Friday, August 25

Consulting Across The Aisle

Two days ago, John Weaver, chief political strategist for 2008 presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), surprised some political insiders and bloggers by confirming that Nicco Mele, former webmaster for Howard Dean, best known as the early favorite to win the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination after serving as governor in Vermont (1999-2003), is now courting a Republican.

Mele was largely responsible for the Dean campaign's extensive use of the Internet to reach out to its supporters. They frequently "blogged" on the campaign trail and even delegated important campaign-related decisions to polls conducted on the Website, creating a populist-like movement that shattered fundraising records.

Since, Mele's Internet strategy group EchoDitto has had more than twenty major Democratic and liberal firms and candidates as clients (some of which are considered far left), which sets the stage for controversy inside the Republican party. Generally speaking, political consultants are shunned when they cross the aisle.

On his blog, Mele had made a case that he has ''long admired Sen. McCain's work on campaign finance reform and his independent streak. This is a personal decision for me ... I like Sen. McCain--I think he should be president!''

Not surprising, McCain's decision to hire Mele has led to some political fallout on both sides. Questions regarding McCain's more liberal political ties have resurfaced and Mele, despite being named the "best and brightest" by Esquire, is alienating some of his Democratic clientele.

What's the big deal?

Perhaps the first campaign manager I ever worked with, my friend and retired political consultant Benay Stout, who worked closely with late Nevada governor and senator Chic Hecht, and is responsible for the political start of Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), said it best when she said ''never cross the aisle and never work with kooks.''

Kooks aside, the reason is clear enough. When you start working on political campaigns for opposing parties, people will naturally begin to question your convictions much like they might question a candidate who switches parties. And that is precisely why Mele and McCain are coming under fire.

In some ways, Mele's decision will play out like Steorn. If McCain wins the Republican nomination, Mele will earn certain political inoculation. If McCain doesn't win, then Mele will be caught in the middle without much of a safety net. In sum, if you sacrifice political convictions for a paycheck opportunity, it becomes a question of credibility.

While I suppose there is nothing wrong with being a true ''hired gun'' in politics, every consultant sets their own threshold. For us, we've always been proud of the people we've supported, most notably former state Assemblyman David Brown and state Sen. Bob Beers. While it is virtually impossible to agree on every issue with every candidate, we only work with those who stand to do the best for our state.

We apply the same principles to other accounts as well. We only work with those that we can believe in, and pass on those more questionable offers along the way. We turned down high paying jobs from ethically challenged Bum Fights and questionable Yucca Mountain supporters.

And therein lies the Mele dilemma. Too many people are scratching their heads, wondering why someone who seems to stand by the far left convictions of someone like Dean can suddenly embrace (not far right, but significantly further right than Dean) McCain. For many, Mele's decision appears to make him disingenuous. But even more ironically, it won't be if McCain wins.

Somehow, everyone has an easier time sticking behind a winner.


Rich on 8/25/06, 1:02 PM said...

Turk, over at Kung Fu Quip, provides an interesting update: "Assuming McCain wins, that will cover Nicco through the 4-8 years he’s working for the administration, but he’ll never work as a Democrat again. The Democrats are apparently calling for his head already. echoditto had to put out a statement distancing themselves from McCain already. They’re undoubtedly getting calls and complaints from clients."

He's right. And if McCain loses, it’s very likely no one will work with Mele again. Risky indeed.

Rich on 8/29/06, 10:36 PM said...

Famous Last Words...

"EchoDitto, the company that I co-founded and am CEO of, has not in the past, does not now, and will not in the future do any work for Sen. McCain in any way." - Nicco Mele

''Nicco has agreed to, effective immediately, take a leave of absence from our company.'' - Harish Rao


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