The Democrats could hardly conceal their glee last weekend when word got out that GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mike McGavick's campaign manager was quitting. In addition to bad poll numbers (McGavick trails Democratic incumbent Senator Maria Cantwell by 13 points), staff shakeups are the best indicator that political campaigns are faltering. "This is a sign of a floundering, desperate campaign," state Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz chimed.
If you ask me, though, the McGavick shakeup actually raises questions about Cantwell's campaign. Here's why: Check the new McGavick campaign manager's resumé. Issaquah boy Dan Brady is a 38-year-old Seattle University law-school grad. Among other things, Brady was a legislative aide to former high-profile Republican King County Council Member Chris Vance (Vance, of course, went on to be the GOP state party chair). He was also the '04 spokesman for successful GOP U.S. congressional candidate Cathy McMorris; and a GOP staffer and volunteer during the Dino Rossi recount effort.
It's not that I'm bowled over by Brady's accomplishments—in fact, the Rossi recount turned out to be an embarrassment. But Brady's history with local Rs underscores McGavick's sensibility: He likes to tap local talent for key campaign jobs. (Brady's predecessor was a local, as is McGavick's spokesperson Julie Sund.)
By way of contrast, Brady's promotion to campaign manager calls attention to what I believe is a serious problem with Cantwell's campaign. Despite the battle-tested Democratic campaign talent in town—the Democrats control the state house, the state senate, and the governor's mansion—Cantwell's campaign is relying on out-of-state hires to run the show. Cantwell's campaign manager, Matt Butler, is a former John Kerry campaign staffer (now there was an impressive effort). And Cantwell's brand-new spokesperson, Amanda Mahnke, just got in from D.C. a week ago. And according to Cantwell's most recent campaign-finance reports, 64 percent of the money she spent on consultants and fundraising went to political firms outside the state. Local politico Christian Sinderman helped propel Cantwell in 2000, but he's just a blip on Cantwell's payroll now. (80 percent of McGavick's comparable spending stayed in state.)
Am I being provincial? Sure. But with good reason. To win local races, you need lead staffers who know local politics. Exhibit A: Cantwell's botched event at Garfield High School last month. Only a staff with no sense of what's happening on the ground would schedule a high-profile event at Garfield, a hotbed of antiwar sentiment. (Cantwell's Achilles heel with Democrats is her Iraq war vote.) The Garfield PTSA recently passed a resolution banning military recruitment. (Cantwell staff made a scene 86ing those folks for tabling at their own school). Meanwhile, newly announced antiwar candidate and former Black Panther Aaron Dixon's strongest supporters live in the neighborhood around Garfield. The Garfield event—a pour-and-stir affair out of Washington, D.C.—turned into a complete muddle. King County Executive Ron Sims had to rush to Cantwell's rescue by leaping onstage and prompting a pro-Cantwell chant to offset the antiwar one.
Expect more phoned-in muddles from Cantwell (and dialed-in messaging from McGavick) to eat away at Cantwell's lead.