush had run in 2000 on a somewhat different agenda than Reagan’s, so this is not that surprising a statement … unless you are operating in the intellectually atrophied confines of the Beltway. Conservative interest groups have become profoundly transactional and trivial in scope. In any case, the Republican Party needs to change. Some of these demands are generational. Some of it is the catastrophe of the old business model. Some of it is demographic, although Barack Obama and his version of liberalism seem determined to give us an assist in the fall.

The upshot is that Patrick, Jon, and I will be exploring these ideas and where we go from here. I think that we have somewhat different views of what exactly this means. There will be some focus on technology. Some of this is inevitable because of who we are and what we do. Some of this is because when you organize a new movement, you use the tools that you have. The urban machines did it with the precinct structure. We did it with direct mail. And the RNC has found efficiencies in the GOTV process that are hard to comprehend.

I hope that you join us at The Next Right as we work out some of the questions and hopefully shape the next Republican majority. I also have some other political projects that are in the ideas stage. Expect to hear more about these.

I will also continue blogging at Redstate for more activist-oriented political things and a variety of things of personal interest at sorendayton.com, where this is crossposted. Please read them all and stay in touch!

State of the race

After John McCain’s comeback victory, the game is still on. For each of the candidates:

First, Mitt Romney must win in Michigan or drop out. He is going to have to talk about his business experience because of the weakness of his governing record. The clear rejection of his negative attacks means that he will probably have to go more positive. Romney’s long-term confidence can be seen in his dropping of South Carolina buys. If he performs in Michigan, he would be close to dark in South Carolina.

Second, John McCain will continue to be vulnerable on immigration, but exit polls in New Hampshire put that issue behind the economy, the war in Iraq, and the great struggle against terrorism. McCain has opened up a defense from Romney’s attack on his tax record with Senator Phil Gramm and Rep. Jack Kemp. Besides, it looks like the Wall Street Journal may play a little defense for him too. McCain is already the clear 2nd in South Carolina, and a bump from New Hampshire and, possibly Michigan, would likely tighten the race with Mike Huckabee there.

Third, Mike Huckabee.  National observers were a little surprised by Mike Huckabee’s result in New Hampshire, but I don’t see a lot of coverage of it. I also think that he may perform better than people expect in Michigan, squeezing Mitt Romney from the right on social issues.

Fourth, Rudy Giuliani. We are just going to have to see what happens in Florida. It’s a gamble that they are taking. I am increasingly skeptical.

And, last, Fred Thompson. Ummmm. His last stand is in South Carolina. That seems calculated to take more votes out of Huckabee and Romney than a real pro-Fred strategy in itself. it is now clear that McCain will continue to have strength through South Carolina, regardless of Michigan. A Romney collapse would probably split the votes several different ways. It is hard to imagine how he would come in first. Or even second. Taking a last stand in a place in which 3rd is your most likely results seems…. odd.

In conclusion, this seems likea McCain-Huckabee race, with outside chances for Rudy and Mitt to have surprisingly strong showings.