Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cong. Melissa Bean [D]: Managing the medium is the Message

Links fixed and added at 4:50 pm on Thursday.
Reliable sources have it that real polls and other indicators have 44 year old incumbent Democrat Congresswoman Melissa Bean [Barrington] ever so slightly ahead in the Illinois 8th CD. Although, contrarian Bob Novak has it tilting for David McSweeney [R-Barrington Hills] and giving the Rs a one vote margin of control in the House]. Partly that is the power of incumbency and partly the recent boost of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce putting out almost one million dollars in soft, well produced TV ads in August. Advantage, Bean

Bean's critics, including her opponents in the race, Republican David McSweeney and Moderate Party candidate Bill Scheurer [Lindenhurst], will say the ads are a reward for Bean’s decision to become one of only fifteen Democrats to support CAFTA. Some of her labor critics chant a similar theme [See here and here for transcripts and video podcast of show with Cong. Bean discussing these and other matters].
Disadvantage, Bean.

Bean and her supporters, including the U. S. Chamber, of course, deny the connection. The U. S. Chamber says her record of going with the Chamber on 73% of the votes they scored in 2005 was helpful, but not dispositive, in getting the endorsement. They contend there is no specific number for an endorsement, although there is a number, i.e., 70 %, for the Spirit of Enterprise award, which Bean also got. Advantage, Bean

In addition to her 73% number, the Chamber looked at the over-all performance of the incumbent on the matters they considered important in 2005 [Oddly, 2006 seemed not to count]. And, of course, as to the million dollars, or so, in TV ad support that the Chamber gave Bean, that decision is based on even more “intangible,” criteria. Advantage, Bean

The Chamber talked to Republican challenger McSweeney about its endorsement and may have given some perfunctory, thought to third party candidate Scheurer-- who got on the ballot in late June-- as is the case with independent candidates in Illinois, but it is clear the Chamber’s approach in this contest was to ask: “Do we want to reward Bean for voting more pro-business, in our view, than is the case with most Democrats, even though we are confident McSweeney would have been a more consistent supporter of business than Bean.” “Hell yes,” essentially said the very political Chamber. Advantage, Bean

Indeed, Chamber insiders would no doubt concede that McSweeney would have been likely to score in the 90-95% range on the votes of interest to the Chamber. But, the Chamber wanted to reward some Dems who tilt their way. The better to buy more votes in the future. And, then there was Bean’s vote for CAFTA, which was really, really important to the Chamber. Advantage, Bean.

Of course, Cong. Bean works the District hard, and has for the last 20 months as only an incumbent can, as well as for the prior four years when she ran twice again Cong. Phil Crane. Advantage Bean.

With four forums being held in the 8th CD over the last week of August and into the first week of September, the Bean campaign no doubt felt their candidate, a Democrat in a Republican district came out okay, even if not a winner. If a forum has a winner, but no one sees it, or writes about it much, was there a winner. Advantage Bean.

The forum ground rules, venues, etc. were controlled in large part by the Congresswoman. This is not unusual for incumbents. Multiple organizations want to host, but virtually no organization wants to do it unless both, and in this case, all three candidates will show.

McSweeney and Scheurer would show no matter what. Bean, on the other hand, as the incumbent, can say to the sponsor, “Let’s make a deal.” And, deal she did. And, the sponsors all said, “what would you like, Congresswoman? Your wish is our command.

Another case of Bean masterfully managing the medium and the media. You want not so much TV? We can do that. You want no live TV, we can do that. [See here]. You want no questions by the candidates to each other? We can do that. You want an early morning forum that no Chicago TV station would consider televising live? We can do that. You want the radio taping outside of the Loop so few Chicago media members will cover it? We can do that. [Note the greater press coverage by the Chicago media of the recent 6th CD AT Issue forum, which was held in its usual venue[the Chicago Loop]: the WBBM 780 AM Loop Radio studio, as opposed to 8th CD forum which Team Bean required to be held in the District. Nice one, Congresswoman Bean. Managing the Media is truly her message.

The primary goal of Congresswoman Bean was to structure the forums in a way that would generate little interest and would make it hard for many of the 800,000 8th CD constituents to see or hear much about the forums. In short, Bean wanted to cap the effective audience size. This is true for almost all incumbents. This approach maximizes the power of incumbency, which includes a lower cost of communication with the District’s residents than for challengers. Advantage Bean.

Also, this approach to forums limited the number of people who might conclude, based on observation, that the challengers are “equal,” or better, than the incumbent. If the constituents can’t see the candidates debate with each other, it is hard for them to conclude equals are in the race. If the events are structured more like dull forums than lively debates, even better fr the incumbent.

Televised debates, in short, are the great equalizers for challengers. They are also helpful for democracy. But, they are not so good for candidates who do not want a full and fair airing of the issues. No major TV station televised any of the 8th CD forums. At least one of the 6th CD forums will be televised by WTTW. Advantage, Bean.

