Allen County Republican Chairman Steve Shine was watching a slick anti-Democrat video at the GOP convention in Indianapolis earlier this month when he started thinking about how a similar message could blunt the public-relations impact of this week's statewide gathering of Democrats in Fort Wayne.
While driving home – somewhere around Gas City, appropriately enough -- the inspiration came: Why not saturate the airwaves with a revised and truncated version of the same video?
The resulting $10,000 media blitz may or may not change a single vote in November. But it has at least proven that not even the prospect of 2,000 visitors spending an estimated $500,000 is enough to guarantee Hoosier hospitality where politics are concerned.
And nobody seems particularly shocked.
“You've got to expect that kind of tit for tat,” sighed Visit Fort Wayne President Dan O'Connell, who will do his best to counteract Shine's message in hopes of convincing some of those people to come back again. “We're non-partisan, and proud the Democrats picked our city.”
This is not the first time Shine has tried to promote his party at the expense of visiting Democratic dignitaries. When Bill Clinton visited Fort Wayne to campaign for his wife Hillary during the 2008 presidential primary, Shine he erected a banner in front of his Broadway law office welcoming the former president to “McCain Country” – a reference to the ultimately unsuccessful GOP candidate John McCain.
“This campaign is a lot more sophisticated than the sign,” Shine said.
But will it be more successful? I suppose that depends on how one defines the term.
If the purpose of political advertising is to influence elections, that $10,000 may be wasted, said Andy Downs, director of IPFW's Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics. “I doubt it will influence voters,” he said. “The retention period for TV commercials is pretty short.”
So why spend so much now, just as Fort Wayne has a chance to woo hundreds or even thousands of people who may have never been here before?
Because of politics, that's why – a field in which normally suspect behavior is not only tolerated, but expected and even rewarded.
Shine, after all, is no doubt right when he predicts that the Democrats will devote much of their time at the Grand Wayne Convention Center calling members of his party all sorts of names. “It's wonderful they're spending money here, but this isn't the Visiting Nurses,” he said. “They're going to be bashing the beliefs of the majority of people living in this area. I want to invigorate my base and send a message to the Democrats that this is Republican territory.”
But with Election Day nearly five months away, what's the point?
You probably already know.
“Those TV ads won't trump news coverage of the convention, but they will rally the troops and may provide a way to raise money (for the GOP),” said Downs – a
point reinforced by Shine himself.
Although the TV ads purporting to remind viewers of the “bad old days” when Democrats controlled state government were originally funded by donors and assessments paid to the party by candidates, Shine said he is continuing to use the campaign as a fundraising tool. Response to the ads has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.
This is the first time the Democrats have met outside of Indianapolis and the GOP still operates under rules limiting its convention to Marion County. As such, Shine said, the novelty of this week's event justified a unique response. Not even his Democratic counterpart John Court seemed to mind, telling The News-Sentinel's Christian Sheckler only that he was surprised by the cost of the campaign and insisting that Republicans, too, have had their problems.
Well, of course they have. In the real world, people understand that no individual or party is perfect. In the real world, inflating your own accomplishments while denigrating other people's achievements is considered rude. In the real world, principles don't change just because the party in power does, and it's considered rude to steal the spotlight from somebody else. In the real world, people want what's best for their city, state and nation regardless of who profits from it.
But this is politics.
And so, in that spirit, I'll close by pointing out that both parties are at least spending their own money this week -- not ours. And that, unfortunately, isn't politics.
But it should be.