So, Cong. Bean got her way. Although ABC, NBC, CLTV, WTTW and Public Affairs all indicated an interest in hosting televised forums in the 8th CD race, and McSweeney and Scheurer were hot to debate on TV, Bean stiff-armed the television offers, declining even to show up for an ABC-7 pre debate candidate meeting, with the others not even getting that far. NBC got an early solo appearance with Bean out of the deal, and if lucky, McSweeney and Scheurer will get something similar, but not the debates they cherish. Advantage Bean

Republican former investment banker David McSweeney called for twenty four debates. Third party independent candidate Bill Scheurer supported twenty four, but would have happily settled for ten. Bean argued she is a busy Congresswoman with no time for televised debate, even though this would expand the reach of the forums to the District’s constituents, of whom Bean purports to care. As to Scheurer and McSweeney, Bean essentially says they should be grateful for what they got. And, the voters, too. Or, reaching into history, Bean might say, “No real debates, no way for the voters to see the forum? Well, then, let them eat cake.” Disadvantage, Democracy.

McSweeney and Scheurer jumped at the opportunity for four forums, and now will argue for more forums or better yet, some true debates. Good Luck. Advantage Bean.

A secondary goal of Bean’s was to do the forums early in the campaign, i.e. before Labor Day, as it is well known that most constituents pay little attention to these races until after Labor Day. Bean managed to schedule three forums before Labor Day and one a day after Labor Day. Advantage Bean. Managing the Medium is the message.

Bean will try to stonewall McSweeney and Scheurer and the media, who may argue that Cong. Crane should hardly be the gold standard for how to provide information about the candidates to the District [The Northwest Herald has already criticized the Congresswoman for not doing more debates]. It is somewhat ironic that Bean now points to Crane, as her benchmark. During her 2002 and 2004 campaigns, Bean wouldn’t even use the 74 year old Crane as a bench to sit on. Now, he is her frame of reference for deciding how to communicate with the community; Crane has become Bean’s Gold Standard. Watch for the price of that kind of Gold to fall. Advantage Scheurer and McSweeney.

Who won the forums? I say forums because they were not debates. Bean pushed for and got rules that barred any real direct questioning, communication or engagement by the candidates of each other. Advantage Bean.

The candidates and pundits can debate who won the forums over the next 40 days but it is doubtful that will matter. Three of them [Northwest Suburban Alliance of Commerce and Industry [NSACI], Lake County Chamber of Commerce and a taping of “At Issue,” in front of Grayslake Central High School students] were seen live by fewer than 100 potential voters at each event, with one [McHenry County College], attracting about 250 potential voters. Advantage Bean.

The Grayslake Forum was also beamed out by radio to the District, so the potential impact is greater, but it isn’t TV. Advantage Bean.

CBS-2 [Katie McCall] made its way to two of the forums, putting up maybe two 90 second, or so, spots. ABC-7 sent a camera to a portion of one and if it put up a spot, it was hard to find. CLTV sent a camera and it’s ace political reporter Carlos Hernandez Gomez to one forum and he put up one spot, although it may have appeared multiple times. NBC elected no coverage and WTTW [Public TV] apparently has decided women’s professional basketball is a higher priority for coverage than the two of the hottest races in the country: the 8th CD and 6th CD, unless WTTW is able to host it’s own forum, as it is in the 6th CD. Advantage Bean.

There was more print coverage of the forum, with the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Northwest Herald and Pioneer Press, and perhaps one or two other local papers providing some coverage and some of those entities, e.g., Tribune, Daily Herald and Northwest Herald helped with sponsorship of the forums, to their credit. But, the Sun-Times, which is fairly significant in the District, ignored the 8th CD [but not 6th CD] forums and the print coverage that did occur does not quite equate to TV impact. Advantage, Bean.

Public Affairs edited about 80% of the three pressers that followed the NASCI forum into a show that aired in a portion of the 8th CD [the footage was courtesy of the Illinois Channel], throughout the city of Chicago and is available to almost anyone, with a computer, as a video podcast. [See here].

The Illinois Channel streamed the full NASCI forum video and aired it as well across the State of Illinois, including in portions of the 8th CD. Advantage democracy.

Public Affairs also aired a portion of the Grayslake At Issue forum in a portion of the District, and streamed it as well. Advantage democracy.

Public Affairs had a camera and correspondent at each forum and may continue to prepare shows containing each, or portions of each, forum.
Advantage democracy.

The Scheurer Campaign is streaming the full NASCI forum video, as well as that forum's pressers portions of the McHenry Forum, as well as a CBS-2 spot from the McHenry Forum, and a webcast of the At Issue forum, and links to the Public Affairs podcast coverage of the forums. Advantage Democracy. See here.

In light of Congresswoman Bean’s excellent job of managing the media and the forums, and recently coming on strong with negative and somewhat deceptive mailers and ads-- you might expect her to have more than a narrow lead, with forty days to go [polls purporting to show otherwise will be debunked in separate posts]. And, if she doesn’t, does that mean she is vulnerable to losing the seat back to Republican McSweeney, after the Republicans held it for more than the prior half century? Or, vulnerable to losing even to the long shot, albeit poorly funded, but spirited and articulate, campaign of third party candidate Bill Scheurer?

Well, is Bean vulnerable to losing the seat? We discuss. You decide.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at